I "met" Chernobyl on the 1st of May, 1986.
As "ardent revolutionary" and – at the same time - pioneer leader of the capital’s school number 77, I was marching at the head of the column of Pechersk district’s best students in order to welcome the leaders of the Party and the Government of the Ukrainian Soviet Social Republic on the International Workers' Day.
The column was built back in the area Rognedinskaya street. When the first child fainted (approximately where now there is "Novyj Proezd" on Bessarabka) the doctor on duty at the event politely told that it was "in the nature of things". They say, children were nervous, and the day turned out to be too hot.
The day was really hot, not a usual spring day. We were thirsty all the time, and on the lips and tongue everyone felt a strange metal taste ...
The second "nervous" child collapsed on the pavement near the Bessarabian Market. The doctor repeated the diagnosis without a moment of hesitation...
We went through Khreshchatyk pompous Government stands, welcoming Vladimir Shcherbytsky and his companions. The flags of the right-flank Pioneer and Komsomol organizations of the district were desperately waving in the strong wind...
As later it was found out, the level of radioactivity that day exceeded all imaginable norms more than a thousand times!
A phone call at three o'clock in the night could hardly bring good news. A drunk voice asked: "Would you like to go to the Chernobyl Zone?" There was no time to think it over, and I answered in the affirmative. Thus my "Chernobyl novel" began, which has been going on for almost twenty years ...
But it was still long time before the first trip to the Zone. During the next stage of the cycling world, I was still in Kiev, and even helped the representative of Mongolia to win the intermediate finish!
And this is how it happened. On the Boulevard of Lesya Ukrainka there were no observers. There were no cameras. When a dead tired "brother Mongol", totally deprived of forces was overcoming the most difficult stage of the journey, my friend and I helped the unfortunate Asian. We were pushing him up for half a kilometer on a two-wheeled vehicle, and then it all went like clockwork. Our cyclist won the intermediate finish for the first time in the history of the Asian country. The fact was trumpheted with the help of the loudspeakers installed in the central part of Kiev. I did not know whether the outstanding athlete still remembers of that event?
A little-known racer's victory was due to the fact that for safety reasons the leading sports countries didn’t allow their cyclists to arrive to Kiev. "Truth" and "Time" have called their action alarmistic.
Meanwhile, people of Kiev, already trained to listen to those little "enemies’ voices", knew that something terrible had happened. The city started to panic, it was particularly hot at railway and bus stations. Tickets become a terrible deficit, many showed wonders of wonders, getting them to evacuate their children or getting out of the city with the help of bribes, trickery and deception.
At my school, however, despite the heroic efforts of management to hide the reality, the truth manifested its face in the fact that children of bigwigs suddenly stopped coming to school. By the way, the school taught many children and grandchildren of the first persons of the State, including the grandson Shcherbytsky.
The dosimeter in the classroom of military training was clearly off scale. In special statements fiction radiation levels were punctually recorded every day, but they were made ten times smaller. The result was optimistic: quite a decent radiation situation.
Schoolchildren were evacuated in the Mykolaiv region, in the village Rybakovka only on the 18th of May. Few children went there, because many were taken somewhere by their own parents
The town was deserted. Without women and children, Kiev looked sad. Men tried to come off with the help of red wine, which was brought just on purpose in huge amounts. Let me underline, that there were not the drunk in the classical sense of the word. Still, men are able to mobilize, and maybe, the worries about the fate of the family did not allowed them to slide into the abyss.
"Someone’s property does not exist"
I arrived in Chernobyl in late autumn of the same year and since then has been there several times a year. Something resembling a sense of stalkers of Tarkovsky awakenes in me every time I put my foot in the Zone. Sometimes I am sad and crying, seeing yet another manifestation of abuse of this unfortunate land and hundreds of thousands of residents of Polesie ...
We arrived in Termahovka of Ivankov district of Kyiv region, where one of the battalions of police was quartered, at the shabby police "UAZ" ... We entered the disaster zone, and all faded before what has been seen and heard.
If we compare the then-status of settlements with the current one, one is struck by how humanity is able to cash in on someone else's grief. In the first years after the accident in the abandoned homes there were utensils and furniture, personal belongings of people who had to leave the infected place, letters and photographs, icons and such traditional Polesie embroidered towels... There were a lot of provisions, like sealed jars of homemade beef, pickles, bacon, dried mashrooms. And then the looting began. Despite the huge number of militaries and police officers in the Zone, surrounded by barbed wire, the thieves exported on their machines not only furniture, but everything that could be stolen.
After the payment of the miserable compensation, the property left in the Zone by the displaced persons, had no longer value, and therefore, according to the law, no one could be drawn to justice for looting.
I have no doubt that the robbery had been taking place over the years with direct involvement of the police, because the entire perimeter of the Zone had alarms, capital checkpoints and roadblocks had been set. The city of power engineers - Pripyat - had its own perimeter of security, as well as a ten exclusion zone.
It means that to steal at such a scale was possible only under the patronage of the dishonest law enforcement officers.
Fair to say, that most of the police officers behaved and did their duty according to the oath and high standards of morality. Well, there are always enough bastards among all the categories of the employees.
