Chernobyl: Military Doctors
Chernobyl: Military Doctors

Another group of military men made their enormous professional contribution and human efforts in measures to eliminate the accident and minimize its consequences. These are military doctors. Their participation was carried out in several areas.

One of the main ones was providing assistance to those affected during the accident, who were brought with acute radiation sickness to the sixth clinical hospital in Moscow. As well as assistance to the military, who worked in the accident zone, and subsequently, assistance directly to the affected population.

Military doctors had to know the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of radiation emissions for the effective work. According to Major General, Doctor of Technical Sciences, academician of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences M. Tarakanov, according to the most conservative estimates, as a result of the Chernobyl accident, more than 90 times more radioactive substances were released into the atmosphere than when an atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima.

Thus, the Chernobyl explosion corresponds in its consequences for the nature of a large-scale nuclear war. Lieutenant General of the Medical Service, First Deputy Head of the Central Military Medical Administration of the USSR Ministry of Defense Sinopalnikov I.V. argued that the situation in the accident area, in terms of mass and nature of the pathology, to a large extent simulated the destruction of a nuclear power plant by high-precision neutron weapons. The effectiveness of the system for protecting troops from a nuclear explosion adopted during the war was confirmed.

In connection with such a difficult situation, the efforts of physicians were of great importance. April 28, 1986, 20 medical staff of the Central Military Medical University, headed by a professor of medical services Ermakov E.V., and a group of hematologists from the central hospitals of the USSR Ministry of Defense began to cooperate with the staff of the 6th clinical hospital.

In addition, about 100 victims were sent to the Military Medical Academy, directly to the military field therapy clinic, headed by the chief radiologist of the USSR Ministry of Defense, professor, major general of the medical service, Alekseev G.I. By that time, this clinic had already had experience in providing therapeutic assistance to victims of accidents in nuclear submarines.

Doctors are at the forefront

Despite the titanic efforts of local doctors, the organization of medical assistance to the affected population in the first days after the accident had significant drawbacks.

Therefore, on May 4, 1986, a task force consisting of the first deputy head of the Central Military Medical University, Lieutenant General of the Medical Service I.V. Sinopalnikov, specialist in medical supply, Colonel of the medical service O.V. Voronkova flew in the Chernobyl region in order to organize and adjust the mechanism of military medical assistance to the population in the shortest possible time.

Five fully-equipped medical battalions were formed and deployed in the Chernobyl region within two days, which were able to do much of what civilian doctors had to do.

20 medical posts, five radiometric laboratories and the like began to work. 200 highly qualified doctors from Moscow military medical institutions and the Medical Academy were sent to the disaster area to strengthen medical units. Also, 25 hematological teams arrived at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, with the participation of ten main radiologists of military districts and fleets.

Along with specialists from the center, active participation in the provision of medical assistance to the population and liquidators was provided by specialists from the medical service of the Kiev, Belorussian and Carpathian Military Districts.

39 medical institutions and units with a total number of medical staff 1468 people were involved. In the first days after the disaster, four teams of doctors were formed at the expense of the staff of the 408 district military hospital and the Chernihiv military hospital, equipped with 25 thousand individual first-aid kits, 500 tents, 25 liters of donor blood and albumin, ambulances, and a hospital with 20 beds was also deployed.

As of May 11, 1986, work on a mass survey of the population in the area of radioactive contamination was almost completed. A total of 78 thousand people of the local population were examined, while 36 thousand hematological analyzes and 79 thousand radiometric studies of the thyroid gland were performed. In general, during 1986-1987, 4,500 thousand people underwent medical treatment and medical examinations in the military hospitals of the Kiev, Belarussian and Carpathian military districts, and 77 thousand military personnel in individual medical battalions.

Chernobyl: they saw death

There was a catastrophic event for the world 33 years ago – the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the consequences of which are still being felt. Greenpeace and Doctors Against Nuclear War international organization claim that tens of thousands of people died as a result of the accident only among the liquidators.

We remember their feat and honor the memory of the victims. Although in fairness we add that there were victims, including doctors. We rarely talk about their contribution to the cause of the accident. Today, not only doctors, but also pharmacists share memories of the first days after the explosion.

One of them is Oleg Klimov, a chairman of the board of the All-Ukrainian Pharmaceutical Chamber, which has been one of the first pharmacists to establish a medical support system directly in the accident zone in Chernobyl:

… I found out about the accident the next day. On April 27, our team had already been informed in the morning that a technological disaster had occurred in Chernobyl, and we began to prepare potassium iodide. By that time, we had only theoretical knowledge about the terrible consequences of radiation exposure, but we still did not fully realize the real threats. In addition, no one knew exactly what to do in the first days after the accident, but the event itself was kept secret. Not all people realized the real danger. Access to information on measures to prevent exposure to radiation was kept under the heading “secret.”

Pharmaceutical workers studied natural sciences, therefore they understood that in the current situation, first of all, it was necessary to provide people with substances that protect the body from the harmful effects of radiation.

These substances are called protectors. The best and most affordable tread at the time was potassium iodide. Why exactly this substance? The thyroid gland is most vulnerable to radiation, and potassium iodide is able to prevent the accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland.

Despite the lack of information, people understood that they should protect themselves from the effects of radiation. Therefore, there was already a line at the entrance for potassium iodide in the morning before our pharmacy was supposed to open. At that time, this drug was in great demand.

The threat is localized – a false impression

In general, the lack of information about the real extent of the accident, the plan of measures aimed at eliminating its consequences, the effects of radiation on human health and methods of protection – all this was the main problem that, in my opinion, should be qualified as a crime against the people today.

On April 26 and 27, the population was not warned of the danger and did not provide any recommendations on how to behave in order to reduce the effect of radiation.

