Those Who Are Forgotten

Now there was an absense again, this time due to me spending time in Ukraine. In Kiev to be more precise. This time I could for known reasons not visit the Zone as it's currently close to impossible to get a permission to enter. It's funny, because the moment I return to Sweden I am greeted by a message concerning that the Zone seems to be open again and there's a tourist trip areanged for January 2012. I do not know what to believe anymore. Right now it seems  that all business regarding the zone can be labeled a travesty. 

In Kiev, there are a for me still unknown number of Chernobyl memorial monuments situated in different areas of the city. I must admit that I only know of one of them, which seems to be the most recent one created but before my journey I was determined that I would pay it a visit. 

This statue of a worn out firefighter is situated at the Kruglouniversistetska no. 22. This street is a fairly anonymous stroll from the main street of Khreshatik in the centre of Kiev and a place you can be sure to find empty if you go there after 17:00 in the afternoon. As I find it in the early evening on the 15th of December, after a short walk up a long slope it's already dark as night and the street is empty. Further down this hill, stand policemen watching over the traffic, but the firefighter sits all alone. In the darkness, the sense of solitude is enhanced and I cannot stop the feeling of sadness almost overwhelming me, but still I do not go very close. Instead I keep my distance, just watching. Thinking. 

In April, previously this year, the firefighter was surrounded by flowers left there by visitors and the time was appropriate - 25 years after the disaster various acts of memorial were held in Kiev, but now the piece of rock on which he sits is clean and empty. That in itself, to me is a reminder of how easy people forget. However I did not forget that I six months ago decided to find this place and bring flowers to pay my respect for those who saved the world. This evening I have no flowers but I return in the morning, having bought one single white rose from a lady at the metro station "Universitet". In the wind and stinging rain I extract the carefully wrapped flower and place it with the firefighter. It takes a long time. Water is dripping from his ears and from my eyes and I find it difficult to leave.

Four days later I am back in Gothenburg, reading my messages. The same author stating that the Zone seems to be open again, informs me that of the last firefighter helmet, there has been a find. The heavily contaminated inlet of this helmet has been removed and left it on a bucket outside the very entrance to the Pripyat hospital. On a personal note I do not know whether to find this to be irony or just a downright mockery and disrespect. 


On Hold

Then there's been a few days of silence again. 
This time it has to do with the information I am trying to receive, as I continue trying to follow up the situation concerning the closed Chernobyl Zone and get answer to questions like:

Why the fickleness and sliding doors-inconsistency? Is the fact that some people are let into the Zone and some are not, just a matter or chance or a sign of that there simply are no solid regulations behind the decision of closing up?

What is the purpose of firing experienced guides and replace them with young people who know nothing about the exclusion zone?

And concerning a matter as important as the rest: In the official statement when closing the Zone, the begun construction of the New Safe Confinement was listed amongst the reasons of the decision, and I am also trying to find out the amount of truth behind that. 

Having previously had contact with Anton Usov, Ukrainian Principal Advicer of the EBRD concerning the Shelter matters, I have attempted to contact him again to find out what the current status is. Is the project coming along according to plans?

Mr. Usov will be out of his office for another week, but after that, I hope to be able to tell you more about this.


Chernobyl in Space?

At the opening of the exhibition.
I may have mentioned this before but some time ago I was asked if I'll ever make comics about Chernobyl. My answer was no, because in the case of Chernobyl it is of my opinion that reality exceeds any form of fiction anyone could ever think up spinning off from the Chernobyl disaster and its consequenses.

However I was a few months ago invited to participate in a comics festival/exhibition in Gothenburg and immediately realized that I needed some new material - I didn't feel like I could just be satisfied by throuwing in an amout of old things - and thus I started drawing pages for my long-term science fiction project Methatron II, after a script I haven't yet written. It all ended up like a re-run of the prelude of the Chernobyl disaster. There was absolutely no thought behind it - it just happened. Or maybe it happened because I had just finished writing a scientific article concerning reactor powered spacecraft. -Who knows?

In any case, here are the pages I am refering to, and to that I will just add that it remains clear that even if I can be removed from Chernobyl, Chernobyl obviously can't be removed from me.


The Break is Over

I left you with a piece of history, not announcing the forthcoming break that I would have to make due to critical lack of time and I didn't plan to resume my maintenance of this blog until December but late events, or rather news that recently have come to me from different directions, have given me a reason to pick up the writings sooner. Because the changes concerning the Zone wait for no one.

The Slide Doors of the Zone
First of all I'd like you to refresh your memory by readin this post about the closing of the Zone.
As I reported at that point, the ban would be due till October this year. October has now passed with quite a large margin so exactly what are we looking at now? To put it shortly, just another mess that constitutes the administration of the Chernobyl Zone, but here are some further details.

