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Leaving Kazakhstan's Poison Village

Twelve Students Fall Sick In Western Kazakh Village
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WATCH: Twelve Students Fall Sick In Western Kazakh Village (RFE/RL report from January 2015)

The first four families from Kazakhstan's northwestern town of Beryozovka were relocated in December 2015, over a year after all the trouble started.

In November 2014, students in Beryozovka started passing out in school. Over the course of the following two weeks, 26 students had to be taken from the school to the hospital after losing consciousness.

Beryozovka residents already knew the cause. They had been complaining for years about the nearby Karachaganak gas and condensate field.

And for all those years Kazakh officials dismissed the claim that Karachaganak, with an estimated 1.3 trillion cubic meters of gas and more than 1 billion tons of oil and oil condensate, could be the cause of the health problems of Beryozovka residents, who live some five kilometers from the hydrocarbon field.

Authorities in Kazakhstan sponsored their own study, and according to the results, residents were outside the hazardous zone of Karachaganak's toxic emissions, which include hydrogen sulfide, methylene chloride, carbon disulfide, and more than 20 other poisonous substances.

But with students and other residents of Beryozovka passing out on a regular basis, state authorities conceded in December 2014 that unintentional emissions during the last part of November were responsible for the outbreak of fainting.

Authorities finally agreed to relocate the more than 1,600 residents of Beryozovka, which was what the villagers had been demanding since 2002.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, reported on the plight of Beryozovka.

WATCH: RFE/RL Kazakh Service Reports From Beryozovka (no subtitles)

Берёзовка: год спустя началось закрытие села
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The video begins with Beryozovka resident Nina Korolenko complaining that authorities had promised to first relocate the children who were affected by the toxic fumes. Korolenko says officials planned the resettlement process in secret and none of the families of affected children were among the first people given new homes in the neighboring town of Aqsay.

The video report takes us to the home of Albina Iskakova, one of the students who fell ill. Iskakova says she still faints once or twice a week.

Her mother Aliya Mukangalieva says Albina takes medication and receives injections but all the same her daughter continues to sporadically lose consciousness. Mukangalieva says for a while the school called whenever Albina fainted, but it occurred often enough in 2014 that teachers eventually stopped calling when it happened.

Mukangalieva echoes Korolenko's comments, saying she also was not informed of the impending resettlement.

Urnaliev's report makes clear that families with an invalid were the first to be moved and the Azattyq correspondent visits the new flat of Klara Imasheva in Aqsay. Imasheva's husband is an invalid. Imasheva, a former state employee, advises those still in Beryozovka to be patient.

That is the same message Beryozovka Mayor Zhubanysh Khayrullin gives Beryozovka residents in the video, promising up to 80 more families will be relocated before the end of December.

--Bruce Pannier

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report