Every year, time continues to take away from us the events that occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986. Unfortunately, it also claims the lives of those who survived the Chernobyl nightmare, who stood at the main frontiers of the defense of humanity.
Time, or rather, the radiation damage extended over time, does not spare either those who were in the first roles – the liquidators of the consequences of the accident, or those who were a simple eyewitness to those terrible events.
The individual memory of citizens remains – it is untimely and therefore immortal. And while those who still to this day have written the “Book of Memory” from Chernobyl flashbacks are alive, the wrinkles of memory will not let those who gave the most precious thing in the name of our well-being — their health and life.
An integral part of almost all the memories of eyewitnesses of the Chernobyl accident are emotional experiences. However, different people have memories of the tragedy that manifest themselves in different ways. Some letters help to more deeply feel the atmosphere prevailing before and after April 26, 1986:
“In peacetime, this terrible phenomenon hit us. On the eve, the 52,000th city lived its own life: we had to play a wedding, our neighbors sat in the park near the house – young parents with strollers, children played in sandboxes, an amusement park was to open on May 1. And here, like a bolt from the blue – a Chernobyl accident has happened. The territory was empty; it was a sad and disturbing sight. I felt like I was on another planet”, a former resident of Pripyat recalls.
Some eyewitness accounts fall outside the usual perception, as they are riddled with pain from the way radiation affected the surrounding nature:
“The nature around was amazing, or rather, what was left of it. Almost immediately, the trees turned yellow, even the grass and weeds became brown. The forest seemed extinct. It strongly tickled in the throat. What was the Chernobyl accident, and its impact on the environment was not immediately known. There was no conscious understanding of how tragedy changed everything around”.
Will freaks be born?
After the first wave of anxiety passed, the main thing after the evacuation of children was the fact that the population gradually began to adapt to new living conditions.
Everyday life, however, was oversaturated with a sense of fear, it fettered human emotions for a very long time. It was especially aggravated when messages appeared in the press or in conversations about the possible consequences of radiation associated with a mutation.
“… People had a terrible fear. First, they warned that it was necessary to wash fruits and vegetables several times before eating. Then they stopped. Man gets used to everything. The main fear was that we did not understand that Chernobyl means, how it will respond to our children and grandchildren that we were close to radiation. At that time, many reports of the birth of animals with physiological abnormalities began to appear. Wild fear arose from the pattern of the possible birth of such children in humans”, a resident of Pripyat recalls.
In particular, the consequences of fear manifested themselves in mass abortions – women refused to give birth in fear of an unborn child. Doctors did not give a clear guarantee that babies would be born physiologically healthy.
“… Women who became pregnant that year, immediately after Chernobyl, or were already pregnant in the first weeks or months at the time of the accident, began to have abortions in large numbers. They were afraid that the children might be freaks, physically ill or inferior”.
The hospitals were filled with pregnant women who came to have abortions. They claimed that it was the Chernobyl accident that became the main reason that pushed them to such a step. Many years later, when emotions calmed down, many women were forced to admit their hasty conclusions as a mistake.
Hurrying to lose an unexpected baby, many were able to subsequently decide on motherhood. Someone did it really out of fear, and someone, using the general syndrome, substituted for their true decisions. We will never know about this.
For many, Chernobyl is not a born child. Moreover, the unborn were not only because of abortion, but also because of the fear of pregnancy, fear of complications that could occur even after decades, both in men and women affected by the negative effects of radiation exposure.
Anger is a characteristic sign of time
First of all, there are anger at the authorities, which denied the population the right to know what happened:
“… Secrecy had already been officially declared in May. It was impossible to talk about the dose of radiation received, it was also impossible to talk about the diseases caused by it, about how many people were already sick”.
But information nevertheless leaked through various channels and rushed through an avalanche of rumors, sometimes incredible. For example, small children evacuated to Odessa from Pripyat explained to their peers the reason for their stay: “The Germans dropped a bomb on the city. Therefore, we are here”.
The population was outraged by the desire of the authorities to dose out information. Party nomenclature threatened citizens with criminal liability for creating a situation that could lead to panic. Any dissemination of information about the Chernobyl accident was classified as high treason.
Even more anger and disappointment caused not just words, but radically opposite actions of individual nomenclature officials. Formally, they spoke out for preventing panic, but in fact, party members and the party elite took their families to Boryspil airport and sent them outside the region.
Perhaps they did the right thing, but why everyone needed to broadcast the opposite: “… The authorities ordered us to be on the ground, so that no one would leave or take out their families, because this would be considered treason, like during the war,” we read in memoirs.
Echelons with children rushed to the east and the south
Children who had been exposed to severe radiation exposure were faced with the need to get used to new living conditions. They lived in a constant struggle with numerous diseases that clung to childish organisms with varying intensities. It is hard to imagine the suffering of parents who helped them fight for life literally every day.
Children who were a little further from the critical exposure zone were massively transported to evacuation. They also fell into new conditions. Only in this case, for most children, unlike their parents, it was rather a happy summer filled with new adventures and interesting entertainments.
There was no single experience in conducting summer rehabilitation of the category of children that formed immediately after the accident. School children were massively taken out of the radiation pollution zone by entire schools, mainly to children’s pioneer camps.
Echelons with passengers, most of whom were children, rode the east and the south, one after another. The evacuation of children was a large-scale event. This, in particular, can be seen from the memories of a resident of the RSFSR.
“… We really did not know what happened in Ukrainian Chernobyl. In the summer of 1986, it was announced to us that the children of our factory workers would not be able to go to the pioneer camp to the sea. The reason was that our camp was occupied by children from Chernobyl. They said that all the children were urgently taken out of the Chernobyl zone, and therefore we would not go to the camp, but the Chernobyl children would go. And only many years later, already being engaged in environmental and human rights activities, I realized what happened then”.
Even the teachers and educators who accompanied the children to their destination did not realize the realities and scale of the disaster, and what can we say about the children. It was just an adventure for them. Understanding that something really serious happened to adults began to come only upon arrival at the destination:
“… When the children were taken out, everyone came smartly dressed in pioneer uniform with ties. Parents joyfully accompanied the children, then they still did not understand anything. For the first time we felt that something bad had happened when we arrived at the place – in Izum, Kharkov region. They looked at us with caution. Immediately upon arrival, they demanded to take off all the clothes in which we arrived. All were sent to wash in the bath, our clothes were sent to the laundry room for disinfection”.
We learn from the memoirs that not in all the settlements of the zone of increased radiation hazard there was a centralized removal of children. It was common for parents themselves to take responsibility to worry about the health of their sons and daughters.
It was great if someone had the opportunity to get a ticket to work, but it was extremely rare. The difficulties encountered by parents in the process of self-removal of children evacuated from the disaster zone can be seen from the numerous letters of women to the executive authorities, which are stored in the State Archives of the Kiev region.
In them, women complain about the problems they have encountered: the lack of permits, the inability to arrange unplanned leave, the need to quit work, and the like.
The memory of the Chernobyl tragedy does not disappear from the information space, and this is important and correct. To tell, remind, urge to understand the reasons, analyze the mistakes in order to prevent their repetition in the future – all this, of course, needs to be done.
The annual mention of the tragedy is usually accompanied by diverse events. One of them is the active placement of memoirs about the events of 1986 on various information platforms. This format performs several important functions: it serves as a reminder to contemporaries about the consequences of the tragedy, is an element of environmental education, and, not least, a source for studying the past.
Memories are valuable in that they open up a wide range of possibilities for the audience. On the one hand, they have already proved the facts, and sometimes they prompt us to pose new questions. In general, they are an important basis for future comprehensive studies of social history.