The ban was not lifted in October, and over the last two weeks every request to enter the Zone has been officially denied. The tours from local travel agencies and hotels were the first to disappear from the list of who would be granted entrance to the Zone, and this happened even before October, with some exceptions. The conditions back then were that only journalists and scientists would be allowed, but lately the restrictions have come to affect journalists as well. 

But how come then that at the same time, within this time span of two weeks, people who are neither journalists or scientists have been allowed into the Zone, when others who already had their documents of permission signed and granted had these permissions withdrawn at the very day of their journey? Journalists and environmental architects were even stopped at the first checkpoint and sent back to Kiev, so again how come that some people are granted access and others not? This has happened for sure and to that question there can only be a limited number of answers of which the first is that it is all about a matter of contacts - If you know the right persons, you will always have access to the Zone no matter what, but from my side this is only speculation and I do not encourage anyone to adopt a conspiratorial way of thinking regarding this matter.

The other explanation is what shows on the surface - nothing less than the headless and unstructured way of the local government to administrate the Chernobyl matters, or as one of my sources put it:
"It changes from day to day, depending on so many idiotic reasons and on who makes the decisions."
Furthermore, they decided to fire almost all the long term employed Chernobyl guides; men that have been working in the Zone for years and who are very familiar with all the places withing the 30 kilometer radius. They have been replaced with young guides who may know the English language but nothing about the Zone.

We have now, again, learnt that Chernobyl is a disaster, but not necessarily always only in a nuclear matter. 


The Monologue of A Woman Whose Man Was Killed In the Nuclear Battle

Lyudmila Ignatenko on her wedding day.
Vasily Ignatenko was in Vladimir Pravik's group of firefighters who received the first alarm from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 7 minutes after the second explosion in the 4th reactor. Along with Pravik and others, he was first brought to the Pripyat hospital and then to Hospital no. 6 in Moscow, where he'd soon be accompanied by his wife Lyudmila who would stay with him till he died on the 13th of May, four days after Pravik and Nikolai Kibenok.

Ignatenko's death was hard on his wife Lyudmila who at the time was also carrying their unborn child - Natasha. How could they let in a pregnant woman to the Hospital no. 6? Lyudmila lied and said that she and her husband already had two children and the nurse had replied "Then you don't need more" and granted her permission to see her husband. 

Vasily Ignatenko was highly irradiated and apart from disobeying the orders of not to kiss, hug or touch her husband, she also spent a considerable amount of time by his side. Hadn't she been pregnant, she would most likely have died, but the child absorbed most of the radiation and thus saved Lyudmila's life. The child, Natasha, however only lived for five days after being born.

Vasily Ignatenko died 25 years old.
The memories have never left Lyudmila Ignatenko and over the years she's given a number of interviews concerning her recallections of her husband and his battle against the radiation that slowly consumed his body "Every day it was like meeting a new person." she wrote in her memoirs entitled "Монолога жены пожарного, погибшего при тушении АЭС" [Monologue of the wife of a firefighter who was killed in the NPP battle] referring not to his state of mind but the decay of his body. I came across these memoirs a few months ago, but never read it fully as I was mainly looking for sources telling about the symptoms of acute radiation syndrome affecting the Chernobyl firefighters. 

As a matter of fact I had almost forgotten about Lyudmila Ignatenko when I, just a week ago, encountered the fact that the  Swedish film maker Gunnar Berghdal did not only make a movie about her life, but also asked her to tell the story as told in her memoirs. Lyudmila Ignatenko has told the same story many times before and this time she did it because a publisher needed "something fast about Chernobyl" for the 25th anniversary of the disaster. The result was the book "Ljudmila från Tjernobyl" [Lyudmila from Chernobyl] and I was very happy to come across it. Lyudmila tells her story without meddling journalists. 

For Russian readers, it shouldn't be a problem for you to find Монолога жены пожарного, погибшего при тушении АЭС, and Swedes, you may read Ljudmila från Tjernobyl [by Ordfront förlag] but what's available for the English speaking? As far as I know, her full story hasn't been published in English yet, but essential parts of it can be found in this interview

Lyudmila Ignatenko now lives in Kiev, in an area where mainly Pripyat evacuees reside.  She is 48 years old and far from healthy. Once being a pastry baker to profession, she is now a disability pensioner and just like the former liquidators of Chernobyl, she doesn't receive enough compensation to make a proper living. Thus she tries to supplement her poor income by selling bakery. This has gotten her into trouble with  the police several times as she has no permission to run a business.

After the miscarriage of Natasha, Lyudmila managed to concieve a son - Anatoly. He is now grown and helping to support his mother. 

