Fact Check

Ukraine's Constitution Says State Duty Is To Preserve 'Gene Pool' of Ukrainians?

A section of the Constitution of Ukraine was taken out of context by various Twitter users.

Published Dec 6, 2023

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Claim:
Ukraine’s constitution states that it is the duty of the state to “preserve the gene pool of the Ukrainian people.”
Context

The above quote is taken out of context from Article 16 of the constitution. The full quote connects the responsibility of the state to preserve the gene pool as part of their efforts “to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.” In essence, this section of the Constitution affirms the protection of people who faced adverse health and ecological impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and is not indicative of "fascist" intent, as some have argued.

Article 16 in the Ukrainian Constitution has a particular connection to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, but was taken out of context by various Twitter users, who used the information to build on Russian propaganda about alleged Nazism in Ukraine.

In January 2023, a user on X shared a highlighted screengrab of a section of the Ukrainian constitution, writing "Did not know that the Constitution of Ukraine (revised 2019) declares 'the duty of the State' to 'preserve the gene pool of the Ukranian [sic] people.'"

This was subsequently picked up by a number of pro-Russian accounts that argued this proved Ukrainians are "fascists" and "Nazis."

However, the quote in question was pulled entirely out of context. Taken from Article 16 of Ukraine's Constitution, the full paragraph states:

To ensure ecological safety and to maintain the ecological balance on the territory of Ukraine, to overcome the consequences of the Chornobyl catastrophe - a catastrophe of global scale, and to preserve the gene pool of the Ukrainian people, is the duty of the State.

We looked at a number of different versions of the constitution, including one available on the website of the U.S. Department of Justice, which uses similar language.

Article 16 of Ukraine's constitution makes explicit reference to the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986, in which a flawed nuclear reactor systems test resulted in massive amounts of radioactive material being released into the environment. The accident, which occurred when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, had wide-ranging effects that lasted for decades in the regions that include Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. These included rising thyroid cancer cases among children, and psycho-social impacts including higher rates of depression, alcoholism and anxiety.

In 2018, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine reaffirmed the state's responsibility to citizens who suffered from the effects of Chernobyl, by citing Article 16:

The Constitutional Court holds that the provisions of Article 16 of the Constitution oblige the state to take responsibility for implementing a system of measures aimed at resolving problems on ensuring the protection of rights, interests, guarantees granted to those persons who suffered from the effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

The Constitutional Court notes that the necessity to ensure the proper level of social protection of persons who suffered from the effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe is due to the limitations, risks, losses sustained by them and their family members. Law No. 796, adopted pursuant to Article 16 of the Constitution, provides for additional guarantees of social protection for the persons concerned – a series of measures in the form of benefits, compensations and guarantees. In fact, these measures are compensation for persons, who suffered from the effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe, for the loss of their health, moral and physical suffering, restrictions on the implementation of their abilities and opportunities to ensure a sufficient standard of living, as well as the main means of the state's implementation of the constitutional obligation on providing social protection for the respective persons.

The 2019 paper, "Chernobyl − Experience and Perspectives of International Cooperation and Environmental Protection" in the Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies, explained the Constitutional Court's reaffirmation, saying "the necessity of preserving the gene pool of the Ukrainian people stated in Article 16 is primarily due to the ecological situation caused by the catastrophe, which resulted in deterioration of the population's health, demographic decline, illness of children, raising the level of disability of the population."

Ivan Gomza, academic director of the Public Policy and Governance Program at Kyiv School of Economics, told Snopes that while the Article 16 wording is "clumsy," the term "gene pool" is a "correct rendition of the notion in English." He added that the tweets criticizing this line were missing the juridical, social, and historical context.

The Constitution of Ukraine was adopted in 1996, a decade after the Chernobyl disaster and just five years after a law was put in place intending to alleviate the problems facing people who were in the disaster zone. According to Gomza, its inclusion in the constitution was "to guarantee life-long benefits to people in need (in other words, to make it impossible that people lose their benefits should the law be amended) and, simultaneously, to solemnly commemorate the [Chernobyl] tragedy, the provision regarding social benefits and state's role in nuclear protection were inscribed in Constitution."

