Nobody could imagine of course the scope of the disaster, because it was unimaginable. I was there when the first sarcophagus was installed on February, 23rd – by that time it was still releasing radiation. As you drove closer to the plant you could feel the smell of iodine. But the most dangerous thing was that orange cloud. When it was snowing heavily, we could see it. Otherwise we couldn’t, of course, we just felt the smell during those releases. We had the means of protection. The best one was “the petal”, of course. But we couldn't stand it longer than 20 minutes in winter. Then it got wet and you couldn't breathe anymore had to change it. They gave us a lot of those “petals”, whole boxes. So you grab a whole pile of them and then replace them one after another so that you could breathe. Gas masks couldn’t help us, nor any other other stuff. Actually, if you stuck to the safety regulations carefully, it meant no smoking, no eating, always wearing the “petal”… But there were guys who smoked. They had problems later - one of them had an ulcer…
I was the leader of the Chemical and Radiation Detection and Dosemetric Control company. I had a tent for 40 men, and we were to deactivate all the buildings and places and everything there, almost every day, especially during the first days. The so called “desactivators” had come before us, they opened everything for us, then we entered and started washing everything there beginning with the walls, then the ceiling, then the walls and the floor. It was just water with detergent. We washed it all with simple laundry detergent. And we had rubber gloves with holes in them. They gave us simple gauze petals instead of gas masks. Gauze petals which became wet and reddish-coloured in something like 5-10 minutes.
They brought us there, about 12 or 15 men. We had already put on the chemical protection suits and gas masks – we looked great, real tough guys. They woke us up in the middle of the night. Someone said “ I’m the squad leader.. I need two more volunteers”. We are going to pump out the water from under the reactor. Well, OK, no objections. Anyway I couldn't refuse. And the volunteers were the two guys from my tent. We come to the station in an APC. We get out, everybody jumps out of the APC wearing those gas masks and chemical protection clothes. And the people around are wearing nothing of the kind – just gauze masks, like flu masks. Where is the radiation; what does that radiation mean? Probably, there was no radiation at all. They led us to something like a hall and they seated us. Those generals were running around there, and they divided us into groups of 4-5 men, then they sent us under the reactor. We went through a kind of a basement, long corridors with lots of pipes there, it was very dark, they gave us torches and lead us there… […] Something like 10 minutes later he takes his dosemeter and says: “That's enough for them. Now to the shower”. And they added up as much as 4 Roentgen on my dosemetric card…
We drove out just a little bit – about 15 kilometres beyond Chernobyl. There was a church there, and a priest. The priest lived there with his family. We came there and – wow! Incredible – a church in the zone! “Do you have enough food supplies?”- we ask the priest. He invited us in and even tried to treat us to dinner. Well, we, too, left him some of our combat rations. And he said to us:”I'm not leaving.”
Well, they remembered me and drafted me. I went there without any documents even, because they took me there just for one day, allegedly. They said they needed an expert in sealing and hermetics. When I arrived there, there was a meeting of specialists. And they said that, 'well, guys, you can do underwater sealing, and we'll have to do it under rain. Well, we need you here to do it under the rain – it's almost autumn. This job has to be done' How could I refuse? And it's not like doing it with your own hands - we had to do it remotely, do you understand? […] There were lots of factors obstructing the process.
And I'd like to add that when I first arrived in Pripyat I was struck by the beauty of the town, by the abundance of roses. In Pripyat we had about five rose bushes per each citizen. We had flower beds full of roses everywhere, it was a great amount, and they were all different – yellow, orange, purple of all shades and dark colours. Those flowers with drops of dew on them, their beauty and fragrance met us every morning.(...) Shortly before it happened we'd moved in a new flat and furnished it all – and we left it all there, didn't take anything with us. Only the clothes we had on – just went out of the door and left. Not even suitcases – nobody had any suitcases. There was no panic, no rush, no flurry. We just got on our busses in an orderly manner and drove away. And left Pripyat.
They were carrying out a certain cycle of reactor shutdown, trying out a certain procedure. And it didn't work out. There are a lot of “foolproof” mechanisms there, you understand? So they call Moscow, and Moscow says – switch them off, those safety mechanisms, and act according to your plan. So they switched them off, the foolproof tricks, one by one, until the reactor went haywire and that's that. That's what I call 'human factor' – not so much of the station personnel, but of Moscow idiots.
The only thing prohibited to us was - drinking (alcohol) at the station, the “prohibition”. If you were caught in the state of heavy “hangover”, the officer got 10 days of solitary confinement in the “choky”, a soldier – 15 days in a general cell. It's true, I'm telling you. And I could help nobody, when it happened...
1986. Easter-tide. My doorbell rings. By the way, there was a terrible shower that day - the very first one that spring – a real downpour, very heavy. I open the door. There's some intoxicated bastard – thrusts a draft notice to me, says – sign it. I sign it and read: within one hour show up at the Palace of Pioneers, all packed and ready. Well, I'm a disciplined man, I've been to the Army, so, I click my heels together – yes, Sir! Just dropped some stuff into my little rucksack, and – off I went. At night we got on board – and soon disembarked in Savintsy, and the next morning we were part of Fire fighting battalion.
We take them out of the zone – and a couple of days later they are back again. I spoke to them, and I asked them:”All right, my dear friends, but how you do it? There's a barbed wire fence all around, there are roadblocks everywhere – it's not easy to sneak back!” And one old gramma says:” You know, son, during the war (WW2) I was young, and I brought food to our partisans (guerilla fighters), and I brought leaflets and all, and Germans shot at me, they did shoot – and you don't. You don't shoot. And I know this place like the back of my hand – every path, every tree stump. It's child's play to me”