"I am sure that he will reach somewhere in life. He has a lot of hopes and dreams."
/Lyudmila Ignatenko about her son Anatoly


Dialogue Over Six Cylinders

This time you'll get to think a bit for yourselves...
"I was looking at satellite photos again, of the Kurskaya and Smolenskaya NPP, and they both have similar looking clusters of large cylindrical "storage silos" to the mystery 6 at CNPP. On the KNPP and SNPP "silos" they appear to have some sort of earthen retention berm surrounding the cluster to hold back any possible leaking of the contents. Using the scale marker on Google Maps, the approximate diameter of the 3 different, ChNPP, KNPP, SNPP, "silos" are about 50 feet [15 m] in diameter, could be coincidence, dunno."
 These were the words of a friend who wanted to help me solve the "mystery" concerning the six cylinders. He had apparently performed extensive research concerning the construction of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and found quite a few things that I myself had failed to find. Amongst other, this most desirable map over the ChNPP:

"If you look at the schematic on the PDF link I sent you and see the bldg (ISF-1) whatever the square building is right below it and follow what I'm assuming are pipes of some sort back, they go between the "mystery 6". What ever that square building is, tried google translate and it only came out with a translation of "hzhto", it probably will tell you what the "6" were for."
To this, I replied:  

"[The size is] Probably not a coincidence as all Soviet NPPs were built after one model and by the early 80's, they all seemed to look pretty much the same so I wouldn't be surprised if 50 feet was some kind of standard. Anyway, the NPP of Ignalina in Lithuania seems to be differently constructed. I'm not sure why as I haven't read up much about that NPP yet. 
Well, google translate is retarded. The text reads "хоят" which is "khoyat" which means "ISF", so - it's a storage facility for spent fuel. "хжто" "khzhto"... I don't know this abbrevarion, but it's also a storage place.So we're obviously dealing with storage silos then..."

This photo to the right, shows the blue marked LRTP [Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment] seen on the map above. This is a facility for processing liquid nuclear waste, and it appears to have been constructed after the disaster. The ISF-1 [Spent Fuel Storage Facility] is marked in red and if you look at the map, you can see the gas pipes leading from this facility to what we now call "the 6". 

Look again at the photo of the "silos" under construction. Then study this image:

In the upper right corner, you can see the 6, partly buried in the ground. The connection to the ISF and the fact that they're mostly covered is reason to believe that they're supporting-silos for the storage of radioactive waste, and not unlikely were they highly important during the cleanup work of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. 

However, a slightly more realistic theory is that the cylinders as a matter of fact are containers for cooling water for blocks 1-4 (which didn't have cooling towers, unlike the never finished blocks 5 and 6, for which cooling towers were under construction). The blocks 1-4 were provided with cooling water through underground pipelines, so that might actually be what the pipes on the abobe map are. Stuck in curiosity, I will still probably not spend more time digging into this, as all I really need to do is finding someone who can tell me for sure. So, waste storage or water containers - we'll see. 


Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant under construction, and the closing of the Zone II

Do you remember this image? In August I wrote a brief note about it. 

Since then I haven't become much wiser concerning exactly what these cylinders are, although a theory was that they might be cooling towers, which isn't very likely. Maybe storages. It's the closest guess I can make.

The other day I stumbled upon a satellite photo of the ChNPP on which I could locate the six cylinders. I've 

circled them in red, as you can see. According to this photo they don't even seem to be there anymore, but my eyes may play tricks on me.

When in Chernobyl, I didn't get to see more than a brief view of the NPP and came nowhere near these buildings, and now the NPP all another no-go area of the Zone. Tourists may see the 4th block and Sarcophagus from a distance but that's it.

This leads me to tell you further about the closing of the Zone. For a long time I kept quiet about it because I thought that the fewer people who visit the Zone, the better, but I do realize that me keeping my mouth shut means nothing - everyone who wants to enter the Zone will find a way. 

Many people have asked me about the closure since I made the above post; "Why?" and I asked myself the same as it as far as I'm concerned was a highly illogical thing by the Ukrainian government to do after having opened up the exclusion zone only 6 months due to closing it again. 

If the Zone was really closed, all those websites offering Chernobyl tours, would have called off their services, wouldn't they? It was said that only journalists and scientists could enter the Zone, and I bought it too, but only a short time after, I found out what was really the fact, and the fact is that it's all getting organized in a way that is supposed to make it seem harder to get into the Zone but will make people pay more to get there by having to go through intermediaries. From this view it's truly harder to get to the Zone as there is now more bureaucracy involved, but I've read reports from various people who have been there since the announcement of the closure so it seems that the Zone is far from closed. 


Food for thought?

Official photo: Helicopter flying towards the burning 4th block.
Being questioned, the Chernobyl officials first refused to admit any flaws with the RBMK reactors - those had been around for years. They didn't know better.

Thus the blame was put on the officials and workers who were supposed to be well familiar with the rules. They were. But they weren't aware of the over ten accidents in other Soviet reactors that was kept secret by the government. So they knew the rules but not the risks because nobody told them of what had happened or what could happen. 

How can you run a new machine properly without first having read the manual, and if you run this machine for someone else who wants you to do a perfect job and who has the manual but won't give it to you, how do they expect you to perform correctly?

