The fate of the Chernobyl liquidators
The fate of the Chernobyl liquidators

More than 200 people, residents of Lozovaya, the Kharkiv region, liquidated the consequences of the accident at the ChNPP. Lozovaya residents have already lost the same number of Chernobyl victims. Not only liquidators are dying, but also internally displaced persons. There were more than half a thousand of them in Lozovaya. We have heard many personal stories about the challenges that people had to overcome. Nikolai Zinoviev told us one of them. In the summer of 1986, he led a company that worked on the roof of the third power unit of the ChNPP. His direct speech is further.

“… During my service in the conscript army, the troops began to introduce chemical protection divisions of the regiments. Previously, they were supernumerary. Then, they became full-time with all the necessary equipment. I just got into the first release of the commanders of chemical protection departments. There is the city of Zolochiv in the Lviv region, where I finished four and a half months of the sergeant special school.

Everyone received some kind of specialization after graduating from the special school. For example, there were chemical specialists, dosimetric chemists, intelligence chemists. I graduated from high school. Having arrived at the unit, I immediately became the commander of the chemical protection department. The department consisted of 9 people. There were 3 special vehicles in our subordination: reconnaissance, ARS 12, disinfection and shower vehicle. ARS is a special type of city watering machine. The only difference is that it has more functions. This vehicle prepares the solution itself. The whole service was a good theoretical training base. But of course, there was no practice. I was transferred to the reserve from the post of the commander of the chemical protection department. At that time, I thought that my anti-radiation knowledge would remain in the past.

Returning from the army, he got a job at a factory and got married. Everything went well. However, someone at work started talking about some kind of accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The mobilization of personnel has begun. As soon as I heard that there happened an explosion in Chernobyl, I already knew internally that they would call me. I realized for some reason that I could not avoid a business trip to the ChNPP. I was waiting for a call to the military registration and enlistment office even before May 4. It was until the moment when Gorbachev appeared on television. After his conversion, I already knew for sure that a serious disaster had taken place. A little over a month passed. I was summoned to the military registration and enlistment office.

Chemical protection is my specialty

At that time, I was a reserve lieutenant, but not a career military man. I worked at a factory. I leave my office, and a woman clerk says: “We will soon call you for a special military training”. And I had already guessed that I would be called. Because this is my military specialty: protecting troops and the population from weapons of mass destruction. The next day, the shop manager’s secretary runs over to me and says: “Kolya, get on the phone.” There was a call from the military registration and enlistment office. They say: “Come urgently.”

There was still such an interesting moment. I say: “It is 3 p.m. now. The shift ends at 4.10 p.m. When it ends, I’ll come right away.” They answer: “Nikolay, drop everything urgently.” Then, I ask: “Okay, will I remove the machine and come?” And there was such an answer: “Tell the foreman to remove the machine and come urgently to the military registration and enlistment office.” A month and a half have passed since the accident. The liquidation was already in full swing. People from the military registration and enlistment office called for me at 3 p.m. And I was on the train already at 7.30 p.m. I had three and a half hours to prepare. This is how I ended up in Bila Tserkva. So, my journey to the Chernobyl exclusion zone began from Bila Tserkva.

There were hundreds of recruits like me on the territory of the military unit. They changed our clothes, and they didn’t detain us. We went to the Chernobyl Zone the next day. Seven trucks arrived at the place of deployment, in the village of Oran, 40 km from the station. A military unit was located in the village. The soldiers lived in tents.

I came instead of a specific person. It was written in my documents who I was going instead. The soldiers simply went to the duty station, while the officers went to a specific position, changing their colleague. I was on my way to replace the head of the information service. There was such a position. However, it did not provide for travel to the contaminated area and departure to the station. On the one hand, this calmed me down a little.

How I became a company commander

In parallel, 100 people arrived from Dnepropetrovsk. 50 people were divided into companies. They arrived at the place of deployment and needed a company commander. I arrived at 11 p.m. And at 11.30 p.m. the battalion commander began a meeting. He announced that they urgently needed a company commander and looked at me sharply. I had never commanded people before and immediately refused.

The battalion commander asked: “Never commanded, except for the army? So, you can handle it. There’s nothing wrong with that”. It sounded almost like an order. 7 people attended the meeting. I asked: “What shall I need to do?” In response: “Work on the roof of the third block.” Somebody sitting on the left from me said: “Don’t agree. If you leave for 45 days, you may go home.” Someone else claimed: “Agree. You climb on the roof for two weeks and go home.” I concluded that no one really knew anything about the situation, or did not want to speak.

I was a little wary because I clearly imagined a radiation hazard. On the other hand, I was taught this. I’m not bragging, but out of the 26 people who graduated from our chemical protection school, 21 graduated with honors, including me. So, I had some knowledge in this issue. We watched films and knew what radiation accidents lead to. Also, we were shown irradiated patients.

We studied everything that people discovered for themselves after Chernobyl at the chemical protection school. In a word, I heard it not on the grapevine. I knew about radiation sickness from textbooks. So, I could clearly imagine the dangers. But this is the army. They ordered and I, taking leadership over the company of soldiers, went to the inferno of the ChNPP.

At the beginning, I didn’t even have a list of soldiers. Preliminary lists were drawn up only a day later. The most important thing for commanders on liquidation is to prevent over-exposure of personnel and to keep a strict record of doses. The permissible dose was 2 x-rays per day. This is like four thousand X-rays per day, for the entire time the maximum allowable is 25 X-rays.

