There were many different rumors in 1986, during the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident in the 30-kilometer zone. One of them is a persistent myth that alcohol significantly reduces the harmful effects of radiation. For some reason, everyone was celebrating the therapeutic properties of red wine. Even military doctors spread such rumors!
Andrei Kulish, a colonel and veteran of the Armed Forces, looks back on it.
“… I say what I saw with my own eyes. Each liquidator supported “alcohol rumors” and drank whenever possible. Only those who were on the wagon didn’t drink. But there were only a few of such guys. I assure you that there were practically no teetotalers among the military in the zone…
Any alcohol in the zone was in an incredible shortage. The military trade auto shops didn’t bring or sell alcohol. Moreover, all local civilian stores were evacuated. The ChNPP Work Supply Department provided alcohol only for members of the government commission and generals of the Operational Headquarters. However, those few daily boxes were a big secret and made up a tiny fraction of the need for “preventive treatment”.
Without a doubt, moonshine has become a common drink in the zone. Polissya has long been famous for its apples, potatoes, beets and other raw materials for booze. Moonshine was regularly prepared there in large volumes even before the war. The locals showed off this in the Zone. In addition, 1986 saw the peak of Gorbachev’s bans. I mean alcohol prohibition in the USSR. Therefore, everybody took part in moonshine making in villages and cities.
It became officially known in the summer that the Polissya villages had been evacuated forever, and that they were simply “no one’s”. Nevertheless, we had to decontaminate deserted courtyards and houses. Mobilized from the reserve, rural “partisans” correctly found any hiding places such as cellars or sheds in abandoned villages.
Units dealing with the decontamination of abandoned villages brought moonshine in three-liter jars. Along the way, they took away a “snack” (a variety of fruit and vegetable preserves) from the not plundered rural cellars and garages. They especially appreciated pickled mushrooms. You know, Polissya is extremely rich in this yummy.
Do you wanna say we were marauders?
I’ll forever remember how some soldiers left money in the emptied caches: “three rubles” and “fives”. They left a kind of payment for the absent owners, who would never return. But we were still ashamed to look like thieves. Looking away, they guiltily justified themselves: “This is all contaminated, radioactive, nobody’s…”
Also, drivers of the rear services almost constantly brought alcohol from Kiev and evacuated regional centers around the Zone. The “order” came in the evening before the trip. People ordered whole boxes of wine and vodka in advance. “Gourmets” even reserved a bottle of “Zhigulevskoe”. As you can see, Ukrainians didn’t know any other beer then.
The military – not a single soldier or officer – didn’t drink alcohol during the day. It was an unwritten law. In the daytime, everyone tried to control themselves, until dinner they were rather sober. At least I didn’t catch any military man being drunk during the day. Going to the reactor “tipsy”? God bless you! I’m not talking about civilians, because I don’t know. I won’t lie.
We were “treated with alcohol” in our 132nd motorized rifle regiment only after supper. After dinner, the soldiers tried to hide in tents with a shot. But at the same time, they always maintained decency. Sitting down to drink, we used the DP-5 device to measure the level of radioactivity of the moonshine instead of “degrees”. The indicator was usually 9-10 milliroentgens. We drank without fear because such a level of radiation became “habitual”. This “went off scale” everywhere around our tent city.
“The Ukrainian nation doesn’t care about radiation!”
Sometimes the level of radiation in the moonshine was much higher. However, there was certainly a desperate daredevil in any company who, drinking, would say: “The Ukrainian nation doesn’t care about radiation!” In other words, no one has ever brought radioactive alcohol to the “burial grounds”.
Having got drunk, we went out to the nearest smoking room. The commanders of the subunits sometimes passed the smoking room. But, as a rule, they “didn’t notice” their tipsy subordinates. Frankly speaking, they also sinned with “anti-radiation prophylaxis”. Everyone was affected not only by physical activity, but also by moral stress: far from the family, daily danger, anxiety.