The first official announcement was made on television only on April 28, under the pressure of circumstances and the international community, but it contained very little information about what had happened and it seemed that the threat was localized.

It is no secret that on May 1, 1986, May Day demonstrations on the International Workers’ Day took place in the country, including in Kiev. People participated in these celebrations, together with the children, not understanding the threats, and the staff of our pharmacy is no exception. As I remember now, this day was very hot and windy.

By the way, the wind from the Chernobyl zone blew in the direction of Kiev. On May 1, at 11 a.m., the gamma-ray background recorded a level of about 2500 μR / hour. I want to note that the lack of reliable information about the accident, on the one hand, is a problem, but on the other – thanks to this, panic was avoided.

In the early days of May, authorities nevertheless organized an evacuation. As of May 3, the population of the 10-kilometer zone was evacuated. By May 6, residents of other settlements of the 30-kilometer zone had also been evacuated.

In early May 1986, the head of the pharmacy department of the Kiev Oblast Executive Committee, Yevgeny Pakrysh, convened a meeting of the heads of pharmacy institutions in the Kiev region and said that it was necessary to send an experienced specialist to the accident zone in order to organize medical support for those involved in the elimination of its consequences.

As a military pharmacist, I had the honor of becoming the first in organizing a drug supply service for the liquidators of the accident. I went to Chernobyl immediately after this meeting. My task was to organize the provision of medicines and medical products to people working in the closed zone, that is, directly involved in the aftermath of the accident.

Chernobyl and the interhospital drugstore

Before I left for Chernobyl, I was advised to change into clothes that I would not be sorry to throw away later. In addition, I took with me rubbing alcohol, which, when taken orally in small doses, also acts as a tread and to some extent protects against radiation.

I had only a cotton-gauze bandage among the personal protective equipment. When I arrived at the place, I saw a small one-story building located near the hospital. It was an interhospital drugstore. The central district pharmacy of Chernobyl was closed and sealed, like most other institutions in the city.

It became clear at first glance at the city that people were evacuated unexpectedly and quickly. It seemed that its inhabitants all together at the same time left their homes, but were about to return.

I reached the pharmacy at about 7 p.m. A radiation background was noted on the roof with chalk. A team of doctors from Kharkov worked in the hospital, near which the pharmacy was located. We were young, funny and did not understand the risks of working in Chernobyl very well.

Together with the head physician, we drew up the act of opening a pharmacy and made an inventory of the available property. In the morning, I washed the pharmacy premises with a hose from the middle and the outside. At first, I worked alone, and a week later I had an assistant.

The main problem of the work of a pharmacist in Chernobyl is the timely provision of liquidators with a wide range of medicines.

The fact is that under the influence of radioactive substances, people experienced deterioration of chronic diseases. And they worked on a rotational basis. That is, there was a staff turnover with various chronic diseases, all of them required an individual approach. If a person felt bad, then he first went to the hospital.

The doctor after the examination provided a prescription. The patient was sent to our pharmacy with this prescription, and I gave him medicines and medical products for free. All medicines were prescription. Recipes were kept and strictly accounted for. If the pharmacy did not have the right drug, I immediately called the central pharmacy warehouse in Kiev and made an order.

The next day, the drugs were delivered to the central district pharmacy of Ivankov, where I took them. If we were talking about outpatient treatment, then, after receiving the medication, the person remained to work in the liquidation zone. If there was a need for hospitalization, then the patient was taken to the district hospital of Ivankov. Further, if there was a need for specialized assistance, he was sent to a republican hospital.

I want to note that, despite the shortage of medicines that the country was experiencing at that time, the medical support of the Chernobyl zone was carried out in full. The whole arsenal of drugs that were in circulation in the USSR, in the required quantity, was available for us.

The pharmacy worked from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. At the same time, I managed to order and give drugs, delivered them from Ivankov to Chernobyl almost daily, and manufactured drugs at the pharmacy. In particular, I prepared cough syrups, ointments against burns, potassium iodide, painkillers and the like.

The team from Kharkov means resuscitation of medical support

From the very beginning, a team of doctors from Kharkov worked in the Chernobyl hospital. They were replaced by a team of doctors from Dnepropetrovsk. But it was Kharkov doctors who re-opened the hospital, and established medical support for the liquidators of the accident.

Health veterans – medical and pharmaceutical workers who fell into the accident zone in the first wave of liquidators – can confirm that no one knew about the real dose of radiation, because information on the real state of affairs was not communicated.

There were no devices for measuring radiation, and the only individual means of protection was a cotton-gauze dressing. I have repeatedly participated in transporting patients to the Ivankov hospital, because I had to go there for drugs to the central district pharmacy almost every day.

One case struck my mind. Before the next trip to the pharmacy, the chief doctor asked me to transport a young scientist to the regional hospital who arrived in Chernobyl from Leningrad. He was a young man, about thirty years old, a physicist who received a high dose of radiation. He came to himself, then raved.

This man was delirious, he talked with his young children and his wife and told them that he had received a high dose of radiation and his life was coming to an end. He said goodbye to his family, and we, listening to him, understood that we were more fortunate than him, because we, in comparison with him, received a small dose of radiation.

It was very difficult to restrain the tears of pity and pain, looking at this young fading life, for children who were left without a father. Today, these memories come to mind as distant events, whose impressions have already faded. And then this pain was felt very sharply.

I spent about a month in the Chernobyl zone. In addition to the sad memories of grief and pain that constantly accompanied our work, I still remember people who, from the first days after the Chernobyl disaster, provided medical assistance to those affected by radiation. The medical workers – doctors and pharmacists – have accomplished a real feat, and we must remember this”.