From the first hours of the Chernobyl disaster, more than 1,500 employees of the state security organs of Ukraine took a direct part in the investigation of the causes of the accident and counterintelligence measures to eliminate its consequences, which made a feat equal to the front-line one.
The memoirs of a retired Major General Y.V. Petrov, a participant in the elimination of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident of the 1st category, begin with these words.
“… Returning to those tragic April days of 1986, I want to once again recall with deep respect the colleagues, security officials of Ukraine who took part in eliminating the consequences of this unprecedented in terms of scale man-made disaster of a planetary level.
I am proud that I was among them already on April 26, a few hours after the explosion of the fourth Chernobyl nuclear power unit. I met those events as the Deputy Chairman of the State Security Committee of Ukraine. Among my functional duties was the supervision of counterintelligence protection units of objects of the scientific and industrial complex, energy and transport.
I already had experience investigating many accidents with tragic consequences in industry and transport. I had to work in the operational investigation team to inquire into the causes of the explosion at the Pavlograd chemical plant producing explosives, where 53 people died. In 1957, a 60-ton converter with molten metal exploded at the Krivorozhstal plant; the accident killed 12 metallurgists.
And the investigating authorities establish the causes of the tragedy. They were serious violations of the technological regime in pursuit of “super-planned indicators”, at a time when it was the equipment that required major repairs. The death of the ship “Nakhimov” in 1986, which I also took part in the investigation of, was also the result of gross violations of the rules of navigation by ship captains that collided, and as a result 423 people died.
But Chernobyl, of course, could not make any comparison with these incidents. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the construction of which began in 1970, became the second-largest station in the USSR on the basis of nuclear energy, and from the first days of construction it has always been the object of counterintelligence support for state security agencies.
I remember in detail the events of the first night after the accident. I was at home, although I could not fall asleep for a long time: a crucial meeting had ended a few hours before this, the problems raised at it were haunting. Somewhere around two o’clock in the morning, an on-line communications apparatus called on duty at the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR Linovitsky:
“The roof of the 3rd Chernobyl power unit is on fire, firefighters are trying to localize the fire.” The explosion was not mentioned. I reported to the Head of the Republican KGB, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine and the Council of Ministers of Ukraine.
A magnificent dawn was engaged over Pripyat, but the picturesque Polesye landscapes were in poor harmony with the terrifying picture of a nuclear conflagration. I was anxious at heart: information has already been received about the victims among the firefighters. These heroes, without exaggeration, entered into a duel with fire, to tame which then there were no corresponding means either in the USSR or in the world.
The first special message from the Committee sent from the disaster zone was prepared by the head of the 6th Directorate of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR, Major General Y. Knyazev:
“An explosion occurred on April 26 at 1.25 a.m. in the premises of the 4th power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, when preparing it for scheduled repairs, which resulted in a fire that was soon localized by the titanic efforts of firefighters.
The covering and the roof of the reactor and engine rooms were broken from the consequences of the explosion, and the roof of the 3rd power unit also broke out. During the explosion, 17 people of the Chernobyl NPP were in the premises of the 4th power unit; 9 people who suffered from burns were hospitalized, one died, the location of the senior operator Hodemchuk was not established.”
The body of the poor operator has never been found… The next morning they reported to the Main Directorate that there were more than 100 people in the hospitals of Pripyat, 26 injured by plane were sent to the capital of the USSR. The prosecutor’s office of the Kiev region on the fact of the explosion was a criminal case.
… A lot has been written about the heroism and selflessness of the participants in the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident, representatives of various specialties. However, nowhere, except for operational documents, until recently, it has not been told about the work of KGB officers who had been in the “zone” for a long time, provided assistance to the Government Commission and the USSR Prosecutor’s Office.
Operational investigative groups were created in Chernobyl. At first, about 80 KGB officers worked in three shifts. Operating mode was actually in a barracks position, they worked almost days, for 16-20 hours.
In October 1986, a department of the KGB was created in the Chernobyl zone, staffed by volunteer officers from among those who had appropriate engineering training. The unit, led by Colonel A. Mirgorodsky, organized in a short time operational work from the position of the village of Cape Verde.
The first months of work were extremely difficult. Hard radiation background, lack of experience in extreme conditions of nuclear danger, the need for immediate restructuring of operational investigative measures – these were the main characteristics of the conditions of our work.
By the way, numerous reports were received by the local KGB bodies in all the republics of the Union. Our colleagues were eager to help Ukraine. Volunteers were selected carefully, taking into account the state of health, experience, and education.
Every accident has a name, a surname, a patronymic and even a position
The main task of the special services, as well as the country’s scientists, was to find the answer to the question: “Is a reactor explosion a technological disaster or sabotage?” Immediately, the investigative team questioned 48 people of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The records of negotiations of station employees, technical and nomenclature documentation were seized and studied. A careful study of various sources subsequently categorically rejected the version of sabotage at a nuclear power plant.
Why did the Chernobyl tragedy become possible? What are the deep roots of the accident?..