This all looks very simple, doesn't it? But it isn't. It just manifests the entire complexity of the Chernobyl affair. I wonder if we will ever find out the truth.


The Chernobyl Trials

V.Bryukhanov, A. Dyatlov and N. Fomin at the trial.
The previous post, entitled When the devil gets old deals with the former director of the ChNPP, Viktor Bryukhanovs contemplations and views on the disaster over 20 years after it happened. Especially this year, 25 years after the Chernobyl accident, the now 75 years old Bryukhanov has been giving several interviews for Ukrainian media, trying to once again tell the story of what according to him really happened on that Chernobyl morning in April 1986.

Bryukhanov has been trying to tell it all before. 10:00 am, on the 13th of August 1986 Bryukhanov stood before Ukraine's director of public prosecution answering questions until 13:00 that afternoon. After that the prosecutor went to lunch and upon his return he announced that Bryukhanov was under arrest. Bryukhanov had asked why and received the answer "It's better for you" after which he was taken into custody by the KGB to wait for the trial.

The trial was supposed to be held on the 24th of March 1987 but was postponed due to  the also arrested chief engineer Nikolai Fomin's suicide attempt. In his cell, Fomin had broken his glasses and cut his wrists but his attempt to take his own life was discovered and his life was saved.

Instead the trial began on the 7th of July that year, inside an improvised courtroom in the Chernobyl House of Culture, where Viktor Bryukhanov along with five other men would be held accountable for their actions at the 4th block during the critical hours. These were Nikolai Fomin; his deputy Anatoly Dyatlov; the shift chief Boris Rogozhkin; senior engineer Yuri Laushkin and overall reactor chief Aleksandr Kovalenko were charged with accusations of various levels of negligence and misconduct. The trial would proceed for three weeks.

During the final day of the trial, Fomin showed obvious signs of great stress, but after a 90 minutes session he, Viktor Bryukhanov and Anatoly Dyatlov would receive their sentences, each receiving (as been mentioned here before) 10 years of imprisonment in labour camp for gross violation of safety regulations that created the conditions that led to the explosion of the 4th reactor, or rather "serious errors and shortcomings in the work that lead to the accident with severe consequences". The three accepted professional responsibility of the accident but denied criminal liability. 

Aleksandr Kovalenko, Boris Rogozhkin and Yuri Laushkin pleaded not guilty, but he six were convicted on all charges except Mr. Fomin, who had also been charged with abuse of power. Kovalenko was sentenced to three years in labour camp for safety regulations; Rogozhkin was convicted to five years for the same reasons and Laushkin received two years for negligence and unfaithful execution of duty. 

Being interviewed after the trial, the judge said - based on witness' confessions -  that there was also an atmosphere of "lack of control and lack of responsibility" on the plant - the workers were playing cards and writing letters on the night of the accident.

We already know that Viktor Bryukhanov and Anatoly Dyatlov were released early due to bad health, but neither did Nikolai Fomin serve his full time at the labour camp: In 1988, the former chief engineer was transferred to a neuropsychiatric hospital for prisoners. Two years later he was declared insane and thus released early, being transferred to a civilian psychiatric hospital. 

After recovery, Fomin was employed at the Kalinin nuclear power plant and five years later he retired. Nikolai Fomin does not like to speak about the 25 years old disaster but states that:
"I was largely blamed. Don't believe everything that is said about me. I ony blame myself for one thing: I always thought that the most important of all was the enterprise - the technology but it turned out that I underestimated the most important thing - the value of people."

Note: The photo is taken from sciencephoto.com


Rossoha - No go

The Rossoha graveyard.
Perhaps there isn't much to say concerning the vehicle graveyard near the village Rossoha, 25 kilometers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, because apparently there doen't seem to be much to be found about it.  

To keep it brief, the so called Rossoha graveyard is the place where thousands of contaminated vehicles were brought for their final rest after participating in tasks of extinguishing the fires and cleaning up the mess of the NPP's 4th reactor. Tanks, helicopters, jeeps, tractors, cranes and so on - they're all there. I found a photography, taken by Aleksandr Taranenko, of four fire trucks at the Rossoha graveyard and remember laughing at myself recalling the memory of the empty fire station of Pripyat. (At the time I for some strange reason wan't sure where the fire truck had gone. How utterly stupid.) Seeing that photo of the fire trucks made the disaster once again appear as something very concrete to me and now we're starting to approach the reason why I suddenly decide to write about Rossoha:

It's simply because I'll never get there and see it for myself.

Since some weeks ago, I've started to plan and make arrangements for my next journey to the Zone. It will be different this time, because this time I wish to go alone with a guide rather than in a group. Having established communication with a contact, he asked me to write down a wish list of places I want to visit and Rossoha came to be on it, as we didn't go there in May. 

I was then told that the graveyard has been closed to visitors since 2007. To me this was news, so I asked for the reason why and found out that it's the same old explanations circulating even in this case: The security of visitors (there have been plenty who didn't realize the danger of coming near or touching these highly irradiated vehicles) and -again- theft of metal, scraps, and so on.

