Our children do not know what the air, sky, water, and the world were like before the Chernobyl tragedy. And they will never be able to find out. The tragedy at the ChNPP changed humanity, made us look at ourselves and the values we professed in a different way. So, the Chernobyl accident changed the world. The Chernobyl fires of 2020 reminded of this once again.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was again talked about everywhere in the spring of 2020. So, it was again in the center of world attention. The reason was the fires that began on April 4, 2020, in the Chernobyl exclusion zone on the territory of the Kotovsky forestry. The flames between the Polesskoye village, the villages of Tarasy and Vladimirovka were extinguished only after 10 days. However, the fire resumed again two days later due to gusts of wind.
Only the lazy did not talk about the fires in the Zone and the possible consequences of the disaster. There was a barely hidden fear among people: what if the radiation has not gone anywhere? Most of the Zhytomyr and almost the entire Kiev regions were in a smoke screen for almost a month. Frankly speaking, Chernobyl has never been so scary since the accident. Rescuers managed to overcome the element in a grueling fight. But its consequences excite the mind.
Statistical information: The territories of 13 former villages of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone burned down as a result of the spring fires of 2020. The territory of the Red Forest and the closed military city of Chernobyl-2 burned down. In addition, the city of Chernobyl suffered. The fire did not reach directly to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A preliminary estimate of the area of fires was about 13,000 hectares. More than 30% of tourist sites were destroyed …
The problem of a fire hazard in the Zone is understandable to almost everyone. It`s a living wound. What did this wound remind those who were just reaching adulthood at the time of the accident? 34 years have passed since the tragic date for the whole world, April 26, 1986. Let’s look at the events of the past through the eyes of an ordinary person. Not everyone had a chance to protect nuclear power plants from fire, save the world from radiation at the facilities of the Chernobyl station.
Chernobyl tragedy: “The Carousel of Soviet industrialism”
What did ordinary citizens of the former Soviet Union know then, 34 years ago? What thoughts did they have during the absence of the Internet, when information spread extremely slowly? And what did they feel when there was a suspicion that the authorities were hiding “unfavorable information”? It was a time when the district editorial provided food for thought, replacing every social media in the world. It was the time when every leadership informed about the events as required by the party’s policy.
Yury Larchenko shares his thoughts….
“… The spring of 1986. We, the graduate students of a pedagogical university, are happy. We are on the verge of an independent life. So, we grew up on the ideals of communism, firmly convinced that we live in the best country in the world. We know that our government is working hard for our security and the heyday of the state.
We were proud of the achievements of Soviet science and sincerely believed in the development of peaceful energy. And we admired the scale of the construction of new cities, factories, and power plants. The use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes has made us admire and proud of our country. So, we knew about the large-scale construction of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Moreover, we knew about the thousands of young builders who came to the construction of the ChNPP from all over the Soviet Union. Living in such a new modern city was a dream for everyone. For a resident of the provinces, getting into this “carousel of Soviet industrialism” was like flying into space.
One line in the central newspaper
And suddenly … The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant … It was not a sensation, a global event or terrible news. An inconspicuous line at the bottom of the page was an informational message in the newspaper Pravda. At that time, every student had to subscribe to the newspaper. So, it said that an accident had occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The consequences were being eliminated. And the situation was not dangerous. At first, we did not even know whether people died during the explosion.
Many people subscribed to the newspaper. But in fact, only a few read it. They learned about the main events on the weekly political news. The turn came to a short note about the Chernobyl accident. A supervisor of our group read the information, exhaled, and put the newspaper aside. Then she said: “It turns out that the peaceful atom is not so safe”. There was a doubt in this phrase about the complexity of the situation. But nobody began to develop this topic.
Our teachers, like us, believed in government policy, in the printed word, and in the central newspapers. We believed that the authorities cared for and thought of us. There was no point in being distracted by thinking about radiation safety in the country. Then, we thought about the May Day holidays, mass demonstrations throughout the country, the strength and power of our state. So, our life went on under the slogan: “Peace. Labor. May.”
However, rumors still began to reach us. They said that the inhabitants of Pripyat temporarily left the city. Moreover, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had stopped its work. In addition, many people from all cities and villages went on a business trip to eliminate the consequences of the accident. And yet, the event was not given wide publicity. We could discuss the accident only in a whisper.
Why did it happen? Who is guilty? What will happen next? Questions that remained unanswered then. The TV channels talked only about heroes. Of course, we honored the memory of the dead firefighters, who were the first to come to our defense. And we didn’t even know how many thousands got injured in the aftermath of the accident. There was no place for such a truth on Soviet TV channels.
