On April 26, 1986, a catastrophe of a global scale occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant named after V. I. Lenin. The world still feels its irreversible consequences. A huge amount of radioactive substances got into the environment. The accident occurred during a planned experiment. Its essence was to determine the possibility of generating electricity by a turbine generator at the time of an emergency shutdown of the power source.
There were two explosions that night. The first became inevitable at the 36th second after the start of the test, when the increasing power of the reactor went out of control. A destructive thermal explosion tore from the mountings a protective plate weighing 1200 tons, which covered the 4th power unit. The second explosion completely destroyed the upper part of the buildin. Oxygen got into the red-hot core of the reactor. The graphite shell flared up. As a result of the accident, radioactive decay products were released into the atmosphere at a temperature of more than 2000 degrees. All this led to the formation of a “radioactive cloud” at an altitude of 1200 meters.
Dangerous air of Chernobyl
More than 40 types of radioactive substances have entered the atmosphere, the total radioactivity of which is at least 50 million curies. This radioactivity equates to several hundred atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. As a result, the Chernobyl radioactive cloud spread throughout the eastern hemisphere, settling on the earth’s surface in the form of radioactive dust. Before the explosion, the reactor was filled with 190 tons of nuclear fuel – uranium dioxide. In addition, the core contained transuranic elements such as radioactive isotopes accumulated during the operation of the reactor. Having entered the atmosphere, they spread the maximum radiation hazard to all life on the planet.
In 1986, more than 230 thousand people became internally displaced persons. The Chernobyl disaster forced people to leave their homes. It was difficult to start everything from scratch: to look for a job and to equip housing. Diseases caused by radiation damage made themselves felt. Quite a few immigrants remained socially isolated and tried to stick to “their own people”. Others began to call them “Chernobyl victims”. In some cities, new multi-storey buildings were completely given over to the Chernobyl victims for settlement without a queue. Other citizens did not always respond positively to this. People shunned migrants, considered them infectious.
The Soviet government was silent about the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
However, an increased level of radiation was recorded in Europe. Having identified the culprit, they began to demand an explanation from the USSR. Frightened by threats from representatives of diplomatic missions, the Soviet government made some concessions. They could publish about the accident in the media. But not in all and not about everything. Local press could publish only short messages about the so-called “big fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.”
Komsomolskaya Pravda was the most popular publication in the USSR. But even on April 29, 1986, there was no information about the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The abnormal increase in the level of radioactive background has caused an alarming reaction from the West. The Soviet government emphasized the purely technical side of the tragedy and assured that estimates of the scale of the accident were significantly exaggerated. So, the first official announcement in the USSR was made only on April 28 under pressure from the international community. Almost nothing was reported in it about the scale of the problem that was then already hanging over most European countries.
The accident was first reported on TV only on the third day in the USSR. Short messages began to appear on the pages of newspapers. They were very superficial and did not reveal the scale of the catastrophe that happened in the country. The impression was that there was no threat, but the problem was local. Soviet newspapers were full of publications about the anti-Soviet intentions of European states, which “exaggerate fables about thousands of dead, about panic among the population…”
The party reassured: “It’s not about radiation, but anti-Sovietism…”, “another unbridled anti-Soviet campaign…”
Lies cover up lies. The ruling elite knew about the threat, but delayed the decision to evacuate by 35 hours. The authorities deliberately put people to dangerous radiation exposure. May Day demonstrations took place on the occasion of the Day of Workers’ Solidarity all over the territory of the USSR. The background radiation in Kiev and other cities exceeded the norm by 60-200 times. People spent the May holidays in the open air, thereby putting themselves and their families in mortal danger. Recreation and entertainment areas, children’s attractions in parks worked.
It was important for the party nomenclature to demonstrate to the world that the current regime is strong and invincible. “Communism is always with us.” “The people and the party are united.” The streets of Soviet cities were full of such slogans. At the same time, the life of the people themselves wasn`t worth a farthing. A picture of a happy Soviet society was important.
Gorbachev: “Just try not to hold a parade in Kiev!”
Such a picture was, including the parade in the Ukrainian capital, the city of Kiev. Most of Kyiv citizens had already known about the accident that had happened. It was recommended to ventilate the premises more often and carry out wet cleaning in factories. This instilled concern. The deadly threat drove the “rich parents” to save their children. Teachers set annual grades in advance for such lucky schoolchildren and students. Moreover, they drew up documents for the end of the school year. Further, they did not awaite a May Day demonstration, poor pioneer camps, but awaited children’s resorts in Turkey and Bulgaria.
The parade was to begin on May 1, at 10.00 a.m, in Kiev. However, Vladimir Shcherbitsky was late. A few minutes later, a car appeared with the First Secretary, his family and little grandson Vladimir. The appearance of the chief’s family aroused undisguised surprise among the operators present. They say that on the podium, Shcherbitsky recounted his conversation with Gorbachev to his colleagues in a whisper. … I tell him: “You can’t hold a parade now”. And he answers me: “Just try not to hold a parade in Kiev!”
