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Voices From Chornobyl

this is for thousands of years

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The Zone

25 Years Later

David Schindler recently took a series of photos of what is currently in The Zone. They are gorgeous, devastating and amazing. The entire collection is available on totallycoolpix.

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Timeline of a Disaster – The Response

April 27th – The evacuation of Pripyat begins. Residents are told to only being essentials as the evacuation will be temporary – they are told they will be able to return in three days. No announcement is made to the global community or within the greater Soviet Union.

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ANNA

There was no sign.

Sometimes, your palm itches and you know to get ready. But today, no signs.

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April 28th – Workers at Forsmark Nuclear Power plant in Sweden notice radioactive particles on their clothing, testing revealed that the particles were not from the Swedish plant. This was the first sign of a serious nuclear problem in the Soviet Union.

– Later that day the first reports out of the Soviet Union arrive. They state there has been an accident at the Chernobyl Power Plant and there are casualties. A committee is formed to investigate.

April 29th – The accident is reported in German news.

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VASILY

It look less than a week for Chornobyl to become a problem for the entire world.

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May 5th – Evacuations conclude for the 30-km zone around Chernobyl. 130,000 people have been evacuated over this 10 day period.

– Firefighters are finally successful in putting out the remaining fires. This brings a reduction in the amount of radiation being released.

May 8th – Workers conclude the work of pumping out radioactive water from the drain pool in the reactor. Over the course of this operation they removed 20,000 metric tons of highly radioactive water. Two of the three men involved later died of radiation sickness.

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A SOLITARY HUMAN VOICE

The skin on his arms and legs began to crack. Covered in blisters. When he turns his head, clumps of hair remain on his pillow. I try to joke about it. “It’s handy, you won’t have to carry a comb.”

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May 23rd – A government committee orders that iodine be distributed to those who may have been exposed. This late after exposure, however, iodine treatments are completely ineffective as any radiation would have already accumulated in the thyroid glands.

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VASILY

We must immediately give prophylactic iodine treatment to the population and move out everyone living close to the station.

STEPANOV

Had a phone call. From the Kremlin. From Gorbachev. Something about not starting a panic in Belarussia. The West is making too much of it already.

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November 15th – A concrete ‘sarcophagus’ is created to enclose the still radioactive reactor.

December 22nd – The Soviet government announces that the sarcophagus now enclosing the reactor was only designed for a lifespan of 20 – 30 years.

Wordless Wednesday – Animals in Chornobyl

Timeline of a Disaster – The Beginning

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.

A Picture’s Worth

For the last six years, myself and collaborators sought the truth about Chernobyl. Everyone has their own truth and we quickly learned that everyone with information about the accident has their own agenda.

Whenever we need to get right to the heart of the people and their stories, we found pictures. Photography certainly has a point-of-view, but emotional, raw truth cannot be denied.

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