April 26th, 1986

1:23 am – A test of the cooling systems in Unit 4 of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine begins.

1:23:40am – An emergency shut down of the reactor is initiated. Like many elements of the Chornobyl disaster the details of this are not know, there are numerous competing theories of why the shut down was activated.

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KATYA

You’re writing a book, but so far no book has helped, explained it to me. No more than the theater or the movies. I figure it out without them. By myself. -Voices from Chornobyl, Cindy Marie Jenkins

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1:23:44am – The reactor in Unit 4 experiences a massive power spike, the core overheats, and seconds later the initial explosion occurs.

1:24am – A second, more powerful explosion occurs, resulting from a nuclear excursion. This explosion destroys the roof of the building, exposing the core to the atmosphere. According to witnesses burning lumps of material and sparks shot into the air above the reactor. Some of these sparks ignited a graphite fire when they came into contact with the roof of the machine hall.

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ANNA

People took their small children outside, lifted them up and said, “Look, how beautiful! Don’t forget this.” We stood in that horrible black smoke.

A SOLITARY HUMAN VOICE

Flames Covered the whole sky.

ANNA

We did not know that Death could be so beautiful.

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1:28am – Firefighters begin to respond. First on the scene was a Chornobyl Power Station firefighter brigade, these men were under the command of Lieutenant Volodymyr Pravik (who later died on May 9th, 1986 of radiation poisoning). They were not made aware of the dangers of the situation or notified which parts of the power plant were affected.

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A SOLITARY HUMAN VOICE

They went off to the fire without their protective gear, just in their shirt sleeves. They were summoned as if to a normal fire.

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2am – The largest fire, burning on the roof of the reactor is brought under control by as many as 100 firefighters from Pripyat and Kiev. When questioned later, before their deaths, these firefighters described radiation as “tasting like metal” and a feeling of pins and needles all over their faces.

5am – Majority of the fire has been extinguished. However, the graphite fire is still burning causing the dispersion of radionuclides into the atmosphere.

By the evening of April 26th two people have died from radiation sickness and 52  have already been hospitalized. A government committee is finally formed to investigate the incident. No inhabitants of nearby towns, such as Pripyat, are evacuated despite the committees extensive evidence showing high levels of radiation.

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KATYA

We’re all going through this alone, and we don’t know what to do. I cannot comprehend it with my mind. My grandmother said she had no childhood. She had the war. Their childhood is the war and mine is Chornobyl.