Date: Mon, 20 May 2013 21:14:49 +0200
- Way to Russia Blogs
Chernobyl Eyewitness Accounts
- A few weeks ago I got a book by a Dutch photographer Robert Knoth called Certicaat nr 000358. It's a photographic record of nuclear disasters' effects on people's lives in Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan.
A girl from Chernbobyl - by Robert Knoth
by Robert Knoth
The pictures are really striking and not only because they show the human aspect of tragedy. His photographs also somehow transcend photography. Normal people in everyday circumstances, but the things they have to deal with and you can see it in their eyes are from a different world. It's possible to analyze what happened, but it's impossible to understand it or to come in terms with it. The radiation did not only cause deformations in nature and humans, it is also causing deformation of psyche. The everyday reality cannot be comprehended and there's void in between.
Perhaps as a way to fill in this void I looked for eyewitness accounts from people who experienced nuclear disasters. They just describe what they've felt, seen, smelled and heard.
The reactor was on fire. I remember one of my friends saying, "It smells of reactor." It was an indescribable smell.
I wouldn't say that there was no smell or taste. There was an odour, an inexplicable odour. It wasn't a spring or autumn smell, it was something completely different and it wasn't the smell of earth either. It made you cough and your eyes water.
That spring, it was very hot, he says, and there was a terrible smell over the town as the food in refrigerators and freezers and the bodies of abandoned pets decomposed.
The air, which by then was beginning to take on a metallic smell. It's hard to say what kind precisely, but it was unmistakably a metallic smell.
The heat was awful. And he's still not back. He said later it was like walking on tar.
I could tell something was wrong, of course, as my chest was very dry and my eyes were burning. All of us, including me, were coughing heavily.
At the time, the scientists in the room observed the "blue glow" of air ionization and felt a "heat wave". In addition, Slotin experienced a sour taste in his mouth and an intense burning sensation in his left hand.
One night I heard a noise. I looked out the window. He saw me. "Close the
window and go back to sleep. There's a fire at the reactor. I'll be back
It was here, as he clambered over heaps of fallen masonry and hardware, that he houted plaintively, his voice dry and tense from radiation, "Valera! Answer me! I'm here! Answer me!"
In Pripyat, you can imagine what life would be like after a nuclear war. Silent. The only sound is the steady tick tick from Yuris radiation dosimeter.
We had good jokes. Here's one: an American robot is on the roof for five
minutes, and then it breaks down. The Japanese robot is on the roof for five
minutes, and then breaks down.
The Russian robot is up there two hours! Then a command comes in over the
loudspeaker: "Private Ivanov! In two hours, you're welcome to come down and
have a cigarette break."
All day on the radio they were telling people to prepare for an evacuation: they'd take us away for three days, wash everything, check it over.
I remember one thing: we're on the bus, everyone's crying. A man up front is yelling at his wife. "I can't believe you'd be so stupid! Everyone else brought their things, and all we've got are these three-liter bottles!"
The other day my daughter said to me: "Mom, if I give birth to a damaged child, I'm still going to love him." Can you imagine that? She's in the tenth grade, and she already has such thoughts.
I didn't see the explosion itself. Just the flames. Everything was radiant.
The whole sky. A tall flame. And smoke.
I can still picture the bright raspberry glow; the reactor radiated light from within somehow.
We stood in the horrible black dust ... talking ...breathing... admiring. We did not know - that death could be so beautiful.
All around, on the asphalt, now blue in the sunlight [...] they saw pitch-black pieces of graphite and even whole assemblies of graphite blocks. There was graphite everywhere, it seemed.
I took my daughter and my wife to the hospital. They had black spots all
over their bodies. These spots would appear, then disappear.
I saw him. He was all swollen and puffed up. You could barely see his eyes.
The burns started to come to the surface. In his mouth, on his tongue, his cheeks - at first there were little lesions, and then they grew. It came off in layers - as white
film ... the colour of his face ... his body ... blue, red , grey-brown. And it's
all so very mine!
When he died, they dressed him up in formal wear, with his service cap. They couldn't get shoes on him because his feet had swollen up. They buried him barefoot. My love.
I couldn't sleep at night. I'd close my eyes and see something black moving, turning over - as if it were alive - live tracts of land, with insects, spiders, worms. I didn't know any of them, their names, just insects, spiders, ants. And they were small and big, yellow and black, all different colours.
As we were leaving Pripyat there was an army column heading back in the other direction. There were so many military vehicles, that's when I grew frightened.
We dug up the diseased top layer of soil, loaded it into cars and took it to
waste burial sites.
(some material above is from Green Global)
There's another photographer, Igor Kostin, who was taking the pictures directly at the events. The white stripes you see at the bottom of the photo actually come from radiation. They look like photographic experiments with ghosts, only this time it's tangible and real.
Kostin liquidators in Chernobyl
And here's a really rare footage of the burning reactor itself: