34 years have passed since the accident at the ChNPP. It has become the largest man-made disaster of the twentieth century. A lot’s happened since then. At first, the Chernobyl NPP was stopped, but then started again. In December 2000, the generation of electricity on it was finally stopped. The procedure for the conservation of the once largest energy facility in the USSR has begun since 2014. This will last for more than a decade.
However, life in the Exclusion Zone didn’t stop with the decommissioning of the ChNPP. Moreover, even foreign tourists come to the places of the Soviet apocalypse today. The open excursion access to the safest facilities of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone caused a real tourist boom. To see a retrospective of the accident, people travel to Chernobyl from almost all over the world: from Australia, India, China. So, the article shows the accident through the eyes of those who were involved in the elimination of its consequences.
What do they say about the exclusion zone?
“… I was a journalist and worked for the youth newspaper Molodaya Gvardiya,” a journalist Fyodor Ilyuk says. I first went to the Chernobyl Zone on May 3, 1986. My goal was to report on the real events of what happened at the ChNPP and coverage of a scale that no one understood. My colleague from the Komsomolskoye Znamya newspaper and I settled in a hotel on the outskirts of Pripyat, from the side of the power plant. I still remember the beauty of the city: high-rise buildings, a successful layout without dead ends and nooks and crannies. Moreover, there are many flowers in the city. This is just a sea of flowers, especially roses planted along the city sidewalks. The city is surrounded by forest. The river is nearby. I feel sorry for Pripyat…
There was neither time nor opportunity for an interview at the epicenter of the explosion. Only a few were allowed in. As for us, we could interview the liquidators in the Skazka camp, where they lived. We also interviewed in Kiev, at the Cancer Institute, where the irradiated liquidators were prepared for bone marrow transplantation. So, we wrote about everything that happened in the Zone. We prepared reports about firefighters and miners. They talked about people evacuated, about doctors and about many other people who fought with an invisible enemy – radiation. But first of all, it was our responsibility to illuminate the position of the communist government at its best…”
I got through Afghan – I see through all these people
“On April 26, 1986, there was my next shift,” Mikhail Vertushkov, a retired colonel and liquidator, says. There were no signs of trouble. But suddenly at night, I got an alarming telephone message. Then, the 427th battalion of the Civil Defense regiment left for the Chernobyl region on alarm. So, I asked what happened there. And they answered me that something was burning at a nuclear power plant. However, nobody knew the nature of the accident or the scale of fire. Just no information! The deputy commander of the military district ordered to find out at least the slightest summary of what happened! But there was no information either in an hour, or in two, or in five. The idea of severity of the disaster appeared only after 3-4 days.
The soldiers of the Kiev Military District were the very first to find themselves in the 30-kilometer zone. Then, the employees of the Baltic, Moscow, Leningrad, Volga, Ural, Carpathian, Odessa, Belorussian and Trans-Baikal military districts of the USSR came there. In total, representatives of 45 military units arrived in Pripyat in the first days, and even hours, after the accident. On May 20, as part of the task force, I was sent to investigate moral and psychological stability of the personnel. I was in the bunker, in Chernobyl, in Pripyat and in many military units. Moreover, I grew up in the Urals, 2 kilometers from the Mayak chemical plant. The Kyshtym explosion, which occurred on September 29, 1957, wasn’t much less radioactive than the Chernobyl one. So, the explosion at Mayak gave me an experience that few people had at the ChNPP.
I remember the chief sanitary doctor of the Kiev military district, Vladimir Pashkovich. He, like me, got through Afghanistan. He supervised the dispatch of soldiers, sergeants and officers who went to the roof of the destroyed reactor for 30 seconds. Their task was to drop radioactive graphite from the roof of the power unit. They were real suicide bombers. When reporters asked him if there were any refusals among the young men, he replied: “I got through Afghan. So, I see through these people. There are people of the same social class. There are no cowards or traitors among them…”
I’m not a liquidator, but I served in Afghanistan. I understand how a soldier’s soul can hurt
“…It is still hard for me to remember those times. The year 1986… A large-scale explosion at the ChNPP divided my life into two parts. I wasn’t a liquidator. I am a musician. So, I supported the Chernobyl victims with songs,” Vyacheslav Kukoba, a composer and singer, recalls. The first time we arrived in the Zone was in May 1986. We went there with Afghan soldiers. I was just returning from a business trip to Afghanistan when I learned about the tragedy at the ChNPP. So, I collected the guys who wanted to go and could help in any way. I’m not a liquidator, but I served in Afghanistan. And I understand how a soldier’s soul can hurt.
It was impossible to get into the zone. So, we walked through the access system, accompanied by the military. But we didn’t approach the reactor. It was a forbidden territory. Our mission was to reassure and support the guys giving them hope. We sang Afghan war songs for them: about friendship, relatives and the Motherland. There was no need to reinvent the wheel with our repertoire. People just wanted to relax. The guys were looking for protection, truth and the opportunity to return to ordinary life for a moment in our songs. They wanted a life without losses and fire. And humor, jokes, laughter, songs helped.
I remember people desperately doing their job. They put their lives in danger not sparing themselves. At this time, ordinary citizens lived quietly. Moreover, many didn’t understand at all what was happening. Even if the person wasn’t at the scene of the disaster, radiation affected everyone directly or indirectly. Then, in 1986, radiation was breathing right into our faces. But now, it’s breathing down our backs.
We created a special agitation brigade after the first concerts at the ChNPP. And we named it the “Association: the Afghans of Chernobyl”. Guys who passed the hot spots of Afghanistan and then went to Chernobyl joined the Association. These people have had an experience of work and service in critical situations. For example, it included pilots who extinguished a burning reactor from an airplane. They are our Afghan falcons. Builders, drivers, doctors, musicians also joined the Association. In total, I’ve been to Chernobyl about 10 times. Chernobyl has already become a part of me…”