By Anatol Shmelev PhD
Alla Yaroshinska is a journalist and was a political figure in the late USSR. She served as a member of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1991, deputy to the minister of press and information until 1993, and then adviser to President Boris Yeltsin and member of his Presidential Council. As a journalist in the 1980s, she was a prominent campaigner for perestroika, and has since authored or coauthored more than twenty books on freedom of speech, human rights, nuclear ecology, and nuclear security in the former USSR. As a member of the Ecology and Glasnost Committee of the Supreme Soviet, she urged full disclosure of the extent of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident and the contamination it spread over wide areas of territory. In 1990, Yaroshinska was appointed to a commission of inquiry into Chernobyl, collected a large amount of material on the subject, and used some of it in a report to the European Parliament at that time.
The papers in this collection fall into two categories. The first is largely correspondence with constituents, as well as with local (municipal, regional) authorities and ministries (defense and others) regarding constituent issues. This correspondence provides a valuable window on the workings of the Soviet system in the two years prior to its collapse, especially in the region of Zhitomir, heavily affected by radiation during the Chernobyl disaster. Constituents ask for assistance with a variety of issues, and together these requests form a microcosm of Soviet economic and social problems, underscoring the system’s excessive centralization and paternalism. Among the issues reflected in the correspondence are improving living quarters, help in acquiring transportation (especially for the disabled), legal aid (claims of unwarranted arrest and prosecution), sanitation problems (sewage and garbage disposal), distribution of deficit goods and improprieties and corruption in same (furs, footwear, TV sets), pensions, communications (acquiring access to telephones and phone lines), employment, medical care, and religious issues (such as transferring an unused Lutheran church to a Baptist congregation).
The other subset of papers consists almost entirely of materials dealing with the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, especially its effects on the region of Zhitomir. The key documents in the collection are minutes of meetings of the Politburo’s ad hoc committee to address the disaster, including associated documentation on countering foreign reporting of the news (counterpropaganda). A set of photographs shows the damaged nuclear power plant and surroundings, including animals suffering from radiation-induced mutations. There are also papers dealing with other Soviet nuclear accidents and nuclear policy in general in the USSR, before and after Chernobyl.
The Yaroshinska papers form an excellent complement to Chernobyl-related documents in the Archives of the Soviet communist party and Soviet state microfilm collection, the Sonja Schmid interviews, and the Leon Gouré papers, which deal with Soviet nuclear warfare strategy and civil defense measures.
Anatol Shmelev PhD
Anatol Shmelev is a research fellow, Robert Conquest curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection, and the project archivist for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Collection, all at the Hoover Institution.