Dmitriy Vesselov, a third generation Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing survivor. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri, Multimedia Director of IDN-INPS. - Photo: 2023

First Person: Life Story of a 3rd Generation Survivor of Soviet Nuclear Tests in Kazakhstan

At a side event co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan in Vienna, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), and Center for International Security and Policy (Kazakhstan), Dmitriy Vesselov—a third-generation Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing survivor—spoke at the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) beginning of August 2023 in Vienna.

VIENNA. 13 August 2023 (IDN) — I was born in Semipalatinsk, in the Kazakh Soviet Republic 1976. The city is located 100 kilometers from the former nuclear test site if measured in a straight line. Currently, I live there, almost without a break. I work in a taxi service.

My mother was also born in Semipalatinsk. I have a sister, Svetlana, who works as an emergency doctor. Grandmother and grandfather have already left. Grandfather lived well; he was over 90 years old. I did not see my grandmother; she died of oncology (stomach cancer) in 1975. Grandmother was born in Semipalatinsk, and grandfather moved to Semipalatinsk before the beginning of nuclear tests.

Since my family lived near the test site, this also affected me. I am a third-generation survivor of nuclear tests. My genetic disease prevents me from living a full life and will be passed down from generation to generation. 

I have cranioclavicular dysostosis. It is characterized by the fact that a person has no clavicles. More precisely, there are outgrowths on one side, but on the other side, they are not attached anywhere. So, I have hands, but it is impossible to do any serious work with them since there is no direct physical leverage. And the hands are held only by muscles and ligaments. I also have anomalies in the development of the skull bones and susceptibility to broncho-pulmonary system diseases.

All my large joints have signs of acute arthrosis, regardless of physical activity. For example, I don’t walk very much, but I still have arthrosis of the lower extremities. The shoulder joint, although not working, also has acute arthrosis.

I have very bad teeth; they already grow damaged. Because of this, no one undertakes to put implants as the teeth continue to grow. Doctors tell me to wait until they grow up, but they continue to grow almost I am 46 years old.

I also have a non-fusion of the cervical vertebrae, and after I have been in an upright position for a long time – sitting or standing, the vessels supplying the brain and nerve endings begin to compress in me, and I need to take a horizontal position. That is, 4-5-6 hours; this is, in principle, the limit for me; it is impossible to withstand more. As an option, this is the frequent wearing of the Shants collar, but this will not save because the muscles will atrophy. As a result, I won’t be able to do anything at all.

In general, of course, you have to beware constantly. Do not lift anything heavy, in any case. Otherwise, the ligaments and tendons stretch, and then the hand begins to hang out like a whip simply up to the point that the fork or spoon cannot be lifted.

A victim of exposure to ionizing radiation

In 2015, I was recognized as a victim of exposure to ionizing radiation. From communication with doctors, no one could give an unambiguous answer to whether my disease will be transmitted to my children. As a responsible person, I do not want my children to suffer from this disease. Because of this, I deliberately do not have children, and this is my choice, which is also the biggest pain in my life, which no benefits or compensation can fix, the joy of fatherhood—unless medicine takes a serious step forward and allows me to have healthy children. Still, even in this situation, there is doubt since the cost of this procedure will be very high. 

The Republic of Kazakhstan, due to the location of the already closed Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site on its territory, along with Japan and several Pacific Island states, is one of the most problematic in terms of the consequences of testing or use of nuclear weapons. Certain steps have been taken in Kazakhstan to support people affected by the consequences of nuclear tests, namely, preventive examinations by doctors, additional vacations paid by the employer, persons recognized as disabled are equated in benefits with the participants of the Second World War, receive a special state allowance, a lump-sum payment is provided.

Regarding medicines or, rather their purchase, it should be clarified that I am not officially disabled and pay for medical insurance on my own. Since my insurance is standard, it does not provide for consultations with specialized professors, and, of course, I am not entitled to medicines either. Special gratitude to the doctors is worth noting—after all, they try to maintain my health properly. 

In our state, the above-mentioned law provides additional days for vacation, paid at the employer’s expense. Working as a taxi driver, I am an individual entrepreneur, i.e., employer to myself. To whom should I ask for additional leave? At home? And pay extra tax not working? In my example, we see that the state, having declared assistance, shifted it onto the shoulders of the victims and their employers without compensating their costs, for example, through tax deductions. 

Not recognized as a disabled person

Any significant benefits are provided only to disabled people, and I was denied a disability group. Even though only during this year I could not work for more than 140 days. This decision of the state bodies was made despite a specialized institute recognizing significant functional disorders of the body systems. 

Well, what about the special state allowance for the victims? I will answer – the payment is substantial, monthly. Still, it is due only to those recognized as disabled or to one of the family members of a person who died from diseases caused by ionizing radiation. 

Well, what about the living, like me, you ask… I have no answer. We are left alone with problems. 

Being a fairly young state, the Republic of Kazakhstan faced a very difficult legacy. Many people in the region suffer from various diseases caused by genetic changes and residual radiation. In particular, a young girl from Semey is struggling with severe cancer in a St. Petersburg hospital. Unfortunately, treatment in an Israeli clinic did not bring the desired result. Is it her fault she was born in the region next to the nuclear test site? Or another case—near the former test site at the Karazhyra coal mine, a father and son fell ill with leukemia briefly. Unfortunately, the son has already died, and the father continues to be treated at the oncological dispensary. Isn’t that a sign of danger? Recently, the Mäjilis of the Republic of Kazakhstan (lower house of Parliament) adopted a law on the “Semipalatinsk nuclear safety zone.” Some provisions cause certain concerns with the transfer of land for agriculture. 

Regularly in the media, in one form or another, there are references to the “nuclear shield of Russia”. Of course, being the state with the most numerous nuclear weapons, it forgot this shield was forged at the expense of whose lives. Fenced off from the problems of people of the regions next to the test site.  

Thanks to the efforts of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, international organizations, and various non-governmental organizations, the issue of assistance to the people of the region affected by nuclear tests (not only direct victims but also those affected in remote time frames – subsequent generations) had been repeatedly raised. However, nothing has changed significantly so far. 

Over a million people of the Republic of Kazakhstan need recognition and support in one way or another because of the former nuclear test site. 

Well, what’s next? Remember that my last name is Vesselov—Joyful—and do not despair; life goes on. And for the rest of the world —let my story serve as an example of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and for those who talk about a “small” bomb or “limited” nuclear war with a reproach. 

Maybe someone will hear my quiet voice. 

Thank you.  [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Dmitriy Vesselov, a third-generation Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing survivor. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri, Multimedia Director of IDN-INPS.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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