‘We Didn’t Feel Anything Right Away – These Weren’t Bullets’: True Stories of Chernobyl Liquidators

On the night of 26 April, 1986, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov started the ill-fated experimental “safety test,” drawing power from the plant during a simulated unplanned shutdown. The test required the shutdown of multiple computerised and manual safety systems, and other operators warned against carrying it out, but Dyatlov overruled his colleagues’ concerns and proceeded with the experiment.

Combined with hidden flaws in elements of the plant’s design, the test led to an unexpected and uncontrolled nuclear reaction and steam explosion, followed by a graphite fire at the plant’s Reactor Number 4. The reactor spewed radiation across a radius hundreds of kilometres wide, exposing hundreds of thousands of people to dangerous doses of radiation, contaminating wide swathes of southern Belarus and northern Ukraine, and eventually causing over 4,000 premature deaths from cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.

Soviet Army officer Boris Brilovich was one of them. Forty-one years old at the time, the resident of the city of Kalinin (now Tver, Russia) was deployed to a military encampment 30 km from the power plant two months after the disaster.

“There was a pillar with a bird’s nest,” Brilovich recalled. “A baby stork squeaked loudly inside it – the mother hadn’t appeared in a long time and most likely died. We put up a ladder and removed the chick from the nest to feed it. A reconnaissance forces chemist happened to…

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