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Linda Kinstler

The Age of Forever Crises

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Efrem Lukatsky / AP, Illustration by Homestead

Linda Kinstler | Longreads | May 2019 | 10 minutes (2,527 words)

How does one recognize catastrophe, when it comes? What does it look like, how does it sound and smell? If it is an invisible catastrophe, how can you know when you are near it, and when you are far away? And what if it is an everlasting catastrophe, a disaster with a long half-life, so no matter how much time passes, it never quite goes away, and in some places, it only grows stronger? And when a decision from on high announces that it is time to try to move past it, to lay a wreath and get on with life, how does one mark the anniversary of a disaster still in motion, a crisis without end?

Last week marked yet another anniversary of the explosion of the Vladimir I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station’s Reactor No. 4. Thirty-three years ago, in the early hours of the morning on April 26, 1986, an ill-fated safety test unleashed an explosion equivalent to sixty tons of TNT, obliterating the reactor and sending the contents of its core — uranium fuel, graphite, zirconium, and a noxious mixture of radioactive gases — into the surrounding air, water, and earth. Read more…

Angrily Experiencing the Best Days of Our Lives

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Linda Kinstler | Longreads | June 2018 | 12 minutes (3,116 words)

No one heard the flames when they began to lick the roof of our cabin on Christmas Day. The smoke made no sound as it accumulated on the third floor, first in small whisps, then in thick clouds. In the living room downstairs, our small group was sprawled out on the couches watching the Soviet Christmas classic Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, the fairytale film based on a collection of stories by Nikolai Gogol. The stove fire was stuffed with wood, but its raging fire seemed contained. It was negative 26 degrees celsius outside of our mountain lodge, a bone-chilling winter day in the Carpathian foothills of southwestern Ukraine, but inside it was getting hot.

The warmth made us lethargic, so we didn’t notice when the cracks in the floorboards and doors started to glow. When my Russian failed me and the scenes in the movie became too hard to follow, I turned to my copy of Voroshilovgrad, a novel by the Ukrainian writer, activist, and musician Serhiy Zhadan, the bard of eastern Ukraine. The book had appeared in Ukrainian in 2010, and the English translation, by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler and Reilly Costigan-Humes, had just come out. Set in Zhadan’s hometown of Luhansk — which was called Voroshilovgrad during Soviet times — the novel tells a very Ukrainian story, one of homecoming and heartbreak, of dashed hopes, of wars and borders, and the relentless return of the dead. Brothers killed in a fire somehow come back to life to play a soccer game; no one sticks around waiting for the future, only for the past. Read more…