A retrospective analysis of the circumstances that preceded the accident suggests that it became the logical result of a complex and lengthy causal chain of events. The main place in this chain is occupied by the practice of managing the nuclear energy industry that has developed in the former USSR and this practice has a name, a surname, a patronymic, and even a position.
First of all, the imperfection of the reactor design and inadequate protection system are among the real causes of the accident. It was these circumstances, along with poor-quality regulatory documentation, that became the main causes of the accident. It was also possible to find out its root causes associated with serious violations of the technological and special operating conditions of a nuclear installation.
The period most difficult from the point of view of the radiation state and the most responsible regarding the work that was carried out to eliminate the consequences of the accident was 1986-1987 – the working hours of the Government Commission. Then, more than 400 employees of the KGB of the USSR worked in the zone, including 355 from the KGB of Ukraine.
Employees of the investigative department of the Kiev KGB worked hard in the Chernobyl zone. Based on the information they obtained and the conclusions of experts, a probable explosion model is built. The causes of the accident related to gross violations of the reactor operating mode were highlighted, numerous facts were revealed of the adoption by the leadership of the Chernobyl NPP and the engineering service of decisions that contradicted the safety instructions.
It should be noted that almost all the main units of the KGB of Ukraine took part in the range of operational and service activities related to the Chernobyl accident. The “first line” — foreign intelligence — worked in a special mode. They were given a specific task to quickly receive abroad everything that would help to overcome the terrible consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
The employees of the Third Directorate — the military counterintelligence of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR — provided interaction between the operational investigative group and the headquarters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Civil Defense, and carried out joint counterintelligence activities with special departments of the KGB in military units. For a number of reasons, we cannot name the names of their employees who distinguished themselves in the line of duty, but their hard work is worthy of the highest rating.
Employees of the Government Communications Department and the eighth KGB department deployed mobile and stationary special and encryption communications nodes in an extremely difficult situation, in the first hours after the accident. Already at 9:00 a.m. on April 26, five secret communication channels were provided with the Lightning password, two of them to Kiev.
Workers in the Construction Department of the Committee and its design institute took an active part in measures to eliminate the consequences of the accident. They promptly built a house in Cape Verde to support the operational staff of the capital’s KGB, as well as seven estates in neighboring villages to relocate affected residents of the zone.
Special thanks to the military doctors of the KGB of Ukraine deserve.
From the first days of the accident, the staff of the Military Medical Service joined the struggle for the life and health of Chernobyl employees. In conditions when state medical institutions were not ready for a catastrophe of such magnitude, when there were not enough drugs against radiation, highly qualified employees of the KGB State Medical University, doctors of medical sciences N. Zakharash, I. Didenko, candidates of medical sciences G. Sofienko, A. Pashchenko and others created a system of medical care for victims for a few days.
A method of treatment using sorbents and quantum therapy was proposed for the first time in the practice of preventing the development of radiation sickness. It is characteristic that M.Zakharash had to “punch” this best practice in the Union Ministry of Health and the USSR Academy of Sciences, which took a surprisingly conservative position at a time when people had to be urgently saved from the effects of a “peaceful atom”.
As the Chairman of the KGB of the USSR wrote to the head of the Ecological Committee of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR:
“… It was the Military Medical Service of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR that was able to consolidate the most significant achievements of modern science and practice, and also carried out very important research work, made it possible to form a fundamentally new direction in radiation medicine.”
The war on nuclear genie escaping from the fourth Chernobyl reactor, like any war, was accompanied by casualties. On January 5, 1988, the 31-year-old KGB captain, an employee of the Moscow Department Yuri Reshetnikov, died of acute leukemia. In early May 1986, he, along with the miners and metro builders, made his way through the tunnel in the foundation of the reactor.
The fact is that the temperature in the reactor reached 2440°, while the critical temperature reached 2770°. There was a possible explosion, which, according to experts, would turn a territory within a radius of 500 kilometers into a nuclear desert. The liquidation heroes, among whom was a courageous security operative, having created the conditions for a liquid oxygen cooling system for the reactor, did not allow a monstrous catastrophe on a gigantic scale.
The surname of Yuri Reshetnikov is listed on the memory stela of employees of the Moscow Office who died at a military post.
Concluding the story about the selfless work of the Chernobyl liquidators, I note that the officers of the national intelligence service, who passed the Chernobyl tests, wrote a glorious page in the history of the Ukrainian security agencies.
The Chernobyl epic brought me together with many very interesting people. This is, first of all, a member of the Government Commission, a well-known nuclear physicist, academician V. Legasov. From the first minutes of his acquaintance, he gave the impression of an extraordinary personality.
His simplicity in communication, humanity, and accessibility struck him, regardless of whether he was a general or a simple soldier, a minister or an ordinary worker. V.Legasov was fundamental in assessing design flaws of the RBMK type reactor. Perhaps, in the context of suppressing the real consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy, he did not want to compromise with his conscience and laid hands on himself …
The role of this person in spreading the truth about the Chernobyl accident, in highlighting the heroism of those who did their duty in the work to eliminate its consequences can’t be overestimated.