Ukraine: Memories and Photos of Chernobyl in August 1986

Global Voices Online
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Moscow-based LJ user av-strannik (Aleksandr Strannik) arrived at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in mid-August of 1986, some four months after the April 26 blast at Reactor #4, to assist in the clean-up effort as a ventilation engineer. By that time, "all the most dangerous work had been done by the [liquidators]," he wrote [ru] on his blog on April 19, 2011. In a follow-up post [ru], written on April 26, Strannik explained how he had become one of the Chernobyl catastrophe "liquidators" himself:

[...] I asked to be sent to [the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant] right away, as soon as I learned about the accident's scale. What are you going to do there, my boss asked me. I could clear the debris away with a bulldozer, I had done this type of work as a student. They'll manage without you. Then, in August, when the numbers of those willing to go on a work-related trip [to Chernobyl] diminished, they remembered those who had wanted to come from the very start. [...]

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, August 1986. Photo by Aleksandr Strannik (LJ user av_strannik)

Strannik, who was 30 back then, was an amateur photographer, and "a couple of snapshots" that he took in Chernobyl in 1986 "even won some prize at some exhibition" later. Recently, he has scanned 17 of these photos - including those that he took just "for himself" ("as they'd say now, for [, a social network popular in the former Soviet Union]") - and shared them on his blog - "for the [25th] anniversary, so to say."

Replying to one reader, Strannik wrote that he had been using a Zorki 4 camera, as well as "an old [Zenit]"; he also wrote that he had printed "a few hundred pictures" while in Chernobyl ("until there was no more paper left" to print on) - "and all our guys were going back home with the photos )."

Below are some of Strannik's recollections from his time in Chernobyl 25 years ago, translated from Russian; to see his photos, please visit the original post [ru].

About the drivers of concrete mixer trucks, which can be seen on the second photo, right next to the damaged reactor:

These drivers are heroes - either due to their carelessness, or due to ignorance. They were paid five times their [usual] salaries and they had been promised [Zhiguli cars off the waiting list] - but I'm afraid very few of them [lived long enough] to actually get those Zhigulis - it was [2 roentgen per hour] where the photographer stood, and as for where the drivers were, at the base of the [Sarcophagus], I don't know, I think it was no less than [20 roentgen per hour], i.e., it was safe to work there for one hour, which was unreal in those conditions. [...] A paradox of the Soviet times - to pay for a Zhiguli with one's own life. [...]

On "curiosity":

[...] I wanted to take a photo of the reactor from above. Went to the airfield, no security guards, [helicopters] are all there, and a wagon at the field's edge. Next to the wagon [stood] the helicopter pilots. Who are you? A photographer, would like to photograph the reactor from above. Go to that yellow [helicopter], they fly to the object more often. I come up to them, ask to take me with them. Are you out of your mind, they are forcing us to go there and you are getting yourself into it voluntarily, better take a photo of us, we don't have a single picture from the whole trip. I took a picture of the crew. When will the photos be ready? I'll make them tonight. Ok, come tomorrow, we'll give you a ride over the reactor. I returned [not the next day, but] a day later, couldn't make it earlier. Where's the yellow [helicopter]? What do you need it for? - they ask me suspiciously. I've brought photos for the guys, they'd promised to take me on a flight over the reactor. The guys crashed yesterday ( How? They were preparing to land, there was a gust of wind, they fell on the tail from 50 meters or so. Are they alive? Yes! They are at the [hospital], the [helicopter] was covered with lead sheets [to protect the crew from radiation exposure], made it difficult to operate it, they got off easy. Right, and they had invited me to this very flight, and I couldn't make it, was on duty. Lucky you. Please pass the photos to the guys. My interest in flying was gone. [...]

For the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe, Strannik, along with other Moscow-based "liquidators," has received these presents from the regional organization "Soyuz Chernobyl" (pictured on the last two color photos in the April 19 post): a thermos flask, a bottle of vodka ("a radiation medicine" written on it, among other things) and a framed Russian Orthodox Christian prayer.

Strannik's photo story has generated four pages of comments, with many readers expressing gratitude to the author and all the other Chernobyl "liquidators." LJ user oksana_slk was among those who also thanked Strannik for "preserving the history of this tradegy." He replied:

As an eyewitness, I can only state that this tragedy could have been survived with fewer human and material losses - if the management had been adequate (

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