Children’s Minds in the Line of Fire Blog - COCAP

Lies about Chernobyl in 1986 and about the war in Ukraine 2022: toxicity for the developing mind
By Antònia Grimalt

A childhood is painted by a palette of illusions — that the world is safe, the adults are fair, and the future is bright.

Sophia Moskalenko July 2, 2019

"I was a child of Chernobyl. 

On April 26, 1986, when Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 exploded, I was a 10-year-old living 60 miles away, in the Soviet Ukrainian city of Kyiv. It was a sunny Saturday, and I had spent most of the day outside, playing with other kids from our apartment building…
Our next-door neighbour Olena, a researcher at the Kyiv Institute of Nuclear Physics, came over one day. Without the usual niceties, she drew my mother into our room and closed the door behind them. She told my mother that there had been an explosion at a nuclear power plant, and that radiation was escaping the reactor in Chernobyl, reaching dangerous levels in Kyiv. She said we should keep our windows closed, and that I must stay home instead of going to school.
I wondered if Olena could be right and the government wrong. It didn’t seem possible. How could one person know more than the whole government, especially the government in Moscow, where they had the best specialists in everything? What Olena said about radiation sounded like a scary fairy tale: You couldn’t see it or smell it, you couldn’t get rid of it by sifting or boiling water, and yet it could kill you. I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt.
A heated discussion ensued, the result of which was a unanimous conclusion that Olena was exaggerating a minor problem to flaunt her expertise. The three women, matriarchs of the families with whom we shared the communal apartment, nodded at one another and pursed their lips. They rolled their eyes at Olena’s attention-seeking. I exhaled. Everything would be fine, it seemed.

Radiation was spreading through the air and through the rain. Buses brought refugees from Chernobyl into Kyiv, carrying additional radiation on the refugees’ bodies and on their possessions. I was unaware of all of it. The explosion at Chernobyl blotted out my childhood. The Soviet way of dealing with problems was to soldier through with no whining or self-pity, and so I built a sarcophagus over the pain of my experience.

I was watching in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl the reactions I’d yearned to see when I was 10 years old. Someone back then should have pounded on the table, gaped at the government lies, yelled at the hypocrites. Because nobody did, my own emotions seemed capricious. Because nobody ever showed remorse, my grievances seemed unjustified. Watching the series felt like receiving a diagnosis for a subtle but devastating malady, one that’s hard for those not afflicted to appreciate, or even believe. It felt validating. "

This impressive, dramatic and insightful experience from a then ten-year-old shows the intensity of guilt and disorientation when the truth is substituted by lies. This poignant vignette allows us to think about the emotional toxicity of ongoing lies and malignant manipulation of the truth. 
Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, thousands of Ukrainian youths have spent summer holidays with Spanish families. 
For children exposed to the nuclear toxicity of the Chernobyl explosion, it was estimated that living two months a year outside the polluted environment could allow their bodies to recover from exposure to the toxic radioactive materials still present in the atmosphere around the disaster site. As a result, different programmes in the region of Catalonia and the rest of Spain, f.e. Vallès Obert, organised summer holidays for around 2,000 children giving these children time away from the catastrophe in their home area. Today, these Spanish host families continue to provide a safe haven to the so-called "children of Chernobyl" and their parents, also now from the war in Ukraine.
The necessity of truth for healthy psychic development 

According to the perpetrator of the invasion of Ukraine “this is not a war”! Putin’s propaganda has portrayed the invasion of Ukraine as if he is a saviour and not an invader, yielding toxicity for the developing mind as was inflicted after the Chernobyl disaster.   

Bion asserts that the person has an innate disposition to discover the truth, as well as to hide it from herself or himself. Mental health depends on truth like a living organism depends on food (Bion 1965, p.38), but the mind also depends on the ability to protect against a truth that it is not equipped to receive without a psychic catastrophe (1992, p.192). Bion considered that the ability of man to tolerate truth about himself is fragile; truth is a permanent source of pain, and desire for knowledge can never be satisfied or completed; therefore, the tendency to evasive action is large and the mind is always willing to create lies to oppose such pain.

A good example of this,  is illustrated in the film Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella, 1997) in which Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian bookshop owner, employs his fertile imagination (playing and inventing stories) to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. The film was partially inspired by the book In the End, I Beat Hitler by Rubino Romeo Salmonì. It is a good illustration of the desperate need from a father to protect his child from the horrors of a concentration camp. 

Lies can twist the research of the truth and obstruct the development of thoughts able to transform emotions. The distortion of emotional truth produced by lies affects the primitive level of transformation, inhibiting communication and trust and profoundly distorting the structure of the child’s identity.

Bion (1965) argues that emotions are the significant core elements of experience, they seek a symbolic form and representation to be thought of. Truth-seeking is driven by the human need to know the reality about who one is and what is happening in one's life, it is the core of research in the development of thought. 

Children can from very early on attribute an initial personal meaning to the emotional fact that impacts on them. In relation with another mind capable of reverie, the primitive senso-emotions can continue their transformative path toward dream elements, the contact barrier, and memory. In the opposite situation, facts which are denied by the mind and degraded, remain impersonal in a space devoid of meaning. As becoming a person is initially guided by another mind that enters in contact with the child and depends on the transformative system of this early relationship, it is always in a state of a precarious balance.
Antònia Grimalt
Training analyst of the Spanish Society, Barcelona (SEP- IPA). Training analyst for Children and Adolescents of EPI CAP School (Virtual Institute for the Eastern Countries). 
Member of the forum for Child Psychoanalysis European Federation.
Member of IPA Committee on Child and Adolescent Psychoanalysis for Europe.
[1] The 1986 Russian disaster isn’t just compelling TV. It was my life. By Sophia Moskalenko  



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