The Story of a Photographer and Chernobyl Engineer, part I

A short time ago, I stumbled upon a modest web page with photos of the ChNPP, taken in the summer of 1986. At least so it seemed.

It didn't take me long to trace the photographer, and when so was done, I wrote him an e-mail, asking about the photos.

His name is Aleksandr Vladimirovich Strannik, a man who worked at the ChNPP for one month in the year of 1986 and who loved and still loves photography. These photos is a part of his story and memory of that period of time. On the 19th of April this year, he decided to share his story with the (Russian speaking part of the) world, and my intention is now to pass these further on to you. The text below is partly words from Vladimirovich's journal, and partly from my correspondence with him.

When I told Aleksandr Vladimirovich about my project and showed him my blog, his response was "I see that you're interested in the subject, but me - I was shocked by the accident and the wave of helpless people."

By these words, something suddenly became concrete, and the ordeals and suffering of all these people at last became very clear to me. To read about those who died, those who saved the world and those who still mourn them is real enough, but actually communicating, even if not actually meeting, one of those who were there, and who are still alive carrying the memories, turns it into so much more than being only history.

As 30 years old Aleksandr Vladimirovich came to the Chernobyl NPP in August 1986, to work as an engineer for air purification and dosimetrist, he found that the liquidators had already taken care of the most dangerous cleaning work, and the construction of the Sarcophagus was in full progress. To stop the big threat that the 4th reactor constituted, was top priority at this time, and Vladimirovich, not able to determine whether these men were heroes or just ignorant or careless individuals,  remembers the drivers who transported concrete to the Sarcophagus. They were paid at least 5 times a normal Soviet wage, and were all promised a Lada (car) without having to wait in line for it, when their work was done. Vladimirovich could not know for sure, but he suspected that these men were exposed to at least 20 R/h (2 Sv/h). "This was said to mean one hour of safe work, but it wasn't realistic, regarding the circumstances. Most of them are probably gone by now."

(1) The Sarcophagus under construction.
On this photo (1), you can see the Sarcophagus, concrete transportation/construction vehicles and machines, and the "White box", a booth of lead made to protect the drivers it hid from lethal doses of radiation.

The Sarcophagus (2): "It was built to protect from new emissions. It wasted money and health." Vladimirovich quotes a line from the magazine Yunost [Юность, means "youth"] on the 20th anniversary of the ChNPP disaster:  "'All the fuel was burnt in the beginning of the process of constructions, for such a protection wasn't needed.' If this theory is correct, then the entire strategy of liquidation was a mistake, as today's project of the Shelter", ad even though typed, the sarcasm in Vladimirovich's words is clearly notable.

Vladimirovich was curious and wanted to take photos of the top of the reactor. Thus he went to the airfield, and there were no security check nor personnel. By the edge of the field stood a trailer, and inside it were all the pilots. 

There were no photos of the pilots.
"Who are you?" asked the pilots. 
"I'm a photographer who wants to see the top of the reactor." 
"Go to the yellow helicopter, they often fly around the block."
"And I went" Vladimirovich tells. "They asked if I was crazy and we were sent back by force. The said they didn't run any business trips for photographers. I took photos of the crew and they asked me when they'd get to see these photos. I told them that I'd develop the photos the same evening and they told me that if I returned the following day, they's fly me over the reactor. I returned when the day was almost through, because I could not come earlier and asked 'Where's the yellow helicopter?' They suspiciously asked me why I wanted to know and I showed them the photos of the guys that I'd brought. 'They promised me a ride over the reactor.' I was told that they had crashed the previous day. The crew was still alive within the walls of a lead sheeted hospital. They who would made an exception and take me on this ride. 'Good luck', they told me, and I passed on the photos of the boys. I was really interested in this flight." 

This is the first part of the story of Aleksandr Vladimirovich Strannik. I won't be able to go on until I've had some more questions answered, so I'm o stand by as much as you are, comrades.

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