Memorial to Chernobyl liquidators at Mitino Cemetery, Moscow
The past two days have definitely been the most interesting for me research-wise since I arrived in Ukraine. I've been interviewing Chernobyl liquidators non-stop, and it's amazing to me how brave, how open, and just how damn interesting they all are.
So far, I have finished transcribing three of the interviews from my audio recordings. Thus, without further ado, let me introduce you to Liquidators #1, #2, and #3:
Liquidator #1 - physics teacher
Liquidator #1 was a physics teacher in the Zhytomyr Oblast in 1986. His workplace was 22 km from the Chernobyl NPP. He recalls that the reaction to the accident in his village was not very serious. Most people did not understand what had happened. However, as a physics teacher, he understood the severity of the disaster better than most.
Liquidator #1 voluntarily took part in the evacuation of his region, helping evacuate children in particular. One of the things he did was help children find their parents in the event that they were separated.
He lived in the Zhytomyr Oblast until 1998, at which time he moved to the Carpathian region (in the west). It was a little scary for him to work so close to the NPP after the accident happened. Evacuations were not well organized at all; people were told that they could return later, which was a lie. Old people in particular resisted.
We talked about his many health problems – cardiovascular diseases, pyschological diseases, neurological diseases. Liquidator #1 thinks that his health problems are partially due to radiation exposure, since his parents and grandparents all had unusually clean bills of health. Since 1988, not a year has passed where he wasn’t hospitalized.
Still, Liquidator #1 feels better now than he did 12 years ago. He has quit smoking and drinking, and he has started seeing a neurologist and a psychiatrist. He noted that under the Soviet Union it was frowned upon to see such doctors. People did not want to be categorized as psychologically-ill. Today, there is more freedom to choose the physician you need.
If he could go back in time, he would not change his decision to be a liquidator. He thinks that people need to help each other. He does not consider what he did to be very “special.”
He thinks that the care he receives from the Ukrainian government could be better.
Liquidator #2 - Metrostroy operator
Liquidator #2 was a Metrostroy operator in Kyiv in 1986. Metrostroy was the construction agency that built the Kyiv Metro. He and his colleagues were asked to go to Chernobyl soon after the disaster. In fact, they were the second group of workers to go there. (The first were the firemen.) Their job was to seal the floor of the reactor with metal insulation and concrete so that irradiated matter would not seep into the groundwater.
He agreed to go to Chernobyl out of patriotism. In his own words, if he did not do it, who would? He compared his choice to the choice of Soviet soldiers in WWII.
Liquidator #2 was informed of the risks of working in an irradiated environment. He was not frightened. Still, he received an irradiated dose of 28.2 roentgens over the three days he worked in Chernobyl. After recording this dose, he was forced to stop working at Chernobyl because the legal maximum dosage in 1986 was 25 roentgens. (Today, the official dosage limit is 2 roentgens per year.)
He has had health problems since 1986, which he partially attributes to his irradiated dose.
If he could go back to 1986, he would make the same choice to go to Chernobyl. In his own words, “this is our country, and somebody has to do it.”
We discussed the amount of attention the Ukrainian government gives liquidators. Liquidator #2 thinks that it is not enough, but it is still a little bit more attention than is given to pensioners, children, etc.
Liquidator #3 - mechanic
Liquidator #3 was a mechanic in the Poltova Oblast in 1986. The Soviet Military Office drafted him to Chernobyl, where his job was to remove irradiated matter from the third reactor’s roof. He had no choice about going there; he had to be a liquidator.
He was never officially told about the risks of working in an irradiated environment.
He received an irradiated dose of 25 roentgens over the two and a half months he spent in Chernobyl. Since this was the maximum limit in 1986, he had to leave the site after recording this dosage.
Liquidator #3 thinks that his irradiated dose has caused his many health problems.
He does not think that the Ukrainian government has taken good care of him. He wishes they would give him more “human attention.” He has been forced to figure out his problems for himself, even though he served his country in Chernobyl and in the Afghanistan War.