Since the construction of the ChNPP, the frequent visits of representatives of the State Security Committee to the facility under construction have almost never caused bewilderment to anyone. Everything is logical. The appearance of a structural unit of the Soviet special services at the ChNPP was due to the strategic status of the new building. The Soviet leadership immediately put the Chernobyl nuclear power plant under special control.
When the accident happened, agents of the special services appeared at the ChNPP almost simultaneously with the firefighters. There is every reason to believe that the “KGBists” knew about the consequences, from the first days. These consequences awaited not only the liquidators of the accident. They touched also all people living in the territory contaminated with radioactive waste.
Despite this, the leadership of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR neglected the need to inform the population about the environmental consequences of a nuclear disaster. They “checked the version of a possible sabotage at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant”. The KGB involved 67 agents and 56 proxies in operational activities.
Many Soviet people first heard about the incident from radio sources, “enemy voices” from London, Washington and Munich. On April 27, at 11 p.m., the Danish nuclear research laboratory recorded an accident of the MPA category at the ChNPP. It was the maximum design basis accident. At the same time, Sweden recorded a sharp increase in the radiation background. The next day, the Swedish leadership already had data on the source of the pollution. They officially asked Moscow to provide an explanation.
The government of the USSR understood that they had to inform the population. However, the government believed that all the tools of manipulation would be used for these purposes. It’s in the spirit of a totalitarian state. For the first time, citizens learned about the tragedy from the message of the Government Commission. The government approved it at the first meeting of the task force of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee on April 29, 1986. They regularly reviewed and approved the texts of government notifications for the Soviet press and governments of foreign countries at its meetings. The first information was extremely metered.
On June 30 of the same year, the KGB of the USSR, with a special document “On the protection of information about the accident at the 4th power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant”, put into effect a de facto ban on information that has anything to do with the accident at the ChNPP.
It was about the true causes of the accident and the nature of the destruction. This told about the extent of damage to equipment, systems of the power unit and the NPP as a whole. It was about the radiation situation and the actual state of the reactor core. This was about the degree of injury to people at the ChNPP, the nature of their activities, the features of the involved organizations, as well as the population, etc.
Was it a white lie?
Later, the party nomenklature explained the cover-up of the accident with good intention focused on preventing panic. They stated that all the measures they took were timely and appropriate. However, not panic, but radiation killed people in those days.
On the contrary, falsification of the scale of the accident, ignorance of how to behave created the preconditions for a mass commotion, especially in the capital of Ukraine. In early May, the people of Kiev rushed to save their families. Huge queues formed at train stations, airports, near ticket offices. They were mostly of women with children. Most of all, panic in Kiev began to manifest itself on May 4-5, 1986.
The government of the USSR generally refused international assistance. However, already in 1987, the Soviet authorities appealed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They regarded the provision of a qualified expert assessment of the steps taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. The motivation for such actions was the desire to figure out who to shoulder the burden of responsibility: Moscow or Kiev?
How did the diaspora react?
The Ukrainian diaspora immediately linked the events at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant with the colonial powerless status of Ukraine. The Ukrainians of the United States of America gathered for anti-Soviet demonstrations on April 30, 1986. They gathered in front of the buildings of the USSR mission to the UN in New York and the UN Secretariat. Memorial services for the victims of the nuclear disaster were held in churches in New York, Chicago and other American cities.
Ukrainians have created a number of public organizations in the United States and Canada. They wanted to draw the attention of the Western world to the Chernobyl accident. In addition, Ukrainians held demonstrations and prepared an appeal to the governments of Western states. They collected materials about the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The Foreign Committee of the Ukrainian Liberation Rada made significant efforts in September 1986 to bring the issue of Chernobyl to the UN.
KGB agents informed their party bosses. “Attempts are being made to impose on the world community the opinion that the USSR is allegedly carrying out a policy of genocide against the Ukrainian people.
To this end, the functionaries of the Ukrainian Liberation Rada, in contact with the US intelligence services, are conducting a survey of Soviet citizens arriving through various channels in the United States, as well as foreigners who have visited Ukraine. After appropriate processing, these materials are intended to be used by representatives of the UOR for anti-Soviet treatment of representatives of foreign delegations, participants in the work of the UN General Session.
In April 1987, the United States celebrated the first anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. The World Congress of Free Ukrainians has announced the week of the Chernobyl tragedy in the United States. During this period, memorial services were held in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago in memory of the victims of Chernobyl. On May 1, a procession to the UN building with candles and mourning ribbons took place in New York.
At the same time, the KGB thwarted the events in Kiev planned by the Chernobyl victims. The residents of the areas Troyeshchyna and Kharkivskoe Highway planned to gather in the city center on April 26, 1987. They were evacuated from the 30-kilometer zone. So, people wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the scanty amount of compensation for material damage and the lack of a permanent residence permit in the capital. Moreover, people complained about false diagnoses that they received in hospitals. This action could have a significant resonance. So, the KGB did everything to prevent it.
A modern ship among Ukrainian Polissya
The destroyed fourth power unit of the ChNPP became the emblem of the ruins of the 20th century. It is a kind of seal of the heroic and tragic history of a huge totalitarian state. The city of power engineers Pripyat was a Russian-speaking all-Union project of the future. At the same time, the project had to play the role of a Ukrainian model of development. It had to become a modern spaceship among the Ukrainian Polesie. Moreover, it had to be one of the most archaic and least economically developed regions of Ukraine.
The ChNPP, as the first nuclear power plant in Ukraine, played a central role in the history of the rise of the Ukrainian SSR. People from various places of the former USSR traveled to Pripyat in search of a well-paid job, social status associated with prestigious work in the field of nuclear technology, striving for a comfortable life. People were from the shores of the Baltic to Eastern Siberia.
However, on the night of April 26, 1986, this dream died. Elimination of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster became the last big battle of the Soviet Union. All material and human resources, from the army to industry, were involved. The Chernobyl story has become not only an indicator of pressure and coercion. Also, it became a vivid example of an individual sense of responsibility and heroism.