‘Eleven Georgian Stories from Chernobyl’ – Insights from CAT Fellow

This Blog was developed by Tamar Meskhi for the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC).

Eleven Georgian Stories from Chernobyl – Project Summary

The final product elaborated under the CAT fellowship program is a book titled Eleven Georgian Stories from Chernobyl – a collection of personal stories of the people who took part in the liquidation process of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

It all began when the HBO TV series Chernobyl screened in May 2019. Public interest grew towards the events of the catastrophe. Attention from the media increased as well, and several journals and magazines prepared articles and took interviews of the Georgian Liquidators– the term used for people who worked to liquidate results of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Generally, in Georgia, there is a lack of support and attention towards people who work in a hazardous environment and damage their health because of work conditions. In particular, the level of attention and social care for Chernobyl liquidators is low. The popularity of the HBO series Chernobyl drew public and media attention towards the catastrophe and the people who were involved in it. Consequently, it was the right moment to use the public interest towards an initiation concerning the Georgian liquidators, who risked their health and lives for protecting the world from the results of the disaster.

Notably, the initiation implied raising public awareness about the contribution of the Georgian Chernobyl liquidators in the clean-up process after the nuclear catastrophe. The other purpose was to show public interest and care for the liquidators, so they can see that people still remember and appreciate what they have done for the whole humankind. Eventually, it was decided to collect personal stories of the liquidators by interviewing them, compile the stories in the form of a book and make it accessible to the public. 

The process of finding the respondents started with searching for Georgian liquidators through personal acquaintances and social media, mainly through the Facebook fan group of the HBO series Chernobyl. Several members of the group mentioned that they personally knew some people who had worked on liquidation, and this is how the project team identified three respondents.These respondents provided the contact information for four more respondents, who happened to be their friends and co-workers. Of those total seven respondents, three were interviewed in their workplace, and the other three in their houses. The seventh respondent was interviewed over the telephone, the only not-in-person interview among the eleven respondents.

One of them provided the contact information of the head of Georgian Chernobyl Union, who, on his behalf, gave the phone number of the head of the West Georgian Chernobyl Union. The latter brought together other three members of the West Georgian Union. All four were interviewed in the West Georgian Chernobyl Union office in Kutaisi. The head of the union offered the interviewers to visit the Memorial of Chernobyl, situated in Kutaisi, which is the only memorial in Georgia, dedicated to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In the meantime, the project team made the interview transcripts and prepared the pre-final versions of the personal stories. Maintaining the style and manner of the narration as precise as possible to that of the respondents’, the editor made only minor, necessary changes and corrections to the text. Then the designer elaborated on the printable version and finally sent it to the print-house.

The COVID-19 restrictions hindered the project from March to June. Interviews had to be paused, and Kutaisi visit could only be conducted after the first wave of the pandemic slowed down in July. The book got printed in mid-September, during which, the second wave had already started. As a result, the final step of the project, the book presentation, could not be held in the intended location, and therefore had to be moved to open space. Respondents from West Georgia were not able to attend the presentation due to a high virus outbreak in their regions.

I received significant support from the CAT trainer/consultant during the project planning process. While gathering stories and preparing the publication, I got help and advice from the project mentor, which made the working process more comfortable and more fruitful.

As a result of the project, we could gather in-depth information about the Georgian liquidators, their experiences, opinions, worries and needs. Their stories offer impressions about the Soviet past- how the state treated its citizens and used them during crisis and catastrophe. Also, they provide insight into the current social care setting of Georgia and attitude towards veterans or people who worked under hazardous conditions. We hope the project will lead to increased attention and public awareness about the liquidators in the future.

Before working on this project, I had the experience of conducting interviews. However, collecting personal stories through interviews was a novelty for me. While working on the book, I have improved my skills to gain the trust of people to encourage them to speak openly and tell their stories. Also, I received some practical experience on how to plan visits to the respondents properly, and to manage the details to get the information and materials needed.