The 2020 article, "The Development of Constitutional, Axiological, Social and Environmental—Legal Safety Imperative in Ukrainian Legislation and Strategic Documents" by V. Andreitsev, professor of environmental law at the Dnipro University of Technology, also details how the 1991 law that predated the constitution predicted the provision of environmental safety and the "preservation of the genetic pool of living nature."

Article 16, Gomza added, was included in the first part of the Ukrainian constitution that repudiated the Soviet constitution and drafted the differences between the Soviet regime and their newly formed Ukrainian state. Calling Chernobyl's nuclear fallout one of the "painful legacies" of the Soviet regime, he said:

Because of the incident, hundreds of thousands of people suffered from radiation explosion, and several thousand lost their homes after the mandatory exclusion zone around the [Chernobyl] Power Plant was established. However, the USSR preferred first to cover up the explosion itself and later to ignore the needs of the people who suffered from it. Therefore, when Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the new government adopted special laws aiming to alleviate the healthcare problems faced by people who suffered from radiation explosion. In addition, the law granted some material benefits to relatives of the first respondents and people who suffered during the disaster. The status of "Chernobyltsi" also [included] small children in several regions (Kyiv, Zhytiomyr, and Vinnytsia) whose quality of life (and health prospects) plummeted after they had been exposed to radioactivity during early childhood. They were provided with free milk at school (since milk is reported to alleviate the radiation results), 30 days of state-paid vacations at sea, and other benefits. This is, in essence, the policy of "saving of gene pool of the Ukrainian people."

He concluded, "There is no genetically-driven policy nor public policy manipulating the human genome in Ukraine."

Given that the tweets failed to include the full text of Article 16, nor did they reference that it enshrined into the constitution the protection of people who suffered from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, we rate this claim as "Mixture."

Sources:

"2018." Constitutional Court of Ukraine. https://ccu.gov.ua/en/docs/2058. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Andreitsev, V. The Development of Constitutional, Axiological, Social and Environmental—Legal Safety Imperative in Ukrainian Legislation and Strategic Documents. 2020, https://repository.mruni.eu/bitstream/handle/007/16166/Andreitsev.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

"Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident." NRC Web, https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/chernobyl-bg.html. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

"Constitution of Ukraine.' Refworld, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/44a280124.pdf. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Ibrahim, Nur. Interview with Ivan Gomza. 26 Jan. 2023.

Kitsoft. Consulate of Ukraine in Edinburgh - Constitution Day of Ukraine. https://edinburgh.mfa.gov.ua/en/news/3863-pres-relizdo-dnya-konstituciji-ukrajini. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Tamburelli, Gianfranco, and Tetiana Olexandrivna Kovalenko. "Chernobyl − Experience and Perspectives of International Cooperation and Environmental Protection." Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 60, no. 2, June 2019, pp. 185–208. akjournals.com, https://doi.org/10.1556/2052.2019.00012. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

"Про статус і соціальний захист громадян, які постраждали внаслідок Чорнобильської катастрофи." Офіційний вебпортал парламенту України, https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/go/796-12. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Sources

"2018." Constitutional Court of Ukraine. https://ccu.gov.ua/en/docs/2058. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Andreitsev, V. The Development of Constitutional, Axiological, Social and Environmental—Legal Safety Imperative in Ukrainian Legislation and Strategic Documents. 2020, https://repository.mruni.eu/bitstream/handle/007/16166/Andreitsev.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

"Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident." NRC Web, https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/chernobyl-bg.html. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

"Constitution of Ukraine.' Refworld, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/44a280124.pdf. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Ibrahim, Nur. Interview with Ivan Gomza. 26 Jan. 2023.

Kitsoft. Consulate of Ukraine in Edinburgh - Constitution Day of Ukraine. https://edinburgh.mfa.gov.ua/en/news/3863-pres-relizdo-dnya-konstituciji-ukrajini. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Tamburelli, Gianfranco, and Tetiana Olexandrivna Kovalenko. "Chernobyl − Experience and Perspectives of International Cooperation and Environmental Protection." Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 60, no. 2, June 2019, pp. 185–208. akjournals.com, https://doi.org/10.1556/2052.2019.00012. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

"Про статус і соціальний захист громадян, які постраждали внаслідок Чорнобильської катастрофи." Офіційний вебпортал парламенту України, https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/go/796-12. Accessed 26 Jan. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.