‘I might be naive, but we can win the struggle for a world without nuclear weapons,’ says Kazakh anti-nuclear activist 

NUR-SULTAN – The struggle for a nuclear weapons free world can be won because people understand its importance, as represented by the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have signed The ATOM Project petition against nuclear weapons testing, said ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador and Nevada-Semey international anti-nuclear weapons activist Karipbek Kuyukov in an interview with The Astana Times.

Karipbek Kyukov is painting. Photo credit: kuyukov.com.

“I urge everyone to visit our project’s website theatomproject.org and see how hundreds of thousands of people around the world have voted against nuclear weapons. People understand and have joined with us,” he said. 

According to Kuyukov, the importance of the struggle and his activity can also be seen in Kazakhstan’s recent ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons signed July 3 by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Kuyukov was born in a small village of Yegindybulak near the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. His parents were exposed to the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons testing at the site and, as a result, Kuyukov, was born without arms. This, however, did not stop him from becoming a recognised painter who has dedicated his art and life to achieving a nuclear weapons free world.

“Mechtatel (Dreamer).” Photo credit: kuyukov.com.

“My favourite pastime is to paint pictures, touching on a nuclear theme and, probably, show in my works how scary this is. I have a series of portraits of victims who I personally know, who still live in Semey and those who have already left. There are landscapes (themes)… There are many, because I have visited many places in our vast world,” said the activist. 

Kuyukov now travels the world sharing his art and message with government leaders and youth. 

“This gives a lot not only to youth, but also to myself. New ideas and motivation for the future appear. I try to help young people choose future professions by talking about ecology. I always say that ecology begins at the doorstep of your home. As you relate to your porch, to your territory, the world will relate to you. As long as I have the strength and the ability to speak, I will do it,” said Kuyukov.

Kuyukov’s painting “More (Sea).” Photo credit: kuyukov.com.

The ATOM Project launched in 2012 as an initiative of Kazakhstan’s First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev to seek a permanent end to nuclear weapons testing and to help achieve a nuclear weapons free world. 

“In December, I spoke from the main rostrum of the world, from the United Nations rostrum, and directly addressed the heads of those states that still mistakenly think that by having a nuclear weapon, they have a security shield,” said Kuyukov

“There are waves of terrorist acts around the world. Can you imagine what will happen if these weapons fall into the hands of terrorists? We must not only think about it, but also act on it legally. After all, they issued the law banning smoking in public places, because it harms health and people follow this law. So, why not to create a law against nuclear weapons?” he added. 

Kuyukov participated in the creation of British documentary director Andre Singer’s film “Where the Wind Blew.” The film is about the tragedy of thousands of people faced with the bitterness of loss and diseases caused by nuclear tests. 

“Maki (Poppies).” Photo credit: kuyukov.com.

“This film shows the struggle of the first Kazakh anti-nuclear movement, Nevada-Semey, which was headed by our poet Oljas Suleimenov. (It is about) how we started, held the first rallies… That was the 1990s, difficult years. At that time, there was no Internet, no cell phones. Those people who stood at the origins gave their lives in the fight against nuclear weapons. So many of them are already gone,” said Kuyukov. 

The activist pointed out that the film also shows the struggle of the American people who joined the movement and this is what helped them to succeed. 

“As you know, Nevada also has the second largest test site in the world in scale and in America there are caring people. These are ordinary people, who also fought, non-governmental organisations that walked with us, also spoke, held rallies and protests. I remember we invited Americans to rallies at the gates of our Semipalatinsk test site. They invited us, and together we organised a rally at the gates in Nevada… The bottom line is that if the nations unite and protest together, we can succeed,” said Kuyukov.