Childhood After Chornobyl: A Social History of Childhood in Ukraine 1986-1996

Viktoriya Yakovlyeva
Childhood After Chornobyl is about children and childhood in Ukraine in the period surrounding the establishment of independent Ukraine in 1991Ukraine in (1986Ukraine in -1996. As an interdisciplinary and multi-lingual project with a focus on linguistic, narrative, and theoretical perspectives on childhood, the aim is the expansion of field knowledge toward the further development of theoretical perspectives for international Childhood Studies. The dissertation documents a social history of
more » ... inian children through interviews and the investigation of secondary discourses. The recollections of individuals are supported by an investigation of narratives for and about children appearing in periodicals published at the time and archived at Vasyl Stefanyk Scientific Library in L'viv. The study of children is therefore limited to the reconstruction of memory and language towards an understanding of late-Soviet and Ukrainian childhoods. The study documents the recollections of school-going children age 5-12 at the time of Ukrainian independence through interviews conducted with Ukrainian citizens from a range of backgrounds and geographical locations. The interviewees are asked to describe childhood memories and their responses often come with references to the experiences of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cultural and deeply material event of the Chornobyl disaster, and the rise of independent Ukraine. Economic and social conditions confronted by the Soviet policy initiative Perestroika and the disaster at the nuclear power plant at Chornobyl (April, 1986) are crucial to understanding the lives of children in 'Ukraine' during this period. By the late 1980s, environment, food, and housing had registered as the overwhelming concerns of the public. What the interviews reveal is that children of the time were significantly aware of and influenced by these pressures, even as this "awareness" of the sequence of events at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station remains vague and distant from the meaning of the living concept of "Chornobyl," remembered here as a kind of distant war effecting daily life through its ubiquity in the iii background of lived experience. As such an engagement with the event "Chornobyl" dominates many of the memories discussed, as does a concern for the relative experience of children during the period. Increasing social pressures coupled with the displacement of the Russian language in education and State services by Ukrainian cultural policy further complicated the lives of children. Surzhyk, a Cyrillic language form that mixes Russian and Ukrainian, had previously been an informal but common linguistic mode in reaction to the language assimilation policy and culture of both Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, surzhyk arises with new force among Ukraine's population and, for the first time, in the media and mass culture. Existing between Ukrainian and Russian language in informal cultural spaces in and out of the domestic sphere, surzhyk becomes an important language form for remembering the period. The late-Soviet Union and early independent Ukraine both exhibited a strong periodical press aimed at young readers. Analysis of these texts reveals that the children of the period were subjects of a traumatic shift in the signification of childhood. Reconstructed from the imagery of memories and published sources, this childhood is a construct not unlike any other childhood, and yet it reveals an historical generation of Children defined in large part by the disaster at Chornobyl and the experience of the transition to National Independence. The concept of childhood, as I argue in this dissertation, is a phenomenon constructed upon recollection, and differs from experience of an actual child. Discourse of childhood is a result of negotiation of a child-adult relationship, which manifest socially as intergenerational forms of pressure and engagement. Despite the modern tendency to demarcate the two against each other more assertively, both children and adults are actively engaged in a process of reproduction of everyday life. Accordingly, and for the first time, this dissertation provides the discipline of Childhood Studies with the testimony, historiography and cultural analysis of a distinct and historically important generation of children in Ukraine. iv Preface This thesis is an original work by Viktoriya Yakovlyeva. The research project, of which this dissertation is a part, received
doi:10.7939/r31r6n79c fatcat:yzykwhzmprgvva4p5oupoviaxy