Police helped the miserable as it could. After returning to the exclusion zone of "self-settlers" (initially, there was half thousand of them), the police was the sole representative of the authorities. The oficers shared with coming back people bread, tobacco, drugs, helping them to solve various issues, because the elderly - as they were mostly among returning to the native land – could not drive on their own to the city of Ivankov, where all the former Chernobyl district authorities had been transferred.
In the summer and fall of 1986 in the Zone there was a mass shooting of livestock, poultry and dogs. It was monstrous, but, according to scientists, the necessary precaution.
Famous all around the district, bull named Uranus (he received his name from the militaries) evacuated with a few chicks in the forest. He was lucky to save his life during the plight of his fellow tribesmen. Scientists discovered a feral herd a few years later and decided to conduct a scientific experiment on them. So Uranus and all his vast family settled on a disused collective farm in Novoshepelichi under Pripyat and lived for a long time happily and carelessly for the sake of science’s aims ...
The city of power engineers – Pripyat -was attentively guarded by the police. Each house was under the alarm, personal belongings well preserved in the apartments. Now there is nothing left in these houses. Somebody uprooted everything he could, including the nails! Furniture, contaminated with radiation, plumbing, flooring, and even motors of the elevators left the city in an unknown direction and, probably, were for the most part sold to people, unsuspecting of the mortal danger they bought. From the roofs of the private houses even slate was taken off. It scored such a huge amount of radiation that it is even scary to tell the figures.
Pripyat was not a poor city. In it there were several thousand cars for 47 thousand people of its population. Initially, very long trenches were dug for these cars. They were placed there and trampled by powerful tractors. Then they filled the trenches with ground. Seeing these trenches dug out one year later, I found that everything that could be removed from the unfortunate cars, was already absent.
Later, even crumpled bodies disappeared in an unknown direction. Suffice it to say that it was very contaminated metal, because fraternal autograve was arranged in close proximity to the destroyed reactor. It could be easily in sight, in the area of the garage facilities of the city of Pripyat, near the town cemetery and the station Yanov of the local railway line. Even today the beta background figures on this spot are very impressive ...
A separate Chernobyl topic is black archeologists and different ethnographic expeditions. Both have caused irreparable damage to this long-suffering land, they were practically engaged in looting. Patriarchal Polishchuks’ (the residents’s of Ukrainian and Belarusian Polesie) way of life has left many interesting artefacts. All sorts of handicraft things made of wood, simple remanent, some examples of which have survived more than one generation of owners, folk embroidery and icons have disappeared and, with few exceptions, they were not in museum collections, they were …God knows where.
To the post Chernobyl explosion tragedies others were added, caused by the wildest neglect of radiation safety standards. I saw myself as liquidators- fighters knead their dry rations, trying to find the shelter from the scorching sun in the shadow of the deadly "red" radiation- contaminated forest.
When once a year - namely on the traditional graves’ visiting period called “grobki” - the authorities allowed the organized temporary re-entering to the Zone of the former residents, it added loads of trouble. Under the impression of the tragic spectacle of the desecrated land, plundered estates and graveyards overgrown with weeds, some residents (sometimes under the effect of the alcohol drinks) simply set fire to their former homes. So it happened that the forest, directly adjacent to the village Opachichi, was burned to ashes. And half of the village had gone into oblivion, like Khatyn, leaving only the memory of its ovens’ ruins ...
Sad is the story of the "Bridge of Death", which was built over the railroad tracks. It connects the area of Chernobyl Atomic Station with the city of Pripyat. Those policemen who were guarding the bridge on the leeward side, are all dead already. Those who carried the watch from Pripyat side, have survived.
Directly next to the building of the Chernobyl police department there was a pine, in which the owl had settled. Someone wanted to cut the tree, but the police officers did not give a permission to do so and rescued the owl’s family ...
Not far from the village of Rudnya-Veresnya a couple of years ago I saw black storks - unique birds, listed in the Red Book. Now there are a lot of wild animals in the Zone: wild boars and wolves, moose, deer, hares, beavers and raccoons. They are constantly around and one is watching them. Animals do not feel the danger. The poachers - the humters and fishermen - also neglect it. Who knows from where does meat (or fish) arrive to our tables? I have no doubt that in many cases our food is coming from the Zone. Not to mention mushrooms and berries.
Cemeteries of the Zone - there are hundreds of them here as well as the grounds of "temporary" storage of contaminated equipment – have been vandalized and looted. Less and less metal is left in the same Rassokha where one can easily find "temporarily" stored armored vehicles, fire engines and even helicopter gunships, all irradiating the lethal doses of radiation. It becomes really scary ...
Perhaps it is high time to breathe life into the Zone, returning into the economy circle some of its land, on which it is now safe to reside? It hurts to see weed - tall as a man - on the once fertile land, swampy lands, which provided the inhabitants of this beautiful piece of Ukrainian land food and shelter.
"There is much to be build, and the same quantity can be destroyed, without building anything in return", - stated Joseph Brodsky. But there is another sentence. It says: "Let your bread float on the waters, for after many days you will find it."Alexander AnisimovP.S. This article was written 11 years ago by a wonderful person, a great historian and one of the best, in our opinion, researchers of the history of Kiev, Alexander Anisimov. Alexander is no longer with us. The 30th anniversary of Chernobyl tragedy is coming soon. And then there will be the 40th ...Photo by Konstantin Nikolaev