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.