Chernobyl story — welcome shock for one viewer

Elizabeth Babcock

Chernobyl story — welcome shock for one viewerRidgecrestians do pop up in the most unexpected places! On Wednesday evening I was watching the PBS Newshour when I experienced a welcome shock of recognition — a familiar thousand-watt smile.

I sudenly realized that my own stepson, Edwin Kumferman, was being interviewed in an episode on Chernobyl tourism in the wake of the popular HBO series on the nuclear disaster there.

I knew Ed, his wife Karen and their daughter Maggie were in the midst of a three-year stay in Kyiv, and I even knew that he and his son-in-law, Tyler Ackley, had visited Chernobyl in August. With Ukraine so much in the news, the family was never far from my mind. But I had never expected to get reassurance on nationwide TV.

During remarks to PBS interviewer Simon Ostrovsky, Ed commented that for him Chernobyl is “kind of a mecca of sorts. I’m back home … I grew up in the height of the Cold War. I remember climbing under desks when they did mock nuclear bomb threats.”

Mentioning that the debris of Chernobyl reminded him of the Soviet era, he agreed with Ostrovsky that the Chernobyl disaster signaled the beginning of the end of for the Soviet Union.

Those desks he crawled under were in our local school system. Ed spent most of his growing-up years in Ridgecrest, where he played sports and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During his years at Burroughs High School, he demonstrated a rare facility for languages, gaining a growing appreciation of the Russian language under the tutelage of Charles Humphreys. When Ed’s church assigned him to a mission in France and Belgium, he easily picked up fluency in French at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah.

Ed graduated from BHS in 1977 and went on to Brigham Young University, where he tutored other potential missionaries in French. In grad school at Ohio State University, he focused on the challenge of Slavic languages.

He went on to become a professor of Russian language, literature and culture at Brigham Young University, Idaho. Along the way he and Karen began a loving marriage that features six children.

Then in spring 2017, the LDS Church assigned Ed to the position of president of the Ukraine Kyiv mission. Karen and youngest daughter Maggie accompanied him to Kyiv, where Karen also takes a major hand in running the mission, and Maggie enjoys spending her teen years in friendly new surroundings.

Karen sends me wonderful emails and pictures showing the family’s experiences running what is now the Ukraine Kyiv/Moldova Mission and enjoying the people and the countryside of Ukraine. In a recent letter she mentioned that during a two-week visit from the Ackleys, Ed and Tyler visited Chernobyl, but that “we girls had no interest in going there.”

She didn’t mention anything about a TV camera having been in the vicinity, and I still don’t know if the family had a chance to view the segment. But I had great fun seeing it!

Pictured: Tyler Ackley and Ed Kumferman at Chernobyl. — Photo courtesy of the Kumferman family

Story First Published: 2019-11-01