Chernobyl toughens up: I don’t strive for social contacts
Chernobyl toughens up: I don’t strive for social contacts

Yuri Romanovich Izdryk is a Ukrainian writer, poet, journalist, interpreter, artist and composer. But our conversation today isn’t about cultural studies or literature, but about the Chernobyl disaster. Few people know about the writer’s life from this point of view. Yuri Izdryk is a liquidator of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. This article shows Yuri’s stay in the Exclusion Zone, radioactive mattresses and scanty gratitude to the liquidators of the consequences of the disaster.

– Yuri, tell us more about your stay in the Chernobyl zone. How did you get there?

– Initially, they called me only for a month. But I stayed there for three months. Those who were called for three months left for about a year. Well, I guess I was very lucky. I got into the zone not through the Ministry of Defense. My business trip was through the internal troops. So, I immediately got to the fire department. We used fire trucks to carry water to the construction site, which later became the so-called sarcophagus. We needed water for a concrete cement mortar. So, we got it from the river, took to the station and poured into a concrete mixer.

Protective equipment, radiation mattresses, NOT love for the Komsomol

– What means of protection were used in the radioactive zone?

– A respirator and just everything. When we went to the restricted area, we changed into work clothes at the ChNPP. While returning, we threw off everything, took a shower and changed into clean clothes. At first, work clothes were disposable. Then, we didn’t pay too much attention to it.

 – How long could you stay at the highly radioactive sections of the ChNPP?

– Ohh, much depended on who worked and where. Some people lived in the Zone or directly at the station. It’s clear that there were other conditions. We had the so-called “individual radiation accumulators”. They recorded the total dose of radiation that a person received during his entire stay there. Nobody controlled these storage devices. So, we weren’t particularly interested in the amount of radiation absorbed per day. And don’t forget, this was the Soviet system. We did what we were told. This is a feature of Soviet totalitarianism. Only after a while, each of us realized where we had been and what we had to go through.

– What challenges did you encounter?

– It was necessary to quickly adapt to the tent lifestyle. I had to sleep on straw. But that wasn’t the worst thing. The straw for the mattresses was collected from nearby fields. Of course, it was radioactive. But there was not much choice. I had to sleep either on the ground or on a radioactive mattress. Everyone chose the second option. Well, at least some kind of nostalgia.

It was still a problem for me when they tried to promote me to some kind of Komsomol leadership. I just hated it and avoided in every possible way. Apparently they understood it. So, over time, they left me alone. I’ve always found it more interesting to be creative rather than handing out pennants. Since then, I’ve been leading a marginal lifestyle. I don’t strive for contacts with society.

Chernobyl weekdays: fear, illness and alcohol

– How did your stay in the Chernobyl zone affect you?

– After some time, everyone felt the influence of radiation. As a result, almost everyone had problems. About 10% of people from our platoon survived. Anyone who has already got to the zone with some diseases felt their sharp exacerbation. Those who had mild heart troubles got its chronic forms.

In addition, there were many older people among the liquidators. These were among the first to die. I had migraine attacks that haven’t disappeared until now. I can’t save myself with any medicine, except for wet compresses from warm milk. Now, my eyesight has declined sharply. And that’s not a problem of ophthalmology, but a problem of the brain. Doctors say it could be related to Chernobyl.

– Were there any fatalities in the zone with someone of your circle?

– There are practically no lethal cases associated with radiation. There were some incidents when someone felt bad. And they immediately called a doctor. But I don’t remember any excesses. More fatalities have been associated with car accidents. At the very beginning, everyone drank a lot of vodka. I heard through the grapevine that it somehow removes radiation. Drunken soldiers even got behind the wheel at first. But this drunken epic with drivers was over very quickly. Our management introduced an unwritten law: alcohol only for officers. Only the highest officers, starting with the colonel, could drink brandy. And everyone else should be sober.

Chernobyl mutant babies: a product of sick imagination

How do you imagine the effect of radiation in the future?

– In any case, radiation is going away, but life in the Exclusion Zone continues. And this can’t but gives hope. I think the human fear associated with radiation is an exaggeration. The unknown was much worse: the far-fetched secrecy and the ignorance of the elementary radiation safety rules.

A lack of knowledge of what actually lies behind such a high dose of radiation has generated a lot of rumors. They often did more harm than radiation. There was a wild fear of the unknown. Today we know that two-headed or two-legged mutant babies born after the accident are nothing more than a sick fantasy. If we knew the truth then, many neuroparalytic diseases wouldn’t have to be diagnosed at all. People were intimidated. As a result, this fear created great problems.

Nowadays, this problem doesn’t concern many people. I am more interested in it in the context of a fair attitude towards liquidators. I am a liquidator of the second category, but I receive a minimum pension. Moreover, the government tries to take it away or cut down every year. There was a time when it had to be literally recaptured in a court. Chernobyl toughened me up to some extent. I learned to survive.