‘Shrooms that Glow in the Dark

Rivers 100x100

By Ray Rivers

April 15, 2016


Peace and quiet – not what I expected to find in a city with three million people, the eighth largest in Europe and with a war going on only a few hundred kms away. There are no military tanks on the streets, no machine-gun toting soldiers protecting major institutions and no bombs falling from the sky. If one were looking for that kind of excitement – it’s just not here.

With an economy less than half the size of fellow slavic neighbour Poland, there are a surprising number of modern Euro sedans clogging the streets of Kyiv (Kiev) almost as badly as in the rest of the continent. But the sidewalks are cleaner than Paris and there are no obvious signs of homelessness or drunkenness, though that seems impossible. And again to my surprise, young plugged-in women and men are seen strolling about the streets in the evenings, apparently free from fear for their personal safety.

Shops, restaurants and museums abound, along with ample open spaces and parks to accommodate families and the few tourists who make it over here. The city has a subway system that could give Toronto a few lessons and the architecture is strikingly old world, except in the suburbs where Soviet styled apartment blocks still dominate the skyline. Even the newly reformed police force has been outfitted with Prius patrol cars, giving them a very mod look.

What makes this so impressive is that the country is under siege. Yes, Russia is back in full imperial dress and determined to keep Ukraine as part of its revisionist empire, even if it has to kill all the Ukrainians. Over two years and 10,000 deaths after first invading its neighbour, Russia is nowhere near willing to return the land it occupies. And to keep it’s neighbour on its toes Mr. Putin periodically threatens to occupy the entire nation.

But there is another danger lurking that should not be ignored. Ukraine is the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl, just some 100 kms from Kyiv. Opened in 1977 as Ukraine’s first nuclear power plant, and only the third of its kind and size in the Soviet Union, Chernobyl operated for less than a decade before a relatively simple test of safety procedures led to a massive explosion and melt down, spreading radioactive contamination across the globe though mostly predominantly in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.


The Chernobyl nuclear station after the explosion – the world is still recovering from that disaster.

2600 square kms of northern Ukraine, half the land area of PEI, is off limits because of radiation poisoning. To keep the lid on the still-emitting source, an expensive new sarcophagus is being constructed. And after 30 years there has been some environmental rebound, with reports of growing wildlife populations and the regrowth of forests in the area. These rumours have encouraged poachers to hunt animals and forage timbers for their own use, despite the inherent danger of radiation poisoning and the further spread of radioactive pollutants.

There is a long term plan to rehabilitate the area but that will not happen for another half decade. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hit by atomic bombs in the Second World War are pretty much back to normal, though researchers are still not satisfied. Nevertheless for nations operating nuclear power plants this does beg the question of whether those facilities are more dangerous than an attack by a nuclear weapon.

And speaking of radiation, the lowly field mushroom has come under attack as well in Ukraine. Apparently fungi are particularly adept at absorbing radioactive contaminants making them unsafe to consume. Yet, there are few activities more traditional that wild mushroom gathering in this part of the world. Mushroom hunting provides a source of recreation as well as nutrition, something that has become even more important for those struggling to survive in the Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine.

mushroom fields

Mushroom fields –

Of course there are those who brush off all of this talk of danger. A few folks who refused to leave the contaminated area are boasting they have reached a good ripe age notwithstanding – something akin to those folks who smoked all their lives but never succumbed to lung cancer. But, not me, my immune system isn’t that good. I’m avoiding the wild mushrooms that feature in just about every menu here.

I attended a choral performance to lament those victims of Chernobyl who passed some thirty years ago. Once again I was impressed with the lack of fuss over security as I carried my backpack into an assembly which included government officials and other dignitaries. Perhaps that is how it is. Perhaps one just gets numbed by what could wrong when so much has and does.

After all, this is a nation which has always known conflict and domination by other nations, including Greeks, Turks, Polish, Swedes, Russians, and Germans…. My Ukrainian grandparents had Austrian birth certificates. So it is understandable why they would not be spooked by Russia, and why they’d be totally blasé about the dangers of eating those tasty wild mushrooms.


Save media that mattersRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. Rivers is no longer active with any political party.

Background links:

Poland and Ukraine   Chernobyl

Chernobyl Disaster

European Contamination 

Radioactive Deer 

Mushroom Hunting

Mushrooms –    More Mushrooms 

Even More Mushrooms     Chernobyl Survivors      More Survivors   Nuked Cities    More Nukes Cities

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

3 comments to ‘Shrooms that Glow in the Dark – Rivers enjoys eating those tasty wild mushrooms during his research trip to the Ukraine.

  • Gary

    Ukraine Ethnic groups. Ethnic groups: Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8% (2001 est.)

    This is not a country where politicians feel the need to run around saying meaningless phrases like “diversity is our strength”. Funny how your experience of peace and tranquility mirrors a seriously homogeneous population.

  • Reg Julet

    The Ontario cabinet must have eaten too many of those un-magical mushrooms when they pushed the Feds to create a nuclear waste junk-yard on the shore of Lake Huron. This will not only alienate, in perpetuity, all of our neighbours on the Great Lakes but also the Ontario electorate when it votes in two years’ time.

  • Up beat yet realistic at the same time. I would like to see data on the rebounding non-human animal populations. While taking Population Genetics in grad school I reviewed many dozens of cases and studies coming out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Interestingly, mutations can “skip” generations, making this a potentially much longer lasting problem than is first apparent. This was a great read. Thanks, Ray.