Lieutenant Vladimir Pavlovich Pravik, born on the 13th of June in 1962, doesn't seem to leave my thoughts. Of all the people who died when trying to save the world from what might have become its perhaps largest disaster ever, the memory of firefighters' captain Pravik, or rather the impression of someone I never met, stays with me.
This morning, whilst trying to wake up, drinking coffee and working on something completely different, I wanted to try to find something about Pravik that I didn't know. I found more than I thought I ever would.
On April 25th, Vladimir Pravik soon to turn 24 years old, went to his work at the ChNPP fire station, where the hours were spent with the normal routines of theoretical and practical firefighting education and when the duties of daytime were over, the men played volleyball, watched TV, rested and relaxed.
At 1:30 am, on the Saturday of the 26th of April, the alarm sounded; something had happened at the nuclear power plant and Pravik and his men headed to fulfill their duty.
In the west, we haven't seen reports of such as what I found, but there are official memoirs of a physician at the time working at the Moscow hospital no. 6 (where the first victims were brought), whose name for me is still unknown, and he told about Vladimir Pravik and his comrades:
"Through the microscope, it was impossible to get a proper view of their heart tissue. The cells' nuclei had formed clusters and there were fragments of muscular tissue. This was a direct effect from ionizing radiation rather than a consequense of secondary biological changes. To save these patients is impossible."
Pravik and his collegues were given morphine and other drugs to ease their pain and they went through bone marrow transplantation, but it was all futile. At this time, Vladimir Pravik was showing severe symptoms of acute radiation syndrome, suffering from difficult gastrointestal problems; pneumonia and leukopenia. He had lost his hair and his skin flaked and after some time, his tongue was so swollen, and his salivary glands had ceased to function, so he could no longer speak.
"Vladimir Pravik lies naked on an iclined bed, under the metal frame of lamps. The entire surface of his body is burnt by radiation and fire and it's hard to tell what is caused by the fire and what is caused by radiation. It all comes together. There are enourmous internal and external swellings: Swollen lips, mouth, tongue, esophagus...
This is nuclear pain - atrocious, unbearable and ruthless, bringing shock and unconsciousness. The whole body of this firefighting hero is overflowed by nuclear pain. Then shot through with morphine and other drugs to ease the pain. Pravik and his comrades have gone through intravenous bone marrov transplantation, and we've injected liver extract to try to stimulate haematopoiesis. But... Death is not retreating.
Vladimir Pravik stoically endured the pain. This Slavic hero would have survived and death would have lost, if hadn't his skin been killed in its full depth...
And it seems as if in this state, his thoughts were not with worldy pleasures or in grief but with his comrades. While he still could speak, Vladimir Pravik tried to learn from nurses and doctors about the state of his friends. How were they? They were alive, right? He wanted them to fight, and with his courage, to help them.
The radiation came to affect his salivary glands; his mouth went dry like a desert and thus Pravik was unable to speak any more. He could only stare with those expressive eyes, blinking bare eyelids, refusing to submit to death. Then his internal resistance forces began to weaken and gradually dry up. Pravik began to die. The loss of flesh from his eyes. He began to melt. Dry. Fade. This mummified skin and irradiated tissue. For each hour, for each day, this human being ceased - ceased, ceased, ceased! Damn this nuclear age! It's not even possible to die in a human way. Deceased - blackened, withered mummy..."
Vladimir Pavlovich Pravik died just a few days before his 24th birthday. His remains rest in a sealed zinc coffin in the Mitinskoe cemetary in Moscow. He posthoumously received the medals of the Order of Lenin and hero of the Soviet Union and today his name is mentioned in and featured on several memorials. Vladimir Pravik prefered to live