By Ilya Kursenko *
MOSCOW (IDN) – Nuclear weapons do not seem to cause as much concern to people today as these did to our parents who grew up during the Cold War with the awareness of the fragility of peace. But when one understands what arms race implies or meets those who have been its victims, one realises that the horrors of the previous century should not be perpetrated in the age we are living.
Since I met Karipbek Kuyukov, I have committed myself to contributing my share toward abolishing nuclear weapons. A Kazakh national, Karipbek is an artist and nuclear non-proliferation activist born without arms as a result of his parents exposure to radiation from nuclear weapons testing. He has devoted his life and art to making sure that no one else suffers the devastating effects of nuclear weapons testing.
Karipbek was born in a small village, just miles from where the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 nuclear weapons tests. Those tests exposed his parents to radiation and resulted in Karipbek being born without arms. Karipbek has overcome many obstacles to become an anti-nuclear weapons activist and renowned artist, whose works have been shown around the world. One of his paintings was gifted to the former U.S. President Barack Obama in an expression of support for his ideas and values.
Today, Karipbek often paints portraits of the victims of nuclear testing and, as honorary Ambassador to The ATOM Project, speaks out against nuclear weapons at conferences and events held in such places as the United Nations and the United States Congress.
In a recent interview with UN News , Kuyukov said: “It took three days for my mother to finally overcome the shock and fear of seeing me born without arms.”
Karipbek was just one of the many cases of congenital anomalies caused due to radiation exposure of those who were born in the areas across the Semipalatinsk. Radiation will keep on affecting even the yet to be born babies.
When a nuclear bomb is tested, uncountable amounts of radiation pollute and kill everything located next to it. In Semipalatinsk there were settlements that existed for centuries. The Soviet army carried out the speedy deportation moving the settlers further away from the nuclear bomb. But the authorities did not take into account that when a bomb explodes, the strong winds of Kazakh steppes would spread the radiation clouds far away, bringing them right to where the settlers were replaced.
Karipbek says that in his childhood his mother told him how she once got up and saw a blinding flash of light followed by all-encompassing darkness that filled everything. He knew many children around. with similar congenital malformations. He saw babies who couldn’t walk, talk, produce any kinds of movements just were abandoned – put into laundry buckets and placed outside of the house.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, strong activism to shut down the Semipalatinsk arose in Kazakhstan and Karipbek joined the movement. The people strongly supported the decision of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to denuclearize the territory of Kazakhstan. Karipbek’s mission is to be the last victim of nuclear arms tests.
Nobody could access the data on cases such as Karipbek’s during the Soviet rule – everything was kept in strict secrecy. Doctors were forbidden from diagnosing the anomalies that developed. Instead, doctors commonly offered a lethal injection to kill the disabled child. Karipbek’s dad said he would not do that as he looked at his son and saw how he looked at him. He took both Karipbek and his mother home.
This is a personal drama that due to Karipbek’s personal strength and dedication turned into the drive to contribute to nuclear disarmament. We are now at a crossroads where new weapons technologies and public indifference endanger the progress made towards a cooperative security environment. Civil society activists like Karipbek are crucial in pushing forward the agenda for peaceful coexistence globally. If everyone joins in, our ‘bright future’ can become our bright reality – a non-nuclear world is everyone’s business.
*Ilya Kursenko is a Russian member of CTBTO Youth Group. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 September 2018]
Photo: Karipbek Kuyukov is an artist and nuclear non-proliferation activist born without arms as a result of his parents exposure to radiation from nuclear weapons testing. He has devoted his life and art to making sure that no one else suffers the devastating effects of nuclear weapons testing. Credit: CTBTO.
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