But I also know that only two years ago, the Rossoha graveyard was visited by people from outside the Zone. How is this possible? The explaination is apparently that until a few years ago it was possible to find those working in the Zone who'd lend their aid to get visitors to Rossoha but as many of them have lost their employments due to these illegal acts, it is now as good as impossible to get there. 

What can I say? I'm too late, and this is just another sign of the constant changes of the Zone. 


When the Devil Gets Old...

V. Bryukhanov and N. Fomin during trial in 1986.
Like Anatoly Dyatlov, Viktor Petrovich Bryukanov - the former director of the Chernobyl NPP was persecuted and convicted due to actions and decisions made during the preceeding hours as well as the critical period of the disaster.  On the 3rd of July in 1986, the Politbyuro decided to sentence Bryukhanov to 10 years of imprisonment for "serious errors and shortcomings in the work that lead to the accident with severe consequences." Bryukhanov was also expelled from the communist party as to further underline the degree of seriousness. This as an alternative to the threatening death sentence.

Having received large doses of radiation (approximately 250 REM), Viktor Bryukhanov was suffering from radiation sickness and due to bad health, he was released in 1991, having served five years of his sentence. While Anatoly Dyatlov consistently blamed the accident on the reactors, Bryukhanov never doubted the safety of the reactors and Soviet Nuclear Power Plants, and would keep on insisting that the plant remained open, even 14 years after the disaster [The last of the ChNPP reactors were taken out of operation in 2000].

In 1992, Bryukhanov was, ironically enough, hired as a consultant by the Ukrainian energy company Ukrinterenergo where he appears to have remained until retirement. 

Today, at the age of 75, Viktor Bryukhanov [who along with with Anatoly Dyatlov, Aleksandr Akimov and Leonid Toptunov remains one of the four most rumored Chernobyl scapegoats] still claims that there was nothing wrong with the reactors - the error according to Bryukhanov was simply in the forth block. However he does no longer  believe that the personnel at the 4th reactor block was responsible for  what happened on the morning of the 26th of April 1986. Instead, in an interview with the Kiev Weekly [April 2011] he praises the courage of the employees by the following words:

"There were no cowards or dodgers. All were dedicated to the plant, loved it and defended it. Moreover, they knew how to conduct themselves and where not to go... Of course, there were heroic moments. I recall how the assistant manager of the electrical workshop Oleksandr Lelechenko, understanding it was dangerous to leave the hydrogen generator, performed the necessary work to displace it and spent long hours in conditions of high levels of radiation. As a result, he took in a huge dose of radiation and ended up dying in a hospital in Moscow."
Generally Bryukhanov's orignial points of view haven't changed much over the years but he carefully avoids making definite statements, but still claims that the real truth about Chernobyl will never be learnt because "they are still concealing it" and he doesn't believe that the disaster has taught anyone anything. 


Exhibition Dismantled

Panorama of my exhibition by L-G Johansson.
Yesterday afternoon I, assisted by my brother, disassembled my exhibition at the Gothenburg City Library. There was nothing special about it - we spent approximately 45 minutes climbing around, taking down the posters and cleaning the walls from super extra strong double adhesive tape and then that was it. It felt both a little sad, and like something of a relieve to have gotten it over with: On one hand it will feel strange to visit the library without marching right away to the spot and attend to it, but on the other hand it feels good not to go there every day worrying about theft or vandalism. 

Here are some notes left in the guestbook: 

"Awesome you to spread the truth! It's just the way to do it!"
"A beautiful and frightening exhibition. Thanks for making it!"
"A bloody awesome excellent exhibition, I like the photos and all the drawings!" 
"Beautiful exhibition! I'm really happy that such subjects are taken up today. I'd love to find out more!"
"Thanks for a pleasant exhibition. It would have been nice, though, if it all had been placed so that someone who's 161 cm tall could read the upper parts too. Suggestion: Move the four lower images to the side and move down the larger "posters'." 
"Good to see a Chernobyl exhibition the day before CBRN education. Thanks!" 
"Thought provoking! Strong images!" 
"Om nom nom. Reactor." 
The story continues... 


Showbiz Chernobyl

Recently I found a copy of the America based newspaper "The Ukrainian Weekly" [as it says, pulished by the "Ukrainian National Association Inc. - a fraternal non profit organisation"]. The date of publishing was April 23rd 1989, that is, almost exactly three years after the diaster at the ChNPP. The major part of the issue was dedicated to the disasters, consequenses and current updates but for some reason especially one thing caught my attention. In February 1988, the Russian journalist and science editor of the Moscow Pravda, Vladimir Gubaryev, set up a theatre play about the Chernobyl disaster, simply entitled "Sarcophagus". This was displayed in Princeton, New Jersey in the U.S.

