Chernobyl tour: stories of ordinary people
If you are in Ukraine or planning to go here, Chernobyl is a must see place. It will not leave anyone indifferent.
People thought they are leaving Chernobyl for three days, but they never again had a chance to return home. Saving and treating others, they got radiation from their own patients. They were eager to participate in rescue works, and then they were left alone with their terrible diagnoses. For many years, they have been watching bureaucrats and those who had managed to buy the status of Chernobyl cleanup worker getting profit from their tragedy. Chernobyl accident caught up many of them years and decades later, and took their health and lives.
In this article, we will tell three stories of people who have gone through this tragedy
Irina Lobanova, former resident of Pripyat, got married on the day of the catastrophe, and 12 hours later, she had to leave her native city forever.
On the eve of April 26th our house was full of guests, we were preparing for the wedding. My mother worked in GORONO (City Department of Public Education), and my husband was Komsomol organizer at Unit 4 (nuclear power plant unit), so we were offered to hold a non-alcoholic wedding. My husband was told in Party committee: “We’ll give you tickets for the honeymoon trip to the Baltic region and a small apartment”. Well, who will refuse the offer like that? We did not care about alcohol, because my father’s birthday is April 27th, so we agreed. On April 26, we had the first and the last exemplary non-alcoholic wedding in Pripyat.
On the eve of April 26, we just fell asleep, when then we heard the rumble; that was after 1pm. But you see, we were used to such noise – when they were letting off the steam at the station, everything was buzzing over the city. After this, the telephone started to ring; at first, we did not pay any attention – we were getting ready for the wedding, people were calling all the time. Then I heard the voice of my mother: “How? What? Oh my God!” My first thought was: “War”. Mom ran into the room, closed the balcony door; by the way, we left the food we prepared for the celebration there. We closed all the windows, although it was very hot – everything was blooming, even my wedding dress was without sleeves. Of course, after the explosion nobody could sleep. We were awake until the morning, and then we saw kids walking to school. You know, those days they went to school on Saturdays.
My mom called to the City council, asking what we shall do with the wedding. She was told: “No panic, all the events planned in the city shall be held!” My dad is a nuclear physicist, so he knew what to do: he dropped iodine into sugar and milk, and made the guests eat it – to saturate thyroid with iodine; he tried to somehow protect people.
Following the instructions, by 2pm we went to the registry office; that day there were seven weddings in the city. Traditionally, the newlyweds lay flowers to the Eternal Flame, and in Pripyat, this monument was on the territory of the present Red Forest.
We registered our marriage and went to the Eternal Fire. I had a bouquet of roses, very beautiful; a friend brought it from Kiev. When we returned home, my flowers were like a herbarium. At home, I threw it into bathroom, and this is where my wedding bouquet stayed forever.
We all went to a restaurant, and the wedding was non-alcoholic. Everyone were discussing one topic only. After the restaurant, we stayed at our friends’ apartment. At three o’clock, we heard tap at the door. The best friend of my husband came running and said: “Get up, evacuation”. Our neighbor worked in public transport enterprise, he called and said that they were preparing the buses and evacuation was scheduled at 6 am. Long-distance phone calls were unavailable in the city, and trains passed by the station; even fast train to Kiev was canceled. We were like in a trap.
Therefore, we went to the station with our guests. There was a train to Chernigov. There was a real Babylon around, everyone tried to take the children out of the city. My mother and I were stuck in the car, this is how we reached Chernigov; from there our guests could get to their homes. Our grandmother became ill on the train, she was vomiting, and she was barely alive: the food for the celebration was on the balcony… In our meals, we even found pieces of graphite that flew from the reactor.
We got to Grebenka village; we were given houses. My husband and father went to the pig farm to work. The locals were very good to us; they gave us TV set and refrigerator, and all other most necessary things. However, the first years were very hard, especially for parents, because everything collapsed. Moreover, we were left without friends.