Basic precautions

I often remember the case, when one day in August, we drove through contaminated villages. The road has already been cleared. The radiation background is not high, 40 kilometers from the ChNPP. We pass through the farmstead. All the wells are tied with cellophane. Fruit trees grow along the roads. There are warning signs everywhere, prohibiting drinking water from wells.

And suddenly, a car has stopped. Soldiers run out. There are plums and apples with no worms. Everything is very tasty. They pick apples, plums and eat. However, I explained to them elementary precautions every morning. I taught that after waking up in the morning, they should not even swallow saliva. Radiation accumulates in the larynx during the night. It was a little thing. But it forms basic hygiene in the contaminated area.

We arrived at the ChNPP in ordinary soldier’s clothes and immediately climbed onto the roof. We received a dose of radiation and came instantly back. When we climbed, we immediately went to the locker room, threw off all their clothes and washed. Then, our team went into another room, where new clothes lay. This story repeated from day to day. Waking up, quick breakfast, 40 km road to the station, three and a half to four minutes of work on the roof.

The roof was covered with a so-called soft coating (several layers of roofing material and bitumen). The total thickness was about 10 centimeters. Bitumen is slightly radioactive in nature. And all granite is also radioactive in nature. Add to this the consequences of the radioactive release from the 4th reactor. And this soft, and at the same time extremely dangerous roof, had to be removed. Before us, other soldiers partially dismantled the roof. We could notice it.

We climbed not for two, but for four minutes. Moreover, we worked practically without protective equipment. We were given only transparent glasses. The radiation on the roof of the 3rd power unit was approximately 30 roentgens per hour. It was impossible to be on the roof without glasses. Otherwise, the eyes would hurt in the evening like after welding. Of the technical handy tools, we had only a shovel, an ax and a rod with a diameter of 28-30 millimeters. The soldiers hollowed out bitumen with these axes and threw it down with shovels. Then, they took it to the burial grounds.

An experiment was performed on the guys who arrived from Dnepropetrovsk

The guys from Dnepropetrovsk had a chance to participate in a medical trial. About 100 people were attracted to it. All had a preliminary examination in the 408th Kiev hospital. Of course, we did not know the details of the experiment. The only thing we knew was that one half of the soldiers were given iodized tablets. So, they took drugs daily. In contrast, the other half didn`t get them. Both those and others were subsequently exposed to a large dose of radiation. Then, the doctors examined the body’s reaction.

Our company did not get these iodized tablets. I went with the guys to the station 11 times, 11 days in a row, 11 sorties to the roof of the 3rd reactor. Those exposed to high radiation had three days off. Doctors believed that the body is able to recover in three days. My lads and I worked 11 days in a row… Nobody gave us a weekend. Then they sent a bus. All my guys got to the hospital. But I stayed.

Since the moment they were taken away, I have not seen anyone else. I never crossed paths with them. And I don`t have connection in any way. We stayed together for 11 days. Maybe one of them is alive and remembers me. There were 49 of them. I remember the names of almost all of my guys.

The first time we arrived at the station, we needed to climb the fire escape 13 meters. Eight people climbed. With the first eight I climbed too. I showed what to do and went down. They continued to work. Then, there was the next eight. They passed the instrument, showed what to do, and went down. And now, the first eight had to climb again. The first soldier climbed. But the second looked at the stairs and was dumbfounded.

He was standing frightened. His skin turned pale. And he said: “I’m afraid of heights.” I answer: “So, throw it and step aside.” But he grabbed the ladder and could not open his hands. He was all numb. In a few minutes, he came to his senses. I asked him: “Why have you been silent before that you are afraid of heights?” And he says: “I remembered that I am afraid of heights on the third or fourth day. But there was no time to think about it.”

The Way Home: Chernobyl

While I was at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, I slept three to four hours a day. The soldiers got enough sleep. They came and immediately rest or retreat. And we had to prepare lists for tomorrow and plan work for the next days. At 11 p.m., there was a daily meeting with the brigade commander. At 12.30 a.m., they gathered company commanders. We had internal meetings till 2 a.m. They told where and which company was going. Then, I made lists, tied towels to the soldiers’ beds so that I knew who to wake up in the morning. There was getting up at 5 a.m. and departure at 6 a.m. We expected for no one a minute. Until I did everything, I could go at 3 a.m., and at 5 a.m. we had to get up. So, count how much I could sleep.

When my Chernobyl shift ended, I drove home through Kiev. When I came to the railway station, I saw people were leaving en masse. It was already on August 20. This surprised me. I went into my compartment. And I saw a grandmother with two grandchildren and a young girl. I think it’s good because there will be someone to talk to. I climbed onto the top shelf to lie down for a couple of minutes. Then, I hear: “Man, Lozovaya will be soon. Wake up.” The fatigue was crazy. I got down and instantly fell asleep.

Upon arrival home, I immediately went to work with my wife. She worked as a teacher in a kindergarten. Seeing me, she almost jumped for joy. I didn’t tell her where I was going, but she guessed everything. Then, we did not have a telephone connection. Management called from the military registration and enlistment office that means it should be. We had a motorcycle. And on the same day, my wife and I went to my parents. When we arrived, my mother looked at me and asked why I was so pale.

Nikolai Zinoviev spent several months in hospitals after returning home. Pallor, noticed by the mother, was not in vain. He had to undergo a course of treatment to restore blood counts. Also, he has got the status of a Chernobyl victim. He says that timely prevention helped him survive. Nikolai does not complain about the fate, but he does not support the connection with his guys. And he is very sorry. This is how they are – the everyday life of the Chernobyl liquidators …