The Ukrainian Weekly had a 2 pages report, written by Larissa M.L Zaleska Onyshkevych, concerning this, including the views of the play's creator Gubaryev, whose opinions and ways of expression gives a very illustrating display  of the contradictions concerning Chernobyl and the use of nuclear energy. The following is a transcription of the article (all photos are from The Ukrainian Weekly):

"The only play this far, on the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, came to Princeton, N.J last February. The play "Sarcophagus" is by Vladimir Gubaryev, a Russian journalist and science editor of the Moscow Pravda. While the writer is only a beginning playwright and the play is not really a drama (in terms of the genre), after reading it one could really be concerned how this work will be produced. 

Upon entering Princeton's McCarter Theatre, one notices the unusual stage setting: the background in a form of  a semicircle with nine tall columns. Just before the beginning of the performance, with the lights still on, a grey background appears, with details of a photo of this cyclorama. It is a composit picture of the Chornobyl nuclear station in Ukraine. An eerie monotone sound gradually surfaces and increases in volume: one has the feeling of being on a submarine with the sonar testing the waters. Then flashes of red light covers the top of the plant. And as the photograph slowly fades, the columns become dark, like rods in an atomic reactor. A buzzing sound follows several jarring piano notes. Is this a bomb shelter or a hideout? As the unnerving sound hovers in the air, a silent protagonist appears on the stage, inspecting the setting. 

The stage becomes a foyer in a hospital with lounge chairs and two nurse stations. The lower parts of the column then changes into 10 doors leading to patient rooms. This changeover of setting is accomplished very swiftly and dramatically. The play is ready to begin. 

The plot of the "Sargophagus" actually deals with the stories that nine patients relate to a prosecutor, each other and to one called Bessmertniy [this means "immortal" - ed. note] who has been in the hospital of the institute of Radiation Safety for 487 days. He's the only patient who's been exposed to megadoses of radiation and managed to survive, thanks to 16 operations  and seven bone marrow transplants. 

As the only successful case he becomes a symbol of hope for others affected with high radiation dosages, as well as a source for dissertation research for the medical staff. Just as we learn about the details of this case - nine people are brought in from Chornobyl, after the 1986 explosion. 

They're all assigned to one of the 10 individual cubicles. While some treatment is administered, a special investigatior appears asking for individual statements of the details of the explosion and of the first minutes following it. There is a sudden blackout between scenes, as the stage becomes dim, music is heard again and on the backdrop a photograph appears, showing a dead forest, while a radio voice talks about basic emergency steps if there is an explosion of a nuclear bomb. 

In between other scenes, the columns  on stage becomes lighted rods as flashing stars appear and a voice over the radio describes the threat of radiation from a bomb and the necessary evacuation procedures. Then the doors/columns light up, becoming burning red while dead trees appear on an enlarged photo comvering the entire backdrop. 

Amongst those affected by the radiation of Chornobyl, there are people from different walks of life; the nuclear plant director, an engineer, a radiation dosimeter (Geiger counter) technician, a young firefighter - chief of the firefighters and his driver, a control room operator, a peasant woman, a physicist and a passing cyclist. 

While bits and pieces of information surface about the explosion, individual reproaches are also heard. The technician feels guilty for informing the engineer that the radiation was not threatening -- because he had an old meter and did not believe that the radiation could bring the pointer so far off the scale. The engineer went to perform some necessary repairs and exposed himself to the highest radiation on the roof of the reactor. While the technician suffers from remorse, the engineer admits that he guessed what the real situation was and went willingly to save the plant from a greater mishap.

The individual reports and the ensuing discussion of events prior to the explosion inevitably turn to the question as to who gave the order to disconnect the cooling and the safety systems.

The fire chief and the plant director are blamed for tolerating improper procedured and standards, but the general verdict is that it was the "system" the general way of life and work, that led to the accident. The artistic director of the performance in Princeton wanted to underline this search for the guilty party, and in the theater's foyer buttons were distributed with the question "Who is guilty?".

As the depositions and discussions continue, over the doors of the individual cubicles lights occasionally flash as crisis occur, and when the inevitable death quickly overtakes the patients one by one -- the light simply fades away. Finally, only the plant director remains as the only persons for whom no bone marrow donors are found. It is then that Bessmertniy volunteers his own, well knowingly that this may be his final surgery, he wants the plant director to come out of the operation alive so that he would live, be judged and punished, and then shown to the children as one of the culprits of Chornobyl, as an example not to be followed. It is here that the writer could not make up his mind as to the guilt. If it was the "system" that made people irresponsible then why punish one of the cogs in it? Why not attack the system? 

Then, on a white background, a black and white photograph of the Chornobyl plant appears; the columnar doors slowly fill up with red. Shadowy flames of Chornobyl encase the stage like in hell, and then the columns appear. One may envision the skeleton of a dinosaur. Or is it a sarcophagus, a tomb? A pounding rhythm, that of a heartbeaat, becomes louder and louder as the names of the 10 first victims of Chornobyl are read at the end of the play; seven of the people were Ukrainian, two were Russian and one Byelorussian. 