Anatoliy Demskiy, nuclear physicist, Chernobyl accident cleanup veteran, author of the book about Chornobyl accident “Chad”
At the beginning of the week, on April 28, I came to work to the design office of the Institute for Nuclear Research in Kiev. We had dosimetric racks, because the object was protected: the research facility I worked in was downstairs, and the nuclear reactor was on top. After lunch, these dosimetric racks began to ring, as if something was wrong. We called the dosimetrists; they recorded increase in radiation – up to 3 mP per hour. This is a huge exposure dose; today, 0.017 mP is considered normal. Later these racks were turned off, because they began to ring without any stops. In the afternoon, someone said that a car from Chernobyl had passed by the reactor. We went upstairs and in the fenced area we found the water; earlier a car was washed there, and a trace of water was chalked out. 10 mP was written in the middle, and 1 mP at the edges (the spot was noted by dosimetrists; according to one of versions, two policemen drove past the Institute in that car; they were driving from the village of Kopachi near Chernobyl).
Various rumors began circulating in our Institute for Nuclear Research. In a day or two, somebody said that maybe separator or generator exploded at Chernobyl nuclear power plant, or there was a rupture of cooling pipe – for a long time we all tried to understand what had happened.
Nobody said anything, although we were advised to buy iodine at the drugstore, raise 1 to 100 and drink. Very few people did it, because it was so incredible that the power unit could explode, because the station had many precautions.
Radioactivity (at the Institute) was very high – 1 mP, 2 mP. In such a situation, even the personnel could not work for a long time, and everything around was ringing.
On September 17, I went (to Chernobyl zone) as a part of our task force from the Institute for Nuclear Research. Our Institute was supposed to be the main organization on this issue in Ukraine, and yet we got our overalls in some offices for alcohol; this is how the state was supplying us. Once Mikhail Gorbachev said that Nicaragua has sent a ship with coffee for Ukrainian liquidators. It must have been hundreds or thousands of tons, but we never saw it.
Last year I was in the radiation center and it happened that I found out that the commission issuing certificates of Chernobyl Cleanup workers is still working. Ten years ago, they took USD 2000-5000 for such a document.
Earlier, there even were cruises for Chernobyl cleanup workers, but I do not know anyone who would have got there. It is good if at least 1 percent of all the money that was given to Chernobyl has finally been used for it.
Anna Gubareva, oncologist, worked at the Institute of Radiology and Oncology and treated the first cleanup workers who were brought to the hospitals after the Chernobyl accident
Our professor, Leonid Kindzelskiy, was the chief radiologist of Ukraine. I was then a graduate student in the Department of Systemic Tumor Diseases, and was just starting my postgraduate studies at the Institute of Radiology and Oncology (current Cancer Institute). Officially, I started working on May 24, but I came to the institute about a month before. On April 26, we agreed to meet with the professor. When I came to the meeting, there was almost military situation in the Institute: the first groups of explosion victims arrived on April 27. In the first day, part of them, shift engineers and firefighters, had already flown to Moscow; the rest had to be disposed of somewhere. It was decided to take them to the institute.
Leonid Petrovich with doctors of Pripyat and dosimetrists went to the Chernobyl nuclear power station; they selected patients with radiation sickness symptoms. At least 191 people arrived to our institute; now nobody knows the exact number, because all the medical records were taken by the KGB. It was secret information; we were forced to sign a non-disclosure document.
Leonid Petrovich had his own ideas on how to treat the victims. It was immediately clear that there is not only gamma-radiation, but also radioactive isotopes. People inhaled all that, micro particles fell on their skin. We changed their cloth, washed their skin, gave them infusions for a whole day; those days dropping tubes were not on wheels, the patients had to hold them in their hands. We did not have enough pajamas for all patients; we dressed them in women’s shirts, in women’s dressing gowns. Of course, these clothes did not fit, because firefighters and workers were physically healthy men. Their overalls were sent for disposal.
First, we knew almost nothing. In the beginning these were the victims, who told us what had happened, but then the KGB came, and the engineers fell silent; they signed non-disclosure agreements.
When the blood tests of liquidators were getting worse, we transplanted bone marrow to them. Almost all the patients we had in the Institute survived.
It is hard to calculate how many people suffered from the consequences of the Chernobyl explosion. We can only be infinitely grateful to people who tried to save the lives of their fellow victims by sacrificing their health.
Today Chernobyl is closed for visits, but you can personally see the results of the disaster being a participant of organized excursion.