The liquidators are certainly entitled to such benefits. In fact, they are essentially war veterans because, whether they had a choice about it or not, they willingly faced an insidious force to protect their country. Just like war veterans, they sacrificed their own well being for the well being of their countrymen. Nevertheless, I see two factors that complicate the situation regarding their social benefits:
1. There have been few scientific links made between illnesses of the liquidators and ionizing radiation. As you can see from the interviews, almost all of the liquidators attribute their current state of health to radiation exposure. But, you must also keep in mind that these men are growing older, and illness is a natural part of the aging process. Ultimately, the liquidators are not that much sicker than other Ukrainians in their age bracket. From the International Atomic Energy Agency:
The cancer and death rate studies that have been conducted among samples of the recorded liquidators have shown no direct correlation between radiation exposure at Chernobyl and increased cancer or death rates. The correlation between psychological problems and the status of liquidator is more clearly drawn, although the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic troubles in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus may also be factors for psychological stress.
2) Ukraine is a poor and - to be quite honest - somewhat corrupt country. It’s not as if the liquidators are the only deserving group to not receive enough benefits from the government. Seniors, children, invalids, veterans, etc. are also struggling to live on the meager hryvnas given to them by the Ukrainian government. Now, I don’t want to downplay the heroism of the liquidators, and they are certainly entitled to public funds, but are they more entitled than sick children? Veterans of the Afghan War? The elderly? Their plight is a valid one, but it also one that is shared by every Ukrainian claiming public benefits.
Lately, I have been learning a lot about the economic situation in Ukraine from real Ukrainians, and the picture they have painted for me is not a very happy one. Jobs are scarce, especially outside the cities. Wealth is distributed very unevenly, leaving virtually no middle class. Politicians and a few businessmen possess the bulk of the country’s money, so it’s hard for Ukrainians too pull themselves up without 1) doing something illegal; 2) making connections with the politicians; or 3) some combination of both (as is often the case). There is a sense of hopelessness among some Ukrainians, who realize that no matter how hard they try, and no matter how educated they are, they will never be able attain a certain standard of living. It’s depressing to see and learn these lessons, and it makes me appreciate how lucky I am to have been born in America, where the prospect of upward mobility is such a given in our culture that it is often taken for granted.
Ukraine wants to join the EU. But, until it works out its economic and political problems, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. Somehow, the country needs to remove corruption from its government and create more jobs for people. I’m not an economist, but it seems to me that these are two quite hefty tasks.