In the early hours of April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 of the power plant Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, located in the current Ukraineexploded and generated a radioactive cloud that spread throughout the northern hemisphere, from ancient Czechoslovakia to Japan leaving in the atmosphere the equivalent of 500 Hiroshima bombs. However, despite the seriousness of the situation, the communist authorities of the former Soviet Union They decided to cover it up. Mikhail Gorbachev was informed of the incident first thing in the morning and after a few hours of reflection decided that it was not necessary to alert neighboring countries.
But an emergency plan was activated. Workers at the plant, with the help of residents in the area, tried to put out the flames. From the initial shock they went on to deny the facts and with it the sacrifice of the thousands of people who lived in nearby areas and were not evacuated. Despite them, many neighbors decided to flee their homes. The authorities cut the telephone networks so that panic would not spread and the plant workers were forbidden to talk about what had happened.
Sweden was the first country to sound the alarm after detecting high levels of radiation in the atmosphere, but the USSR was still behind the informative iron curtain. International media correspondents had to stay in Moscow and they were prohibited from traveling to the disaster area.
The official figures said that the worst nuclear accident in the history of mankind had only caused the death of 31 people, those who lost their lives in the explosion and due to acute irradiation syndrome. But there were many more, thousands or hundreds of thousands. Semi-official figures indicate that the number of victims exceeds 60,000 and may be above 200,000.
One of the measures taken by the authorities was the creation of the “liquidators”, teams of firefighters, laborers, scientists, nuclear energy specialists, and ground and air troops prepared for atomic warfare, mining engineers, geologists, uranium miners, due to his experience in handling radioactive substances, and above all many volunteers who decided to give their lives to mitigate the damage of the nuclear accident.
The reality of these liquidators is much crueler than what we have been told so far. There were many suspicions but little graphic evidence. Now, an HBO Max documentary brings to light numerous photographs that reveal the horror experienced in Chernobyl, where thousands of young people died abandoned and where many children suffered the consequences of extreme radiation and others were born with malformations incompatible with life.
A) Yes, “Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes (Chernobyl, the lost tapes)” rescues unpublished, heartbreaking, and very clarifying photographs and videos of what happened there, of how the victims were abandoned to a lonely, cruel and painful death while the world lived oblivious to what was happening within the walls of the plant: Volunteers left to die alone in hospital rooms, children with heartbreaking birth defects and above all, who caused them much suffering.
James Jones has made a compilation of hundreds of images and has complemented it with interviews, which reveal the terrible impact that the disaster had. One of the recovered images shows a newborn baby in an incubator with green spots all over his body from radiation. Another snapshot shows a pale, bald boy staggering down a hallway suffering from a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to radioactivity. You can also see another minor crying in bed because of the pain and with his parents suffering from seeing him like this and trying to comfort him.
During the following months, nearby hospitals saw birth defect cases skyrocketmany newborns had adrenal or thyroid cancer and there were also many cases known as mermaid babies because they were born with the entire lower part of the body fused as if it were a fish tail and there were even some cases of babies with two heads.
Hospitals were full of people with radiation sickness but authorities kept looking the other way. Doctors were prohibited from linking illnesses to the nuclear accident.
The documentary also focuses on one of the most affected groups, that of “the liquidators”. Among those were 5,000 volunteers sent to certain death trying to clean exposed radioactive material from the roof of the plant. One image shows one of them drinking water in a hospital bed with the help of a nurse in a giant protective suit. The man’s hairless head shows bright red rashes (in the image above). Another moment of the audiovisual work shows a firefighter holding his head while a doctor checks his breathing.
The shocking images of the documentary show the troops recruited for remove 200 tons of rubble of the roof wearing gas masks and lead sheets strapped to their uniforms like rudimentary shields. “She had been given the order, she was suicidal,” says a surviving liquidator, Nikolay Kaplin. “No one knew anything and they were literally going to hell. We didn’t have adequate protection. The contact time is a few seconds but these molecules and atoms accumulate in the body. Sooner or later all our bodies showed signs. We all go through it: vomiting, coughing, extreme exhaustion. On the fifth day I began to vomit and choke. We were just cannon fodder,” she indicates.
The Soviet authorities turned to the liquidators to clean the roof of the reactor because the robots they had to perform that function were disabled by radiation. Thus, each of those who entered the reactor was armed with a shovel and a special insulation suit covered with 3 centimeters of lead so that they did not absorb so much radiation. They could only work for 90 seconds, time in which they had to clean the roof and throw the debris over a railing. No human could survive more than 90 seconds exposed to that level of radiation. Despite the protections, 80 percent of those who entered died in subsequent years from cancer-related illnesses.
It was not until 1991after the fall of the Soviet Unionthat authorities admitted that a design flaw had caused the disaster that exposed 8.4 million people to radiation.
The five false myths of the Chernobyl catastrophe
The secrecy and the prohibition to return to the area have caused numerous myths to arise about the consequences of the accident.
Mutant monsters. The most widespread is that the radiation had caused the appearance of mutant monsters, with extra limbs or without them, but there is no scientific evidence of this. What is known is that thousands of birds and animals died in the months that followed.
The radiation was not dangerous. Since the exclusion zone is home to a thriving population of animals such as wolves, deer, beavers and wild boar, some believe that the radiation caused by the accident was not harmful to health. The reality is that the animals have recovered a place that humans took from them and that they abandoned after the accident.
Alcohol against radiation. One of the most outlandish myths is that drinking alcohol mitigated the effects of radiation. The only similar evidence is the finding of a group of researchers who discovered that the resveratrola natural antioxidant present in red wine, could protect cells from radiation.
The exclusion zone will soon come to an end. Another belief is that the 30-kilometer exclusion zone would be used as a natural reserve suitable for ecological tourism. The closest thing was the consideration of the Ukrainian government, which last year said that it was studying the possibility of reducing the exclusion zone to 10 km and that the rest would be declared a biosphere reserve, although in the end it did not materialize.
The exclusion zone was created to set up a weapons center. Another of the crazy theories is that the purpose of creating an exclusion area was for military purposes, for the installation of a weapons research center.