Sunday, April 11, 2021

Interview With Chernobyl First Responder Dr. Alla Shapiro On Her New Book


On the 35th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Explosion Comes A New Book From Mandel Vilar Press. Here is an interview with the author:

1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into a book? 

My motivation was to record my participation as a physician first responder to the Chernobyl disaster. We physicians triaged and administered first aid. None of us were given protective clothing or detailed instructions. At international conferences, I am repeatedly asked this question: “What were medical first responders least prepared for at Chernobyl?” My answer never changes: “Everything.” In response to the many catastrophic mistakes that occurred at Chernobyl, I was compelled to write this book. I believe that relating these experiences could assist the US, to respond to a nuclear disaster and avoid the pitfalls the Soviet Union faced during the Chernobyl crisis.  

I was also compelled to share my family’s harrowing journey of immigration from the Soviet Union to the US as stateless refugees.  Relating my experiences of a protracted and uncertain migration will certainly resonate with the ongoing struggle of other refugees and immigrants who seek refuge in America. Doctor on Call reminds Americans that immigrants who are welcomed by their new neighbors rapidly assimilate and thrive.  

2. What is it about and who is it for?

This book is founded upon my experience as a physician first responder to the Chernobyl accident, not far from my home city of Kiev, Ukraine, in the Soviet Union where I grew up. Doctor on Call focuses on my first-hand experience living through the disaster as a physician, civilian and mother. I also share my expertise in the treatment of radiation injuries which continues to this day.  

I then describe how the Soviet government’s lies concerning Chernobyl and its aftermath, led to my extended family leaving the Soviet Union as Jewish refugees, stripped of any citizenship.  My description of my family’s immigration process is very timely given the resurgence of immigration and countervailing actions all over the world.  

Doctor on Call should attract a broad readership. Academics, health professionals and government officials will appreciate the dissection of the radiation remediation efforts both at and after Chernobyl. Doctor on Call will appeal to everyone touched by the Covid19 pandemic as I suggest measures that can benefit all nations who confront a dire emergency.  

My book will also resonate with those who have encountered discrimination. As victims of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, my story will touch other immigrants, refugees and individuals who have been brutalized by discrimination.

3. What do you hope the reader will be left with after reading it?  

As a re-credentialed American doctor, I rededicated my life to disaster preparedness. Although my memoir recounts global tragedies and discrimination, it is a handbook for preparation in confronting disasters, surmounting prejudice and restoring hope in our ability to meet personal and global emergencies.  

4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?

Be patient, be persistent, and don’t give up your dream of writing.   

5. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?

I would prefer skipping this question since I am not knowledgeable enough about the publishing industry to comment.  

6. What challenges did you overcome to write this book? 

I had a full-time job and a growing number of adorable grandsons that I wanted to spend time with.  I was also hesitant at first to reveal some events of my life. This initial reluctance to reveal painful truths caused me to draw back. I finally realized that I was wasting time, and if I wanted to share my story, I needed to dive in and start writing.     

In addition, writing in my second language was a barrier. I wasn’t sure if I could capture in English the vast differences between my experiences in my motherland, Russia, and my new homeland, America.

Acquiring fluency in written and spoken English did not come without amusing mistakes as any immigrant can affirm. I didn’t know, for example, that “bark” had more than one meaning. I never imagined that I would write a book in English, but I prevailed.

7. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

Doctor on Call is valuable as a first-hand account of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  As one of the first physician responders in the aftermath of this catastrophe, I witnessed things that few people saw or experienced, including the levels of orchestrated Government lies during and after the nuclear explosion. 

My eye-witness recollections about Chernobyl and my reflections on the current Covid-19 pandemic should arouse empathy and provide hope that we can and should be prepared for future global catastrophes. By recalling the lessons gleaned from the past, Doctor on Call should serve as an urgent reminder for government officials, health care professionals, and the public at large to be better prepared for the next disaster. Remembrance can inspire action.

My memoir is also relevant in view of the current explosion of immigration and the ensuing flood of refugees. Doctor on Call demonstrates how persistence and courage can guide people from oppression to active participation in American life.

About The Author: Dr. Alla Shapiro’s background is in pediatric hematology and oncology. From 2003 to 2019, Dr. Shapiro worked at the US Food and Drug Administration where she reviewed applications submitted by pharmaceutical companies, private investigators, and academicians attempting to develop safe and effective medical countermeasures (MCM) against chemical, radiological, and nuclear threats. Motivated by her experiences as a physician-responder at Chernobyl, Dr. Alla Shapiro became one of the world’s leading experts in medical countermeasures development against radiation exposure. For more info, please see:

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