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Chernobyl: Survivors reflect on nuclear accident, Russian occupation

Survivors of one of the world’s worst ever nuclear accidents at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine on 26 April 1986 have been reflecting on the events of that fateful day 37 years ago, as current employees consider the challenges of working at the plant which was seized by Russian troops following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Looking back on two of the most difficult periods since the plant opened in 1977, Chernobyl employees shared their personal stories with UN News on the International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day.

Ground zero

Evgeny Yashin was a 40-year-old chemist at the Chernobyl plant when the nuclear power reactor accident unfolded in April 1986, resulting in massive evacuations, the deaths of 31 people, and long-term illness for thousands of others.

“Everyone was talking about the explosion of the reactor’s emergency cooling system,” he told UN News, recalling a fateful bus ride to work on the day of the accident. “But, passing by the fourth power unit, it became clear to us that it was much more serious than expected; the wall of the reactor had completely fallen out and a glow could be seen, resembling a steel foundry oven. We took action immediately.”

Mass evacuations

At that point, the scale of the accident was neither expected nor assessed, he said, adding that protocols were not in place because it had been inconceivable that this could happen to the reactors. As a shift supervisor of 300 employees at Chernobyl’s chemical workshop, his team’s main task was to prepare demineralized water, receive radioactive liquid waste, store it, and process it.

“We prepared the water to extinguish the reactor, walked knee-deep in water, and organized pumping,” he said. “Water appeared to be flowing endlessly, the system was launched at full capacity, and more and more water was required.”

On 27 April, Pripyat inhabitants were evacuated along with some of the plant’s staff, he said, remembering buses driving across the city, stopping in front of houses to collect evacuees. Relatives could neither call, warn them nor discuss the evacuation route, he said, recalling that he found his family had moved out of the area.

‘Very few of my colleagues are still alive’

In early May, the remaining staff were experiencing serious side-effects, as doctors monitored their health via frequent blood tests, he said, adding that some were taken “out of the zone” to rest.

“I feel the consequences on my health even now,” said Mr. Yashin, who has cancer. “Very few of my colleagues are still alive. I am surprised that I myself am still alive.”

Meanwhile, disputes remain about who is to blame, he said.

“I am 100 per cent sure that the designers could not have foreseen such a development,” he said. “The station personnel took all measures to localize the accident’s consequences, but could not prevent it.”

Since then, each year, on 26 April, residents of the city of Slavutych gather at a monument to the Chernobyl victims, lighting candles and remembering those tragic events, Mr. Yashin said. While he no longer works at the plant, his granddaughter, Tatiana, is an engineer who handles spent nuclear fuel at the facility, where it is stored alongside thousands of tons of radioactive waste…………………. more


April 28, 2023 - Posted by | Belarus, PERSONAL STORIES

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