A shot glass: to relax and sleep off
It was only 9 kilometers to the destroyed reactor from our tent camp, located near the village of Korogod. A glowing column of ionized air above the reactor was clearly visible on the horizon from any “smoking room”. It was dazzlingly illuminated from below by searchlights on the laying of the first foundation of a sarcophagus. Moreover, it was quite creepy to observe the gigantic glow on the distant horizon from the solid darkness of the “smoking rooms”.
Those units that went on the night shift to the ChNPP never drank. They worked at the NPP around the clock. So, the night shift took a shot only in the morning. Having worked out the night watch, the liquidators, tired, returned to the tent city, where they could relax and sleep off.
If you had time to think that the liquidators drank incessantly, you are mistaken. Not at all. Do you get the impression that the liquidators did nothing but drank like a fish? I assure you that you are mistaken. Alcohol by no means flowed like a river. In addition, moonshine disappeared altogether after the completion of the decontamination of the villages. “Preventive treatment” has become more and more like dosed alcohol use “on a case-by-case basis”. But over time, such cases became rare and didn’t happen every day.
“Cherry becomes only sweeter from radiation”
So, I recall one amusing incident… Summer, the northern outskirts of Chernobyl and unbearable heat to 35 degrees. There are two traffic inspectors t the crossroads in the direction of the ChNPP: a policeman and a military one. They regulate the endless flow of transport. Both are a little “tipsy”, already practically “relatives”. But that’s not surprising. They were standing under the scorching sun all day. There is a large road sign next to them: “Dangerous! Do NOT drive to the side of the road! Radiation!”
They wave at me with striped wands: “Stop!” Ok. I stop my GAZ-66. Without even asking why the officer is driving a service truck, the policeman greedily says: “Do you have something to drink?” I take out my supply and generously give an almost full flask: “Get treatment. You’re welcome, men! Do you have a snack?” The traffic controllers slap on the stuffed pockets and answer: “Yeah, we picked cherries”. I ask anxiously: “But radiation is around!? Have you even washed them?” Both laugh in response: “Where do you see water in the field? Cherries are only sweeter from radiation”.
Alcohol for courage
The drivers got extremely sober behind the wheel of trucks or armored personnel carriers, but the neighbors-helicopter pilots had it all. They could have a drink during the day, especially after the helicopter flew for an hour directly over the reactor. Flights over the exploded reactor were a real branch of hell on earth. The pilots are not to be envied. And the background radiation was simply frantic.
A dashing pilot could easily drive for beer to the nearest village on a huge Mi-26 transport helicopter. One way or another, those robbers have always been spoiled with their own pure alcohol! The word “robbers” should be read here with love and frank sympathy.
I had a friend. He’s a helicopter pilot, Captain Gusarov. He seems to have never sat at the wheel being sober. A real “Hussar”! Coming off the helicopter, after the unforgettable “hussar” turns, I crossed vowing never to get into his Mi-24. It’s better not to tell what tricks Hussar did in the air…
To Chernobyl directly from Afghanistan
He got to the ChNPP Zone “without a transfer”, directly from Afghanistan, even without a vacation. Scattering various chemical mixtures from a helicopter over the reactor, he instantly received a large dose of radiation. Then he flew as a “sprinkler”. He sprayed sticky liquids over the roads: PVA glue and other substances. This was done so that the wind didn’t spread radioactive dust.
Finding himself on “improvised jobs”, Hussar could afford any daring tricks. He always had a flask of alcohol in his knee pocket in his overalls. As a crew commander, he treated everyone who boarded his helicopter with alcohol. “This is for courage,” he said. “So that you are not afraid of heights!”
Incredibly, but high-profile “emergency” as a result of “alcohol prophylaxis” practically didn’t happen. Yeah, sometimes concrete trucks turned over in the middle of the Red Forest. But this usually happened due to chronic fatigue and lack of sleep of drivers. “Drunken business flights” with scandals happened only where the rear officers were based. AWOL and fights happened in repair shops and other support services. In other words, among those who saw the Chernobyl emergency reactor only on the TV screen.