The total number of victims of the Chernobyl Disaster will never be known. This is due to a number of factors, in part the Soviet government of the time refusing to acknowledge the true scale of the disaster, and the difficulty of proving the higher death rates caused by radioactive fallout linked to the events of April 26th 1986. However, there is no doubt that for generations to come, the events that occurred that night will have a profound effect.
In the immediate aftermath, the firefighters that attended the scene all received lethal doses of radiation and died very quickly at the Hospital No.6 in Moscow. Of the ‘liquidators’, as the reserve military forces that were called in to clean up the area, as well as the miners that dug a tunnel under the reactor to prevent an even more destructive blast from occurring, and the pilots that flew countless sorties over the reactor, little hard evidence of death rates is forthcoming.
Most of the direct victims are buried at the Mitino cemetery in Moscow. Each body is sealed in a concrete coffin, because of its high radiation.
Although the power plant is named after the small town of Chernobyl, a new town was built much closer to the power plant; the town of Pripyat. Pripyat was built in 1970 purely for the workers of what was to become the largest power plant in the world, with a total of 12 reactors planned. Following the accident, the town of Pripyat received large amounts of radioactive fallout. Within hours of the accident, the radiation levels within the town had soared to over 200,000 times the norm and despite the presence of large numbers of military personnel on the streets in NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protective clothing, the town remained oblivious to the danger. It was not until approximately 14:00 on the 27th April that the evacuation order was given. The 50,000 inhabitants were told to pack only the bare essentials, and were expected to return to the town within 3 days. No one ever returned.
During the whole day after the accident, the state officials had not warned the 50 thousand inhabitants about the threat of radioactive pollution. Neither had they provided them with iodine pills to counteract the effects of the radiation. By the time they were evacuated, they were all exposed to large amounts of radiation.
Officially, the Chernobyl disaster affected the lives of about 600,000 people. Official documents divide the victims of radiation into several categories. For example, there is the largest group of 200-240,000 liquidators – rescuers, soldiers that took part in the cleanup operations, firemen and police officers. Moreover, there is the group of about 116,000 inhabitants of the polluted areas near Chernobyl. Another 220,000 people were evacuated later from the polluted territories of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Still, around 5 million people continue to live in areas affected by the disaster.
It is a sad fact that while the global consciousness is aware of the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust, the hundreds of thousands who died on the Western Front in 1914-1918, the thousands killed in New York on September 11th 2001 and London on 7th July 2005, the heroes that fought and died to prevent the Chernobyl Disaster from becoming a worldwide catastrophe are largely unrecognized. While you explore the Zone, always hold the human tragedy that occurred here close to your heart, and spare a few thoughts for those whose lives were changed forever by the tragedy that occurred here.
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