Chernobyl 30 years on, a Soviet legacy
The survivors of Chernobyl continue to fight for recognition 30 years after the disaster. Filip Warwick spoke to locals and explored the Exclusion Zone on the anniversary of the explosion and fire at the Soviet plant.
Remembering those lost
Thirty-one people died from acute radiation sickness in the three months after the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl plant, then part of Soviet Ukraine. Many more died subsequently as fire and rescue workers had little awareness of the dangers of radiation exposure. Over 90,000 workers built the sarcophagus to contain the damaged reactor number four (above) just six months after the accident.
Sergei Novikov was one of the fortunate ones. In 1986 he spent five months as part of a security team in Pripyat, just three kilometers from Chernobyl's reactor four. While in the so-called Exclusion Zone, Novikov experienced a near-death experience, possibly linked to radiation hot spots. He was hospitalized for over a year and told he only had a few months to live. The doctors got it wrong.
Counting the days
Novikov's wife, Raisa, kept a calendar while her husband was working in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. She crossed off the days with a yellow pen and marked in blue days on which one of his letters reached her. Also known as "liquidators," civil and military personnel were drafted to deal with the disaster's consequences. Between 600,000 and 800,000 played a role in the clean-up operation.
The Chernobyl Savior Icon depicts Jesus Christ in heaven alongside the mother of God and the Archangel Michael. Below is the barren landscape caused by the Chernobyl disaster as well as those who died from radiation. Jesus blesses white-robed figures who include workers, medical staff and military personnel who sacrificed their lives to contain the explosion's fallout and evacuate the population.
Liquidators left alone
Nail Mardagalimov is head of the Kramatorsk Association for the Remembrance of Chernobyl and was one of a thousand men sent from the town to the Exclusion Zone as liquidators. The survivors have been fighting for decades for compensation and the right to a pension. "We gave all our strength and health for the sake of saving the country. Now we are on our own," he told DW.
Under the open sky
A doll lies on the ground at the kindergarten in Kopachi. The village was abandoned after the disaster and remains heavily contaminated by radiation equivalent to 20 times that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.
Last of the returnees
The biggest village in the Exclusion Zone was Zalysia, population 3,500. The residents were evacuated in 1986 and 1987. Some found integration in urban Soviet society difficult, and around 1,000 so-called "self-settlers" returned to the zone. The last Zalysia "self-settler," Rosalia, died in December in her mid-80s in the house (above) where she had grown up and lived before the evacuation.
Three kilometers from the plant, Pripyat was built as a utopian city for the Soviet elite. People came from Moscow, Leningrad and Kyiv, drawn by the high standard of living. The Chernobyl facility can be seen at the far right. A syndicate of Western companies is constructing a mobile sarcophagus that will cover reactor four and the ageing sarcophagus. It is due to be completed in 2017.
Back to nature
This sports center was one of numerous facilities that contributed to the high quality of life in Pripyat. Renowned Soviet athletes often visited the city.
School Number 3
One-third of Pripyat's population was under 18, around 17,000 people. The city had 15 primary schools, five secondary schools and a technical college.
Looters at work
Hundreds of gas masks are scattered across the floor in Pripyat School Number 3. They were taken out of storage rooms by plunderers harvesting the small amounts of silver in the filters. The masks were an indispensable part of Soviet civil defense classes, where schoolchildren were trained for emergencies such as atomic, biological and chemical attacks.
A Soviet memorial
Pripyat doesn't feel like it belongs to Ukraine, says tour guide Vita Polyakova. "This is a memorial of the Soviet Union and the mistakes that one can draw from the Soviet mode of living."