This striking production in Princeton was directed by Nagle Jackson, artistic director of McCarter Theatre for 10 years. This is his last year in this theater and it's crowned by his best production ever; "Sarcophagus" , despite its dramatic weaknesses, the way it was staged is an unforgettable and haunting work of art. While much of the success is also due to the masterful acting of Edmund Davys as Bessmertniy, it is the unique stage design that provides the impression of the skeleton-sarcophagus. The designer's clever use of the simple setting, supplemented by photographs and lights creates a marvel of a design.

In discussion of this production, Mr. Gubareyev told me that he considers Eduard Kochergin, the guest designer from Leningrad's Gorky Theatre, simply a genius. Besides designing the set, Mr. Kochergin also assisted the artistic director during rehearsals. (While he probably contributed many good suggestions, he can personally be blamed for one that was inappropriate. When the peasant woman from the Chornobyl area, probably a Ukrainian or Byelorussian, crosses herself, it is not in the form of a large Ukrainian cross only with little crosses over several parts of her face - in manner of peasants in the Moscow area.)

The author said that out of the 150 theaters in the world that staged his play, he saw about 20. He considers that two productions (one in Italy and one at London's Royal Shakespeare Theatre) together with the one at McCarter in Princeton, were the most outstanding ones. 

When Mr. Gubaryev went to Chornobyl shortly after the explosion, it was as a science reporter, but after filling his articles he was not satisfied. He said that the terrible pain that one felt there, could only be expressed in the theater and therefore the play came into being -- because of journalism's powerlessness: "I wrote only the truth, but I felt that the people didn't understand the whole truth." He then wrote the play in six days. 

While during the early months of glasnost, he was not certain if it should be censored, he was immediately informed that as a major Moscow periodical Znamya (which was to publish it) was not subject to any censorship. The play was published in that periodical in September 1986.

Although subtitled "a tragedy", Mr. Gubaryev's "Sarcophagus" is hardly that. In fact, hardly any critics considers it even good literature. It is a message play and on a very current subject. The play was stage in an excellent English translation by Michael Glenny. While "Sarcophagus" has also been translated and staged in numerous languages of the world, it hasn't been staged by any Ukrainian theaters in Ukraine. Last year an opening performance at the Kiev Theatre of Drama and Comedy was cancelled at the last minute so that the audience "would not be unduly excited". Only once, and after special intercession by Mr. Gubaryev, was a visiting Russian theater from Tambov allowed to stage it in Ukraine, in Cherkassy. 

While the play, or rather the "piece a these" deals with the general and universal problems of personal job responsibility, especially in the unique situations of a nuclear plant -- a lot of propaganda dissemination is inevitable. especially as the writer is primarily a journalist and science editor.

Mr. Gubaryev considers himself a Russian (although one parent is Byelorussian and he was born in Byelorussia) and also sees the accident in terms of Soviet, or rather even Russian, losses. Not once is Chornobyl's national identification mentioned; there is not a word about the Ukrainian and Byelorussian human and egological losses. In the play's discussions between physicians in the hospital and a visiting American "Dr. Kale", talk is only about  Russian science and Russian medicine -- not Soviet.

In the play the author states that ours is not the age of the atom but the age of catastrophe -- due to "the system of irresponsibility" which prevails within the bureaucracy that has no public accountability. In the "system" practised for many years in the USSR that contributed to the poor workmanship and the shutting off of the warning systems. 

However, the accusation is not directed at the Soviet Union alone. There is much criticism of the American way of life and standards, as well as American science (which supposedly often benefits from Russian experiments and gain experience at the expense of the Russians). The Chornobyl accident is treated as a warning against nuclear war, especially with the Americans holding a finger on the button.

The claims while he has become an active pacifist, he's not against nuclear energy. In an interview published in Ukraine (September 1988) , he said that "Ukraine always demanded an increase of industrialization and the building of atomic stations" (Just how Ukraine demanded this, he did not say. Who authorized and signed such demands -- whether it was Shcherbytsky or the Energy Ministry? Was it in Kiev or in Moscow? Current discussions in Ukraine's press shows just the opposite: it demands to stop the building and to take down the nuclear stations.)

However, in a personal interview, Mr. Gubaryev claimed that Ukraine needs so many nuclear stations due to its large population: no mention was made of the large proportions of energy that it can now afford to export. 

Since the play definitely carries an anti nuclear message - that is probably why following the first three performances of the play at the McCarter theater, there was a symposium on nuclear power and nuclear arms. Besides Mr. Gubaryev, the other panel discussants were Jonathan Schell (journalist and author of "Fate of the Earth"), Prof. Frank von Hippel (Princeton University), Celestine Bohlen (then a Washington Post correspondant in Moscow covering Chornobyl) and Fred Friendly (former president of CBS News). The plan for the panel was to discuss "whether public policy is a journalist's responsibility".

