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The Chernobyl Republic: Liquidators

Petr Toman | Ukraine

Organization: noba.collective


25 years ago, Northern Ukraine saw the biggest nuclear disaster on the face of the Earth, with the explosion on site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant destroying reactor 4. Nikolai Gavrilen worked as a clean-up vehicle driver from the first days following the event. He drove on daily basis through heavily contaminated areas, totally unprotected against radiation, the consequences of which were not long in coming. Some two months later he developed hand tremors, with his whole body fighting shakes soon after. Eventually he sustained a mental breakdown. So far, he has had two brain tumor surgeries, suffers from locomotive difficulties and considerable speech problems. Nikolai is a first group invalid, lives in the town of Ivankiv, Ukraine, and depends on his wife for help.

Over the 10 years of clean-up works, 600 – 800 thousand clean-up workers of all kinds of professions from across the former Soviet Union were involved in liquidating the aftermath of explosion of Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Although it occurred 25 years ago, the event is still considered the largest technological disaster marking the history of our world. 

In 2011, on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy, the Ukrainian government rewarded former liquidators by significant cuts in their remaining "liquidator pension" compensations, which in the fall of 2011 triggered massive demonstrations all over capital Kiev.

The project The Chernobyl Republic: Liquidators is winner in Portrait category of the Czech Press Photo 2011 competition.


Thousands of people who took part in the clean-up decontamination works have been left in wheelchairs, driven to suicide, started down the path of alcoholism and very often hit the economic rock bottom, since the average liquidator retirement age was 33. The disaster had an incredible psychological impact on its victims. Estimates claim that 90 % of former liquidators suffer from psychological problems, depressions, all kinds of phobias that leave them marginalized instead of being able to live a rich full life. Even 25 years after the disaster the people still remain bitter and distrustful based on the feelings of underappreciation and deception on part of the governments that failed to live up to their promises of compensation, medical care, medication supply and convalescent homes.

The liquidators retain the feeling that they have given up their health and lives for the good of the society that has turned its back on them. Rarely did they turn 30 before going on clean-up works in the most heavily contaminated areas in the whole world, wearing only surgical masks and a military uniform for “protection”. All they received were empty promises. Most are not even familiar with the true level of radiation they had been exposed to, due to common manipulation with radiation readings on part of the bureaucratic authorities.
The clean-up workers have been through an utter ordeal. For some even several weeks spent in the Zone were enough to leave their health badly damaged for the rest of their lives. Diseases, nightmares and a stain of a former clean-up worker mark their lives without any chance for future improvement.
The former governmenta only kicks up their frustration as it makes subtle attempts to take from them even the few remaining benefits that they would like to hold on to.



 00420 777 242 649, info@petrtoman.eu

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