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Chernobyl: Letters Never Written

LJ user wall4 – originally from Lviv, Ukraine, now living in Connecticut – writes about his experience as a soldier forced to serve in Chernobyl 20 years ago (RUS). The piece is accompanied by several black-and-white army pictures.

20 Years Ago. Letters I haven't written.

“Mama, I'll never forget how you were running back and forth outside the locked gates of the conscription center. Don't be upset, everything will turn out fine, I won't be staying there for a long time.”

“We are on the train, all became friends quickly. All dead drunk, officers don't stop us, they understand… […]”

“Kiev is empty, 6 AM, only water trucks are watering the streets constantly. At the checkpoint to the north of the city we pass trucks and buses with refugees. They are from there. We are on the way there. Everyone shudders – from the chill of the dawn and from fearsome anticipation. Everyone's sobered up long ago.”

“We've arrived, Polesskiy district, a tent camp in the field. A hot, wonderful day. We are all standing, afraid to sit down on the grass – because of radiation. Here's one who has lost patience and sat down. Another one after him. Ten minutes later, everyone's lying on the grass, sunbathing – and it's not scary at all because radiation's invisible.”

“We are in the no-go zone. Patrolling a village, guarding it from looters. Suddenly, there's rustling in the grass. […] A stooped old woman emerges: “Dear sons, let me get into the house and take a blanket and a pan. They chased us out, didn't let us take anything…” We turn our eyes away, there are tears of shame and grief in them…”

“Mushrooms are huge and there are plenty of them. The locals pick them along the forest road. They squeeze themselves through the fences, get into the Zone and pick mushrooms. We tell them: “What are you doing, people. You'll get poisoned!” – and they laugh in a friendly way in response, with peasant's slyness: “Nothing'll happen to us, look how beautiful the mushrooms are…”

“Mama, we've almost got caught in a serious shower today. Sasha Tatarchuk and I are walking at the side of the road, and suddenly hear great, scary noise. We raise our heads, turn around – a helicopter is over us, watering the road with a mix of iodine and lysol, to beat the radioactive dust down. We barely managed to run off the road's side, almost got sprayed by this stinking crap.”

“World Cup in Mexico. Maradona scores with his hand. […] USSR-Hungary 6:0. We are watching it all in the village of Osipovichi, Narovlyanskiy district of Gomel region, in the village school. On the blackboard are the words “28 krasavika 1986 goda” [April 28, 1986 – BEL]. It means that 12 km away from Pripyat children had classes two days after the accident.”

“Mama, I've seen the Red forest and the power plant far away. And the crimson sunset over it. It's incredibly beautiful here – forests, lakes and silence… In villages, cats and dogs come to our checkpoints and eat buckwheat with canned stew from the same plate. Sometimes they don't manage to share it and the dog barks at the cat, and the cat straightens out whiskers and responds with hissing. Cats win more often (as in real life). Horses, having gathered into herds, dropping foam, are running around fields and gardens covered with meter-tall grass. Sometimes an armored personnel carrier flies by at great speed.”

“Mama, soldiers guarding the perimeter of the power plant are given Swedish grape juice in cartons with straws, and chocolate. They are wearing small gauze respirators and rubbered protection suits. 19-year-old boys. Next to them I feel like a wise, experienced, brave warrior. I'm 22 already.”

“Going home. At last. The train passes the suburbs, approaches the train station. We are packed by the window, our cheeks and noses pressed to the windows. Home.”

To my friends Sasha Tatarchuk, Pavlik Fedorich, Vova Gamazin, Vitya Mostovets, Lyokha, Aristarkhushka, Ivan-Shayba, Zaliznyak. Be healthy. Let you children grow up healthy, this is very relevant for us all…

6 comments

  • I can’t say one single word. I hope I could read the original text too. It is sad.

  • thank you Veronica for posting this. I’ve looked at the pictures. Heartbreaking. I’m hopping (and worrying) if he is well. We have to remember Chernobyl. I remember these times well – I’m from Eastern Europe myself, with roots in Lviv. I’m trying to forget and I can’t, then I know that we shouldn’t forget.

  • Eugene Medved

    With great surprise I found my post from LJ translated to English. Thank you for your warm words! To Eva Zawrat: I’m fine and healthy, thanks G-d )

  • […] Il cuore di tenebra dell’Europa continua a pulsare da vent’anni dentro un costato di cemento armato in disfacimento. Ha un numero, il quattro, e delle precise coordinate geografiche: 51° 23’ Nord e 30° 06’ Est, dintorni dell’abitato di Pripyat, centrale nucleare di Chernobyl, reattore numero quattro. Molti intrapresero il viaggio per sfuggire al cuore di tenebra, nella primavera del 1986; e comunque non subito: ci furono colpevoli ritardi, da parte delle autorità, legati a questioni di immagine. Ad altri toccò il percorso inverso, a risalire la corrente di profughi; tra questi un soldato ucraino, Eugene Medved, mandato a vigilare sui villaggi evacuati (qui gli originali dei suoi ricordi con le fotografie e qui la traduzione in inglese): […]

  • […] Il cuore di tenebra dell’Europa continua a pulsare da vent’anni dentro un costato di cemento armato in disfacimento. Ha un numero, il quattro, e delle coordinate geografiche: 51° 23’ Nord e 30° 06’ Est, dintorni dell’abitato di Pripyat, centrale nucleare di Chernobyl, reattore numero quattro. Molti intrapresero il viaggio per sfuggire al cuore di tenebra, nella primavera del 1986; non subito, comunque: ci furono colpevoli ritardi, da parte delle autorità, legati a questioni di immagine. Ad altri toccò il percorso inverso, a risalire la corrente di profughi; tra questi un soldato ucraino, Eugene Medved, mandato a vigilare sui villaggi evacuati (qui gli originali dei suoi ricordi con le fotografie e qui la traduzione in inglese): […]

  • * Explanation of the comment above *
    Just started a blog related to blog&journalism in Italian language. Its name is inspired by Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”… since Chernobyl is, in some way, Europe’s heart of darkness, first post was inspired by Eugene’s letters-never-written, which I partially translated in Italian.
    Since the blog is still taking shape, the trackback above leads to a non-existing page.
    The correct link containing Eugene’s story is:
    http://www.citizenkurtz.org/2006/06/cuore-tenebra/
    Sorry for any inconvenience.

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