Valentina Shevchenko stood on the podium next to Vladimir Shcherbitsky. She arrived with her son and pregnant daughter-in-law.
The May Day demonstration in Kiev ended, and the people went home. On this day, citizens with signs of a suspicious disease began to massively apply to hospitals in Kiev and Zhytomyr regions. Doctors in a narrow circle diagnosed signs of radiation sickness. But having received instructions from above, they recorded vegetative-vascular dystonia.
On May 2, the USSR Ministry of Health declined the assistance offered by the World Health Organization to eliminate the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. On May 6, the “Soviet” stage of the 39th international bike ride took place in the streets of Kiev. A remake of the May Day parade took place on Victory Day on May 9. There were also schoolchildren on it. On May 14, 18 days after the disaster, Gorbachev, the chairman of the CPSU Central Committee, made an announcement.
Sanatorium conditions of liquidators: a piano, chess and football
Analyzing the media of that time, it becomes obvious how much the authorities lied, holding back information about the real consequences of the accident. Thus, it gave hope to the evacuees for a quick return to their homes, to normal life. Farmers whose lands were located in the exclusion zone demonstrated successful indicators of the completion of the sowing campaign.
Almost all reports from Chernobyl were exemplary. For instance, a story about the life of liquidators play the piano, chess, football, and watch movies who in their free time. As if they are not dealing with the elimination of the consequences of a radiation catastrophe, but undergoing a rehabilitation course, living in a sanatorium-resort environment.
The central body of the party classified the reports of specialists, materials of the investigation of the accident, documents and maps of the contaminated areas. We were able to learn about the details of a terrible page in the history of Ukraine years later. Before that, bit by bit, the facts gathered from the memories of those who had to pay their debt to the Motherland at the Chernobyl NPP.
Chernobyl has become a symbol of historical memory represented by those who have devoted part of their lives to eliminating the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Five months to work on liquidation is a long time. But not everyone can master it. Vasily Vydrik managed to do it in 1989. However, the main thing is that he managed to survive.
The story of a direct participant in the liquidation 34 years after the accident:
… I was working on a collective farm when a summons came from the military registration and enlistment office. It happened on my birthday, on February 17, 1989. I celebrated it on a fuel truck. The collective farm foreman agreed to give me a lift to the regional center. On that day, only 27 people arrived at the collection point in Bila Tserkva. Many were “rejected” by the medical board or just paid off.
We gave half a day to get ready. At night, we and a group of guys from Volyn went by bus to the ChNPP. Upon arrival, we settled in a tent military field camp 50 kilometers from the station itself. Also, all “recruits” were immediately given a green military uniform and special passes. Thirty people settled down in large tents.
“You’re screwed guys”
We had to carry out various jobs at the Chernobyl NPP over the course of five months. We went to the station every day, and dismantled the post-accident blockages at the power units. In addition, we removed paint from the walls in the premises and basements by hand. And plaster was stripped down to the concrete walls. We loaded onstruction waste into Kamaz, Krazy. Then, our brigade sent it on echelons to the burial ground. After that, we painted and plastered the same walls. We drove to work by URALs. A fire engine, which was washing the asphalt, was in front of us. And it repeated every day, in both directions.
There were three checkpoints: a thirty-kilometer zone, a ten-kilometer zone and the station territory. We received white medical cloth overalls, glasses, respirators, gloves and rubber boots. So, there were no open areas of the body. Overalls were the only thing that protected from radiation. Everyone wore it – doctors, military men, civilians. We worked the whole day, from 5 a.m. till 5 p.m., like at a regular job. In the evening, everyone went to the bathhouse at the station. We threw off our clothes completely. And we called this process “shedding the skin”.
The doctors checked us at the station and often joked: “You`re screwed, guys.” Or, meeting in the evening, they asked: “How, are you still alive?” Some of them returned to wash several times until the dosimeter stopped “beeping”. We all had a dosimeter on our chests. We saw the numbers and heard the background, a specific signal. If the doctors wrote the truth, how much radiation the soldiers “picked up”, it would have been two days to immediately demobilize us. But they did not write to anyone the real indicators of exposure. Where are so many people to recruit for replacement?
What did the liquidators of the Chernobyl accident eat?
I don’t know about the rest of the liquidators. However, when I was at the ChNPP, we ate deficit products such as seafood, caviar, fruit, condensed milk. We did not drink local water. We took carbonated water in glass bottles in boxes. Moreover, there were twenty varieties of all. One tent took 30 boxes of water daily. In addition, the chefs cooked food from imported water. There were dishes on the menu which names we had never even heard of. We received 150 rubles a month. I had in my hands a third category liquidator’s certificate. 1989 was a relatively “clean” year at the Chernobyl NPP … ”
Chernobyl is a terrible and instructive lesson for all mankind. It makes one think about the measure of the authorities’ responsibility to the people for the decisions they make. After all, the questions that have arisen during the Chernobyl disaster still remain unanswered …