Lyubov Kovalevskaya | 1991 Courage in Journalism Award
Tribuna Enerhetyky, Ukraine.
As reporter and editor of Tribuna Enerhetyky, the newspaper of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy plant in Ukraine, Lyubov Kovalevskaya obtained secret documents that enabled her to break the story about serious problems at the Chernobyl reactor one month before the catastrophic accident on April 26, 1986, which is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear plant accident in history.
Kovalevskaya spent the next three years collecting official documents on the facility and entered the forbidden radioactive zone more than 30 times to interview workers and cooperative officials. Risking her own life, she reported the accident and aftermath extensively, pointing to its disastrous impact on the soil and water system and numerous victims and publishing documents the government was trying to keep secret.
She said it was difficult to place her pieces in Ukraine because the 13 newspapers only wanted light popular articles, not the heavyweight investigations that interested her.
In addition to placing her health in jeopardy in reporting on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant issue, she was persecuted for criticizing a Soviet nuclear program by KGB, the Soviet Union’s main security agency. Chernobyl was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities of the Soviet Union.
When she accepted her award, Kovalevskaya said:”This will nourish me physically, will provide a moral strength in the most difficult of circumstances, and will protect me from being discredited by government officials.”
Kovalevskaya was born in 1953 in Siberia, where her family had been deported by Stalin. She graduated with a literature degree and completed medical technical training as a nurse.
She started working as a teacher in Alapayevsk in 1974, and began to notice that an unusually large number of children were stricken with leukemia. Upon asking the townspeople, she discovered that there had been a nuclear explosion in the nearby Chelabinsk II site in 1957.
In 1980, Kovalevskaya became the editor of Tribuna Enerhetyka and began to pay specific attention to nuclear energy, nuclear arms and nuclear waste. On the basis of many interviews and research, she wrote an article titled “Not so private an issue”, warning the dangers of the reactors at Cherobyl one month before the 1986 accident.
Since that article, she wrote several books on this issue, including Cherobyl: The True and False Versions, Cherobyl: Classified and The Clinical and Psychological Aspects of Cherobyl. She also published a book of personal poems in 1989.
Lyubov Kovalevskaya is the first Courage in Journalism Award winner from Ukraine, followed by Tatyana Goryachova (2003).