In discussing the lack of information about Chornobyl in the first days after the accident, Ms.Bohlen complained about complete initial denials of any casualties when she telephoned the plant after some papers already carried the figures of 27 dead. She summarized the communication situation stating that Chornobyl became "the trigger for glasnost for the govenrment".

Mr. Gubaryev in turn explained, however, that the denial was only in the first three days, because no one really understood what went on, in fact, he implied that the authorities in Kiev were keeping the details secret from Moscow; even on May 27 Gubaryev was told in Kiev that actually nothing out of the ordinary took place. He said, that actually on the forth day after the accident "new forces" took over, and when experts from Moscow arrived, true reports were issued.

In terms of glasnost, Mr. Gubaryev said that while a year ago he had to watch out what he was saying, things are different now. But he did admit that in Ukraine the press was not allowed to print the information that was permissible for the press in Moscow. On the whole he said that very much information is published now about the Chornobyl disaster; there are supposed to be even dosens of photograph albums. 

However, he also claimed that American secretiveness isn't any better from the Soviet one, when in reference to Plutonium most of the imformation is still being kept secret. 

Mr. von Hippel compared Soviet bureaucracy to that of our State Department's. Most of the comments from the panelists and the audience expressed sentiments against building nuclear power plants in this country.

Mr. Gubaryev himself did not shrink from attacking the United States; he claimed that America, with our nuclear power, can destroy the Earth 17 times over, while the Soviets - only eight times. When asked about the 1957 Soviet plutonium accident in Kyshtym, in the Urals, Mr. Gubaryev said that there were no deaths, only an ecological contamination. Contrary to the reports by Zhores Medvedev and other scientists, Mr. Gubaryev claimed that radiation effects there were minimal, and that the place is now used only as a testing site. 

While the symposium and the discussions about the "Sarcophagus" was to deal with the fallout from Chornobyl -- it aired largely antinuclear sentiments and criticism of bureaucracy, with little concern for the people most painfully affected by the actual fallout in the Chornobyl area, in Ukraine and in Byelorussia.


Valery Alekseevich Legasov: About the Disaster at the Chernobyl NPP

Valery A. Legasov.
Valery A. Legasov, born in 1936, became an academic at the age of 36. At the time of the Chernobyl accident, he was the chairman of the Department of Chemical Technology at the Chemistry Department of Moscow State University. Legasov was the man sent to the Chernobyl NPP to aid, try to gain control over the problem and to investigate the disaster; what caused it, what the consequenses could be and how it at all could happen. 

It may seem funny that a professor in chemistry was sent to the site of a nuclear disaster, but the truth is that Legasov was the only man present in Moscow at the time who was at all qualified to attend the emergency. Legasov,  by his wife being refered to as a strong and honest individual who wasn't afraid to speak his mind was the very person insisting on the evacuation of Pripyat, and obviously his voice was heard in this matter. Apparently this was not the case concerning some following issues - The Soviet regime allegedely forbade him to speak the truth, during the IAEA conference in Vienna (August 1986, where of course also Hans Blix attended), concerning the RBMK reactors and previous accidents and problems with said reactors throughout the Soviet Union.

After the immediate threats of the ChNPP's 4th reactor had settled and the Sarcophagus was built, Legasov would experience that his carreer had been damaged due to the being forced to hide the truth. For this he'd try to make up by writing several papers which were either censored nor not at all published. Eventually, the sense of failure became overwhelming for Valery Legasov, who committed suicide in 1988. On April 26th,  the 2nd anniversary of the disaster, Legasov's hanged body was found by his son returning from school. By then Legasov had been dead for approximately four hours. Valery Legasov became 51 years old.

The suicide of Legasov wasn't mentioned in any Soviet media.

Anatoly Dyatlov, the vice deputy chief engineer at the ChNPP, in charge of the experiment at reactor block 4 at the morning of the accident, was (as I've mentioned before) persecuted and sent to prison for criminal minsmanagement of potentially explosive enterprises. This man wrote a book entitled "Чернобыль - Как это было" ["Chernobyl - As it was"], where he told the story from his own point of view, blaming the construction of the RBMK reactors for what had happened. Dyatlov also wrote a letter to Hans Blix where he tried to explain the cause of the disaster, but not much more is currently know about this letter.

Valery Legasov didn't write any books, but (supposedly) the hours before his death, he made voice recordings covering five cassettes where he told about the Chernobyl affair. These tapes were found and eventually transcripted to written text. Some time ago, I found these documents. In spite of a long habit concerning the modern technology involving computers and so on, I still am not comfortable with reading from a screen so today I printed the 123 pages of Legasov's text set recordings. Leaving the copying service office, I started looking over the papers and found that it's actually understandable to me. I think that it will be possible for me to translate this. I am going to give it a try. As a matter of fact, I will start right away.