Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Chernobyl liquidators: incredible men with incredible stories (Part 2)

Hallway in the radiation clinic at RCRM, where liquidators come for medical treatment

I've been working furiously to transcribe the rest of these liquidator interviews. Below are three more. I think you may find them even more interesting than the first three. (Liquidator #6 was especially chatty.)

Liquidator #4 - delivery driver

Liquidator #4 was on vacation in his dacha in 1986. He had no reaction to the news of the Chernobyl disaster. He did not think it was serious.

He was a delivery driver in Chernobyl. He made his first trip to the site on the 5th of May. He took part in the transport of wares, water, and food. He was ordered to Chernobyl by the government. He did not have a choice in going there.

He was aware of the risks of working in an irradiated environment, but he was not scared. He was in Chernobyl until the end of summer, making delivery trips every other day.

Liquidator #4 has had problems with his vessels and thyroid gland recently. He also has had some back pain. He does not know if radiation exposure caused his health problems. However, he recalls that when he was making trips to Chernobyl, he had medical exams every month. The doctors did not find any problems with his health (although they did tell him it would be best for him to stop making trips to Chernobyl).

His car was cleaned many times while he worked in Chernobyl, because it was quite contaminated with radiation. In fact, it was once cleaned so well that the paint was stripped off. He never had to destroy it.

On a scale of 1 to 5, he rates his care from the government at a 2. He has concerns that some of the money that is allocated to Chernobyl liquidators and evacuees is being laundered by politicians.

If he could go back to 1986, he would not be a liquidator.

Liquidator #5 - special structures expert

Liquidator #5 was a military specialist in “special structures” in 1986. The Soviet Army gave him only 30 minutes to report to the Chernobyl site after the accident happened. He did not have a choice in going there.

He was not scared, and he said that he was informed of the risks of working in an irradiated environment. According to him, under the Soviet Union, all children studied radiation in school. It was part of the civil defense program.

Liquidator #5 was in the Chernobyl zone for 75 days, nonstop. He took part in the building of roads to the reactor and to the Chernobyl station. He received an official irradiated dose of 18 roentgens, but he is not sure if this number is accurate.

Liquidator #5 has had many health problems since 1986. In his own words, his “organism” is destroyed. He has ulcers, big problems with the vessels in his legs and head, hypertension, and so on. He thinks that his irradiated dose caused his health problems because he was healthy before the Chernobyl accident.

He cannot even estimate the help that the government has given him, because it is so low.

Knowing what he knows now, he would go to Chernobyl again. This is because the health of his children and his family must come first; his own health comes second in such a situation.

Liquidator #6 - upstanding Communist

Liquidator #6 heard about the Chernobyl accident while traveling to Russia to visit his parents. He was driving through Kharkiv, Ukraine, when the road police stopped his car. They asked him if he knew about the accident. He did not, so they told him the details. At first he thought that the news was not true, because he knew that nuclear reactors had seven levels of defense. But the road police insisted that it had happened, and they went on to measure his car for radiation (which was present).

In 1986, Liquidator #6 was working for the same construction firm that had built the destroyed reactor in Chernobyl. In fact, he was secretary of the Communist Party within this organization. When he and his fellow workers were asked to volunteer to be liquidators, he saw that no one wanted to do it. Because he wanted to set a good “Communist” example for them, he was the first to say, “I will go to Chernobyl.” He was quite surprised by the second person to volunteer: it was a Latin American worker who had been educated at Patris Lumumba University in Moscow. It was funny to him that this Latin American man was so willing to go to Chernobyl for the defense of Ukraine.

Officially, all liquidators were supposed to be 35+ years old and to have had their children already, but his group consisted of three quite young men. He was the oldest. They were taken by car to Vyshhorod. A group of forty people was formed there, and all of them were taken by bus to Chernobyl. His job was to supervise the transport of inert materials such as sand, bitumen, and gravel. In one day, he remembers transferring 20,000 cubic meters of material.

In his opinion, no one was scared to work in Chernobyl because no one knew anything about radiation. He personally was not scared because he had been in Syria in 1973, when it was attacked by Israel. There, he took part in the evacuation of 7,500 people. Driving an Italian bus, he evacuated women and children, and bombs were dropping constantly. In Chernobyl, there was nothing to be scared of – no noises, no smells, no heat. He had no reason to be scared.

Officially, his group of three was supposed to be changed after 7 days because they were working 800 meters from the NPP. However, they were not changed, and they ended up working a full month under the reactor.

He remembers that on May 20th, more than 4,000 people from all over the Soviet Union were in Chernobyl. Almost all of them wore white lab coats lined with 250 mm (EDIT: the translator probably meant µm) of metal. The Soviet government thought that such coats would protect people from the radiation. However, in his opinion, the lab coats were an insufficient defense.

Liquidator #6 has had lots of health problems since 1990. He had prostate surgery in 1999 and a stroke in 2000. Before that, he had a stomach ulcer, hypertension, pancreas problems, blood pressure issues, and so on. He received an official irradiated dose of 26 roentgens, but he thinks that this number is wrong.

He believes that radiation caused his health problems. He was very healthy before the Chernobyl accident; he worked a lot and had a very strong “organism” and immune system. But after the accident, he began to recognize big problems with his health. He has calculated that he has a total of 16 chronic diseases now. In his own words, there are no organs that work well in his body.

He regrets his decision to go to Chernobyl. The “Chernobyl situation” (the liquidator problem) is very bad now. Liquidators need 26 million hryvnas per year to cover the cost of living and receiving health care, but they only receive 10 percent of this sum from the government. He has no money in his family budget to cover his health costs.

He is angry with the Ukrainian government. Since they destroyed his health, he thinks that they should pay for it. He needs 300 or 400 hryvna per month to cover his disease treatments, but he officially receives only 12 hryvnas per month. He has had to ask the president of the Chernobyl Union for money.


Peter Lund said...

"lined with 250mm of metal" ?!?!

Did you mean 250µm of metal (a slight factor of 1000 off)?


Oh my gosh! I bet my translator meant micro, not milli. I just wrote down what I heard without thinking. Thanks for catching the error. I'll make the edit.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sara, hope u r well! How do I find pictures & names of the clean up crew, cuz there´s people around here that want to see, K, thaks if u reply if u know, reply to me, Victor( & I lived there b4 in the USA, Canada), just ppl here from Ukraine wanna C their husbands & stuff! thanks alot, c ya , Ho! reply to my MSN at if u can, c ya again !

Anonymous said...

& I´m not anymous, I´, Vic, lived there b4, but at the moment in Portugal, & know lots of ppl that lost their loved ones & wanna C them ! my ID is, & r u Ralso russian or ukarinian, Don´t have to answer that! k , take care

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