Life went on: tourist Chernobyl
Only years later, the Chernobyl research appeared in independent Ukraine. Experts and specialists could publicly express their opinion on what actually happened at the Chernobyl NPP. So, they began to show documentary chronicles and to shoot feature films. Interest in Chernobyl began to grow.
Radiation measurements were taken in the 1990s. The Exclusion Zone was gradually opening to the world. Since 2011, it has become possible to get there for almost everyone. And I went to the Zone and too. It became interesting for me.
I was convinced that today’s tourists call the Chernobyl Zone one of the most mysterious places on the planet. Various tour operators organize excursions to the Exclusion Zone. Not only Ukrainians, but also foreigners are among those wishing to visit this tourist site. You can even book a tour via the Internet. The guides are positive-minded young guys and girls. They immediately answer the questions that worry tourists. How dangerous is it to be in the Zone?
– We have been working here for two years now. We accompany excursions twice a week. And we make measurements of radiation before and after entry. It is absolutely safe to stay in the Zone for one day. The guide reassures that the radiation background in some places of the capital is higher than it is now in Chernobyl. In addition, the roads and paths along which the excursion passes are periodically deactivated.
You will receive a symbolic dose of radiation exposure for one day of a full-scale excursion to the Chernobyl zone. It is equal to approximately one hour of flight in an airplane. This dose is 160 times less than what you get with one fluorography.
Chernobyl tragedy: a radiation gift is not the best choice
Documents are checked at the Dityatki checkpoint. Then, all tourists get off the bus. There are many buses at the checkpoint. This is one of the most popular routes. After the checkpoint, the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone begins. The road runs through the forest. It is especially good in autumn. All is in a gold outfit. The trees stand close to each other. There is an impenetrable forest behind the first row.
Gradually looking inside this thick of gold, you see abandoned houses and courtyards behind the wall of the forest. And only then, you realize that there are former rural streets on both sides. And now, there is a dense forest between the road and the houses. You can only walk along the paths. But you cannot move away. A beautiful yellow carpet of leaves can be dangerous. You must not take things with you. A radiation gift is not the best choice. Also, you should choose an outfit for the excursion as closed as possible. Do not smoke or eat outside.
An excursion bus enters the central avenue of the city of Pripyat. The avenue is almost overgrown with trees, only a narrow track remains. Transport stops in front of the city center. Then, the excursion group goes on foot. We find ourselves in the central square, where the Energetik Palace of Culture and the Polesie hotel are located.
In February 1970, construction began on the city. The construction of the first power unit of the ChNPP started in May of the same year. It was to become the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Young enthusiasts from all over the Soviet Union went to the construction site. Microdistricts of Pripyat were named after the Soviet republics. The city was named after the river, on the banks of which it was built. In 1979, Pripyat became a satellite city of the nuclear power plant, located 2 km from the city.
An ideal Soviet city
The correct urban planning form, the ideal location of the infrastructure… Pripyat was an example of Soviet architecture. More than 150 high-rise buildings of the same type, 15 kindergartens, 5 schools, and the Palace of Culture were built in the city. There was a 1220-seat cinema in Pripyat, a swimming pool, gyms, a stadium, 3 polyclinics. 25 shops, 27 canteens, cafes and restaurants served the city of power engineers. Moreover, there were many parks in Pripyat, dozens of playgrounds, and much more. Residents of many Soviet cities could only dream of this. In 1986, on the eve of the accident, there were about 50,000 inhabitants. The average age was 26. So, the builders became the first inhabitants of the young city.
“Pripyat was an ideal city from all sides: new modern houses, educational and cultural institutions,” the guide says. It was possible to be born here, study, work and, without leaving the city, live a happy life. And it actually was! Modern kindergartens, secondary schools, built according to a new layout. An educational institution was located in Chernobyl, after graduating from which one could immediately go to work at a nuclear power plant.
The wages of a worker at the Chernobyl NPP were 400 rubles. This is at a time when the average salary in the Union barely reached 70 rubles. The engineering and management staff of the Chernobyl NPP received a salary of about 1000 rubles. The supply of the power engineering camp was also good enough. In the era of total shortage, it was possible to buy imported manufactured goods and high-quality food here.
The location of the city itself was also ideal – near the capital of Ukraine. Today, there is hellish silence in the once cozy apartments of high-rise buildings in Pripyat. Occasionally, you may see rare household items such as a piano or torn toys … They have become a symbol of the past, a ghost of someone’s life. Today, these mosaic high-rise buildings are monuments to a failed life…”