Today is April 26. This date will always have a special meaning to me. It is Chernobyl Day. The day when the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl power plant blew up. It was not an act of terror. Just negligence and shoddy construction.
I lived in Kiev, about 30 kilometers from Chernobyl. I was 16 and my memories of that time are very clear. Here is what I remember.
Gossip, gossip that something is wrong. My mother looks frightened, my father is telling her not to panic. I do not know why yet, no one tells us – kids anything. Teachers are very tense, some are gone without any explanation. As a cosmic joke we were studying the introduction to nuclear physics. A teacher turns on the Geiger counter, pales, calls for the Principal, and they lock it up. A friend confines that her father was mobilized. He is a prosecutor. Why? A few days later we know that there was an explosion. No one wants to admit how bad. There is still a parade May 1. To show us that all is well – there is a parade in Chernobyl too. It does not help. BBC is giving instructions on how to minimize the damage from radiation. Russian Government admits nothing. Another shocker, – there is lots of red wine being sold. People say drinking it is “good for radiation”. Does not make any sense, but those who take this advise to hart seem to worry less. Finally, the Government admits to what has happened. We have the cleanest apartment building in the universe. Our mothers are trying to wash away the radioactive dust. They start by washing the floor above, then ours, then the floor below. Four apartments on each floor, 9 floors. The steps never dry. Those who left the city in the first few days are lucky. There is a lock-down. You need a special permission to buy a ticket. My friend’s father comes back, he is very sick. We are told in school that all the kids below 9Th grade will be evacuated. No one tells us where. I am in the 9Th grade. I am not going. My friend’s father is dead. We are reeling from shock. Are we all going to die? There is lots of fruit and vegetables at the market. Very cheap. The strawberries are huge. We are told not to eat it, but there is really nothing safe anyway. My sister is evacuated, by this time my Dad has lost all the traces of optimism. He tries to find her and is able to see her. She is OK. The exams are over. Strings are pulled, I am to go to the same summer camp where my sister is. Two month later we come back and it is like nothing ever happened. No one wants to talk about it. But lots of people are getting sick and there is simmering anger. The fatalism takes over, it happened, now we have to live with it.
We will never know how many people have died. Most of us, who lived there were affected in some way. Some of us still are…