It was 15 years ago this week that a horrible explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor north of Kiev in the Ukraine startled the world, spewing radiation around the world and especially in the poor peasant countryside. This week we learn that despite the initial assurances of governments (and industrial interests who always downplay environmental threats), the explosion caused the deaths of 4,000 of those who took part in the cleanup, killed another 30,000 from radioactive fallout, and has in some way affected seven million -- many of them children who got sick or are now passing the radiation onto their own offspring as the result of fallout in food, water, and through the air. Thyroid cancer is 500 times normal.

The Chernobyl catastrophe was attended by mysterious supernatural events. A year to the date of the disaster, on April 26, 1987, an 11-year-old peasant girl named Maria Kizyn in a remote village called Hrushiw quite a distance west of Kiev was returning to her house from the outhouse early that morning when she spotted a figure she took to be the Virgin Mary on the balcony of an little domed wood chapel near her home. The church had been closed by the Communists but someone was there and the woman, the apparition, was dressed in black -- as if mourning. She was like a moving statue who gestured at Maria and moved about the balcony like a living person.

"I got scared and went to my parents and neighbors and they came to the church," Maria said. "And my parents and neighbors saw the figure. It was as if she had something white in her hand. It appeared like a handkerchief. She didn't say anything. The face I cannot describe. A young woman. I saw her afterward a few times, but not as clear."

Maria's mother Miroslova said she and the others had whispered in awe and disbelief. "I was so shocked I don't remember things," she said through an interpreter. "I thought it was some kind of warning."

A government official, Ivan Hel', told me he firmly believed in the events and felt the message was that "the Holy Mother wants to return belief and fight for the Church. The times are very unknown -- unknown times are coming."

Indeed, a warning. As it happens, Chernobyl was far worse than officials were saying. Soon hundreds, then thousands were flocking to Hrushiw, many seeing towering lights, some spotting the Virgin. This was happening across the Soviet Union: just before the fall of Communism, Mary appeared at churches in Zarvanystya, Pochaiv, Pidkamin (where she appeared with Jesus and Joseph on the side of a stone church, as at Knock), Hooshiw, and other areas. At Zarvanystya they told me of  a huge glow above the forest. In the middle of it was a round image of the Virgin and Child. 

Soon, Communism fell, and those abandoned churches -- churches that it had been illegal to attend, and that had been turned into warehouses -- were reopened.

But were there other messages in this mysterious situation?

As many of you may know, in Chapter 8 of the Book of Revelation it speaks of a "huge star burning like a torch" that "crashed down from the sky. It fell on a third of the rivers and the springs. The star's name was `Wormwood,' because a third part of all the water turned to wormwood. Many people died from this polluted water."

That sounds very much like radioactivity from a nuclear bomb. 

Was that the warning from Hrushiw? Was that the message of Chernobyl?

Even atheists were startled by the coincidence of that passage, for they noted that "wormwood" is a bitter herb known across this part of the former Soviet republic -- and the Ukrainian name for that bitter herb is "chernobyl."

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