Chernobyl Heart (2003)

chernobyl-heartOn April 25th and 26th, 1986 the worst nuclear power accident in the world, and in history occurred at Chernobyl in the Ukraine (formerly the USSR). The Chernobyl nuclear power plant located had 4 reactors and while testing reactor number 4 numerous safety procedures were disregarded. At 1:23am the chain reaction in the reactor became out of control creating explosions and a fireball which blew off the reactor’s heavy steel and concrete lid. Thus the Chernobyl accident killed more than 30 people immediately, and as a result of the high radiation levels in the surrounding 20-mile radius, 135,00 people had to be evacuated, a lot of the cleaning workers who came to fix the accident died quickly, and some in a matter of years due to the immense amount of radiation they’d received while cleaning, but Chernobyl left a lasting legacy with the accident, a legacy within the city’s children.

There are images in this documentary that even the soundest of minds will not be able to fathom nor tolerate, there are just some things here that just will not be enough for a person to take, so I do not suggest this to anyone with a weak stomach or heart. There are just some horrific deformities, conditions, and children that are just disfigured beyond any help they can receive, and much of it, as a matter of fact, all of it is just too gruesome for one person to take, it’s amazing how these social workers can witness all of this sad stuff and not just break down emotionally, for that they’re really unsung heroes. And for a documentary that is short subject, I would have loved to see so much more of what was going on, and perhaps they could have delved into what the government is or isn’t doing to help these people, if anything.

Plus, the last segment with the US surgeons volunteering their time is not only inspiring, but really makes you appreciate how there are still some heroes left in this world, but I would have loved to see a lot more about them and what progress they’ve been making despite it being little. The people who were affected by the outbreak now must face having children with not only horrible health but incredibly gruesome and disfiguring deformities leaving about a lasting impression even more horrible than the actual accident. Director Maryann DeLeo ventures into Chernobyl and every one of the contaminated villages and areas and unfortunately people have adapted to what has become a way of life.

At one point they venture into a village where old people and couples live and when they’re warned that the radiation levels are dangerously high, they seem pretty content with it, because regardless these people are stuck there and have to cope with it. Radiation level testers have become fixtures in that land where every school tests their students in an odd chair. The food and water is very contaminated, so a lot of the food and water are dangerous to eat and getting results from a test that their contamination level is a bit high, it doesn’t come as a shock, and surprise, surprise, the government isn’t doing anything about it, and the medical establishment will not do anything to help unless people there can afford to pay for medical treatment. 40 US heart surgeons and medical volunteers went to the Ukraine to perform voluntary heart surgery on nearly 6,000 kids, most of whom will die waiting for surgery on the list.

One child was declared inoperable but due to a US doctor’s genius, he was able to save the child and seemed rather upset that she was left to die. Truly the people that are heroes are the one’s who have survived, the doctors and heart surgeons who traveled from the US, spent countless hours performing surgery for free, and most of all the social workers who endure the horrors of the children’s poor deformities, diseases yet still find the strength to get up every morning and work to keep them alive. “Chernobyl Heart” gives a merciless unflinching look at the after effects of a major radioactive meltdown as we venture into an orphanage made up completely of deformed children, a series of sequences I not only could barely watch, but caused me to shut off my tape more than once. We witness some true horrors Hollywood can never fabricate, unfortunately children are the one’s that have suffered the worst from this meltdown.

We witness some gruesome and truly heartbreaking images of deformed children, children who will never live past their adolescence, children that will never life full and healthy lives, their deformities are so atrocious I just can’t bring myself to describe it in this review, but I was just stunned at what I saw, and at times was forced to cover my eyes. Chernobyl left a terrible and horrible legacy behind with its sheer irresponsibility and unfortunately these poor people have paid the price and will continue to pay the price due to a government that will not step in to help, will not support them and has just given up. Whether or not the ending to the documentary is a happy one is open to interpretation, but I’d like to believe there is a gleam of hope in the air, hope that only a few of the poor victims will see. While this does have a sense of incompletion with some great subjects that aren’t as focused as I wanted it to be, this is possibly the most grueling documentary I’ve ever seen with images so graphic and horrific that it will without a doubt carve an image in your mind.