Soviet nuclear test victim tours England and Scotland

PNND co-organises a tour of England and Scotland by Karipbek Kuyukov, second generation victim of Soviet nuclear tests and Honorary Ambassador of the ATOM Project

Karipbek Kuyukov, Honorary Ambassador of the ATOM Project (Abolish Testing. Our Mission)  is visiting the United Kingdom as part of commemorations for the International Day against Nuclear Tests. The tour is organised by the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the UK, with the support of PNND.

Mr Kuyukov was born with no arms as a result of nuclear radiation exposure of his parents. He has overcome many health problems to become an accomplished artist and a dedicated campaigner for nuclear abolition.

Karipbek with some of his art

This is Mr Kuyukov's first trip to the UK. He had been invited by PNND and Abolition 2000 to speak in the Scottish Parliament in 2013, but his visa at that time was denied on the grounds that he did not provide 'sufficient bio-metric data', i.e. fingerprints. See Armless artist Karipbek Kuyukov denied entry to UK, BBC News). He had no such problems getting the visa this time.

Mr. Kuyukov spoke yesterday at an evening event held in the UK House of Commons in conjunction with the opening of an exhibition in the parliament of his art.

He also spoke at an event earlier in the day organised with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) to honour the ATOM Project and to commend Kazakhstan for its nuclear disarmament initiatives including its recent ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Kazakhstan Ambassador to the UK Mr Erlan Idrissov introducing Karipbek Kuyukov

Parliament members, representatives of the British Foreign Office, the diplomatic corps and the media, business executives, artists, as well as Kazakhs working and studying in the UK were among those who attended the events.

Other speakers at the House of Commons event included Baroness Sue Miller, member of the House of Lords and PNND Co-President; Bob Stewart MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kazakhstan; and Hon Erlan Idrissov, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the UK .

Impact of nuclear tests

Mr. Kuyukov spoke about the disastrous consequences of the nuclear tests conducted in Kazakhstan from 1949 to 1991. Nearly two million people have either died or their health has been severely affected by the tests. Karipek reported that his first two siblings both died before their first birthday from disorders caused by radiation. And this experience of child mortality is common-place throughout his region.

Mr Kuyukov called on everyone to sign the ATOM Project’s online petition calling on world leaders to ban nuclear tests.

I believe that together we can achieve our common goal – the complete ban on nuclear weapons. And maybe this will sound naive, but as a person who has seen with his own eyes the families where children with diseases were born, where children died, I would want to be the last victim of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests,” Mr. Kuyukov said.

Baroness Sue Miller speaking at the event in the UK House of Commons

Parliamentary action for a nuclear-weapons-free world

Baroness Miller commended Kazakhstan’s nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives, including the resolution proposed by the country and unanimously supported by the UN General Assembly in 2009 to proclaim 29 August as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

It was on this day in 1949 that the first nuclear bomb was tested at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, and on the same day in 1991, that test site was closed by the decree of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was then President of Kazakhstan, which had not yet gained independence.

“Kazakhstan should be particularly commended for bringing home in such a real way the humanitarian consequences of testing and of nuclear war, because you got the UN, including the UK, to unanimously support the establishment of this day, which is a major step on the road to recognising the absolutely disgusting nature of the most inhumane weapon you can imagine,” Baroness Miller stressed.

She also spoke about nuclear disarmament initiatives PNND is undertaking in cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, including the Parliamentary Action Plan for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World and the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign. And she spoke about PNND actions on initiatives in which Kazakhstan is taking an active part, such as the TPNW, establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, and the Stepping Stones initiative led by Sweden and 15 other countries.

Kazakhstan actions for disarmament

Ambassador Idrissov emphasised the deteriorating political situation across the world. The lack of confidence between nuclear powers, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, the growing tension on the Korean peninsula and the unclear fate of the Iranian nuclear deal are of deep concern, said the Kazakh diplomat.

Under these circumstances, we need to assess the global risks and combine efforts to eliminate them. We need to think about what our heritage will be for generations to come. That is why achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world has become our core international goal,” said Ambassador Idrissov.

He also noted that Kazakhstan’s path from a possessor of the fourth largest nuclear arsenal in the world to a nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation champion could be an example for others to follow.

At the daytime event, Mr. Kuyukov and Ambassador Idrissov spoke alongside CND General Secretary Kate Hudson and CND Patron and poet Anthony Owen.

Kate Hudson, Secretary-General of CND, spekaing at the lunchtime event

“The introduction of the United Nations’ treaty to ban all nuclear weapons has been a ground-breaking achievement, and the work that Kazakhstan has done to help bring this about is of the utmost importance,” said Ms. Hudson.

The CND General Secretary also highlighted that Kazakhstan managed to transform the immense suffering inflicted by nuclear weapons testing at Semipalatinsk into a determination to learn from these tragic experiences and shed light on the consequences and initiate action against nuclear tests.

Art and poetry to reach hearts and change minds

Antony Owen highlighted the importance of art to reach hearts and change minds. He noted that the passion and inspiration of Karipbek's small paintings, out-shone the permanent collection of much larger paintings of UK political and business leaders in the room. 

Antony Owen recites an anti-nuclear poem 'Dead babies stolen for nuclear tests' at the daytime event

Mr. Owen then moved the audience with a poem about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons tests:

Skeletons are merely roots growing in ghosts, or their haunted houses.
No one came to ask permission to take your bones.
No one brushed around sand burned to blue glass.
I picture a red birthmark of hell expand into the regurgitated winds...
I am collecting your bones and I am tired but dare not rest.
Last night I learnt that babies hear songs whilst rowing in uterine.
So yes, I am collecting your bones from the nuclear fires.
I will bury you here in the seed of a poem's full stop.

- Excerpt from Dead babies stolen for nuclear tests, by Antony Owen

The poet also presented Mr. Kuyukov with his latest collection of poems, two letters from Hiroshima survivors and a peace gift from Coventry Cathedral, accompanied by a letter from Dean John Witcombe.

Kuyukov visit to Scotland

During his trip to the UK, Mr. Kuyukov is also visiting Edinburgh, where he will speak at the Scottish Parliament and meet with the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, John Swinney MSP.

Mr. Kuyukov will also exhibit his paintings in Manchester, where he will meet with the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Abid Latif Chohan, and speak at a seminar hosted by the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and UK & Ireland Mayors, Provosts and Leaders for Peace Chapter. The theme of the seminar will be “Humanitarian impacts, costs and dangers of nuclear weapons in the campaign for peace”.