A journalist and author, Kathleen Hart worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C., for 23 years, covering nuclear nonproliferation, energy, and the environment. Born in Holden, Massachusetts, she received her B.A. from UMass, Amherst. She published a nonfiction book, Eating in the Dark: America’s Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food, with Random House and has appeared on NPR and C-SPAN. The Kiev Confession, historical fiction set against the fall of the Soviet Union, is her debut novel.
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“An engrossing story about truth tellers on both sides of the Atlantic, The Kiev Confession is a journalistic thriller that captures not only the horrors of Chernobyl but the beginnings of the Ukrainian independence movement.…Kathleen Hart's expertly paced book couldn't be timelier.”
—John Feffer, author of Splinterlands
The Kiev Confession
Book Excerpt or Article
The Marchenkos exited their block and joined the crush of
celebrants pouring down Marshal Tymoshenko, a wide boulevard
eight miles north of the heart of the city. Men wore suit
jackets studded with red stars. More than a few women showed
off costumes unpacked once a year, embroidered blouses with
puffy sleeves and flowers woven into braided hairdos. At Minska
Station the family boarded a crowded car for the metro ride to
Khreshchatyk, Kiev’s central street. After disembarking, the four
jostled through throngs lining the street. Musical instruments
appeared everywhere, with silver flutes and trumpets glinting in
the morning sunlight.
On the corner where Dmitry’s Pioneer group was gathering,
Ilya, a skinny boy with dark curls fringing his face, waved a red
banner. Dmitry charged off to meet his friend. While Vasyl
fetched a balloon from a man surrounded by children dressed in
their holiday best, Ilya’s mother beckoned to Larysa. After years
of attending pageants and their sons’ sporting events together,
Larysa, who worked as a translator, and Maria, a teacher, had
Larysa approached her friend with a smile. As they leaned
forward to kiss each other’s cheeks, however, she saw furrows
creasing Maria’s forehead. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I’m worried about my sister. Iryna and my niece were evacuated
from Pripyat. They’re staying with me.” Maria’s answer came
in a rush. “Iryna’s husband works at Chernobyl, you know, at
Reactor Three, not the one damaged by the fire.”
“When were they evacuated?” Larysa had never seen Maria
this rattled. “Were they in danger?”
“The authorities insisted it’s only a precaution. They put out
the fire. They said the reactor was fine, but they herded everyone
into a thousand buses Sunday afternoon. No pets allowed. Only
one suitcase each.”
Maria’s words struck Larysa like a blow to her solar plexus.
She had heard about the Chernobyl accident on television Monday
night, of course, and like everyone else she suspected the accident
might be more serious than the terse announcement suggested.
After all, Moscow never acknowledged failings unless the outside
world forced its hand. But then yesterday, Larysa’s neighbor had
told her that Western newspapers were reporting two thousand
corpses stacked on Kiev’s streets, which anyone could see was
preposterous. Chernobyl was some sixty miles north of the city,
and Larysa had no family near the nuclear plant. Until now she
hadn’t given the accident much thought.
“My sister’s out of her wits. They put her husband up with
workers ordered to stay at the station. My niece cries for their dog.
You cannot blame her. Who will feed the poor thing?”
“Did they tell your sister when she can return home?” asked
Vasyl, who had caught much of the conversation. He inched
closer to his wife and Maria.
“Three days, the authorities claimed. My sister refuses to go
outside. Saturday was so hot in Pripyat she brought her nursery
school class outdoors for an hour. Natasha, my niece, went with
her friends to a rooftop to watch the glowing reactor. All the
kids wanted to get a good look. Now, Iryna fears they’re both
Maria stopped talking and stiffened. A man behind them
was telling his companions something about October Revolution
Hospital clearing wards for Chernobyl patients. Maria, Vasyl, and
Larysa strained to make out the man’s words over a cacophony of
music and voices.
Whispers about the nuclear plant rippled through the
crowd. No one knew what to believe. Everyone, it seemed, knew
someone from the Chernobyl area or had caught unjammed
Voice of America broadcasts warning of radiation spewing from
the reactor. Yet Kiev was awash in pageantry as always on May
Day. Crimson banners flapped under a clear blue sky, and stirring
songs filled the air. Waves of children marched past Party officials
in the reviewing stand. There was nothing about the celebration
to arouse suspicion, nothing unusual about the holiday—except
the weather. It was not just hot. It was beastly.
Maria turned her pinched gray eyes on Vasyl. “What are they
saying at your shop about the accident?”
“Nothing beyond what we heard on TV. You know, we only
print posters and honor certificates.” Vasyl paused, giving Maria
a thoughtful look. “I’m no scientist, to be sure. Still, I think
radiation in Pripyat must be serious for authorities to take such
an overt action as evacuating an entire city of forty-five thousand
“That is what I believe.” Maria nodded, her lips forming a
taut line. Raising her arm, she used her sleeve to wipe beads of
sweat off her forehead. “They would tell us if there’s any danger
here, would they not?”
Larysa’s startled look betrayed her doubt. Kiev was the Soviet
Union’s third largest city, with two and a half million people, tens
of thousands of whom were filling Khreshchatyk Street. “How
could they not?” she murmured, more to herself than her friend.
She reached down to untangle the string of Katya’s pink balloon
from the ribbon on her ponytail.
Vasyl said nothing. He was lost in thought, his eyes scanning
the hot blue sky, the square crowded with children, and the
chestnut trees thrashing in a stiff breeze from the north.
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