Those who saved the world

The reactor room of block 4. From Chernobyl25
The first explosion destroyed the core of the 4th reactor, but the second explosion, being much more powerful, launched burning graphite and reactor fuel into the air. Inside the reactor, this second explosion had created a crater of burning graphite, and when the graphite blown off hit the ground, it caused about 30 other fires, and the fires were the prime emergency.

Vladimir Pavlovich Pravik
When receiving the alarm from the plant, seven minutes after the second explosion, the Chernobyl  Power Station fire crew, lead by 23 years old Lieutenant  Vladimir  Pavlovich Pravik, immediately responded and sent three fire engines to the scene of the accident. Pravik saw that this wasn't enough and sent emergency alarms to Pripyat , the town of Chernobyl and the entire Kiev region, requesting the mobilization of their fire brigades. Major Leonid Telyatnikov, commander of the second fire station in Pripyat arrived to the scene 10 minutes after the first firefighters had begun their work and now taking the main command, Telyatnikov and his men climbed up on the roof of the 3rd reactor building, which had many fires. and had started to collapse. The fact that the 3rd reactor was still operating, made it a high priority task to extinguish these fires, but Telyatnikov's crew was unsuccessful and soon replaced by the Kiev fire brigade. 4,5 hours later all fires had been extinguished, except for that inside reactor 4. 

Viktor Birkun, wearing only a cotton uniform, drove his fire engine over the roof of reactor 4, which was now lying on the ground, 15 meters away from the reactor. Most firefighters found that their gloves were clumsy and uncomfortable, so using only his bare hands, Birkun lowered the siphon of the fire engine into the nearby cooling pond to suck up water for his fire fighting comrades and in within a matter of minutes he began to feel the attack of radiation on his body. He starded vomiting every 30 seconds, became dizzy and weak and after two hours he could no longer stand up straight, having received 260 ber (biological equivalents of roentgen),  which is equivalent to 1000 years of background radiation. Some of the firefighters recieved approximately 700 roentgen in 12 hours.

It has been said that the firefighters didn't know about the risk and danger of their task, but certainly there was some awareness. Anatoly Zhakarov, a firefighter from Chernobyl did 20 years after the accident state that:

"I remember joking to the others, "There must be an incredible amount of radiation here. We'll be lucky if we're all still alive in the morning."
And it has also been said, that some of them would but lead in their underwear  to protect their private parts from radiation.

Chernobyl firefighter in hospital.

The fire inside reactor 4 could not be extinguished by the brave men who tried. Only 9 days later was it finally put out (see this post). Viktor Birkun survived and is still alive, in spite of still suffering from acute radiation sickness, but of 134 liqudators with the same diagnosis, 28 died in 1986, not long after the disaster. On the 9th of May 1986, Vladimir Pravik died. His colleagues, Nikolaj Titenok, Vladimir Tishura, Viktor Kibenok, Vasillij Ignatenko, and Nikolaj Vashchuk, were brought to the Pripyat hospital for treatment, within hours after their operation at the reactor and there they died. 

"We arrived there at 10 or 15 minutes to two in the morning… We saw graphite scattered about. Misha asked: "Is that graphite?" I kicked it away. But one of the fighters on the other truck picked it up. "It's hot," he said. The pieces of graphite were of different sizes, some big, some small, enough to pick them up…
We didn't know much about radiation. Even those who worked there had no idea. There was no water left in the trucks. Misha filled a cistern and we aimed the water at the top. Then those boys who died went up to the roof... -Vashchuk, Kolya and others, and Volodya Pravik.… They went up the ladder … and I never saw them again" /Grigoriy Khmel
Leonid Telyatnikov died from cancer in 2004, 54 years old. 

These men all gave their lifes to save the world and saying that, is no exaggeration. Honour their bravery and memory.  

Roses for the heroes, spread out at the fire station in Pripyat. Photo taken by me, on the 24th of May 2011.


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