And they took us there like a “night shift” - across fields and gardens, the main thing – you need to get back through the roadblock. The roadblock is where they wash everything – there are trucks with chemical stuff of all kinds. And our company leader says:”All right, guys, it's time to go on a night shift” And off we go across woods and fields – and it's all “burnt”, it's all radiation. There were (supposed to be) respirator masks, but we didn't have them, and – what? - picked up lots of (roentgens).
The matter is, as we entered the zone for the first time, of course we had creeps and willies. Because you were going into uncertainty. Take me, for example: I've been everywhere, I've seen everything in my life – but nothing of the kind! So, I had a sinking heart. But after two or three days – got back to normal, got accustomed. (…) There was no sense of tragedy. Moreover, it wasn't like today – now you can get as much information as you like, any time you like. And in those days all we had was Soviet TV and radio. And also radiation – it was Soviet, too...
It's so quiet there, there are 3 persons and noone else – zero, just nobody. And we have our trucks – I get into the truck and say “So, what, let's go for a ride around the zone, shall we? - Yes, let's go, let's go for a ride around the nearby villages.” So, we ride into a village – oh, it's spooky: empty houses, noone around, all abandoned...all abandoned and empty. Yes, it's spooky. Once we went to a little village – just for a ride, 'cause the road across the forest was good: pine trees, pine trees all around. We drive into the village – it's just a road junction and about 10 houses around – a tiny little village, like a farmstead. Imagine, we didn't even get out of the truck – so spooky it was. Noone there, just trees, empty houses, nobody around, so we didn't even climb out. Just stayed there for a while, took a look around and drove back.
Right in the middle of the forest there were tables – no awning, no shed, just a table like this one. I remember having breakfast in the morning – those who were leaving for the station were the first ones to have breakfast. It was almost October.. They give you a tin mug of coffee, you put it on the table - and the table is a bit tilted to one side and it's covered with ice – and my coffee slides away and topples over. “Give me another one,”- I say. This time I hold it on the table for a while, and the icy surface melts a bit – and my mug stands still. That was fun!
“Battalion! Wake-up! Emergency alert!” Well, we get ready, climb our fire trucks and set off. I'm driving my truck. Driving ahead of me is Pechnyak, chemist-dosimetrist in his APC of radiological reconnaissance. Suddenly he stops. I catch up with him and say: “What's up? How's the radiation? He's mumbling – well, looks like normal” And the readability is lousy, of course...Then we reach Chernobyl – there's lots of people there already.(...) We are told there's a fire in the cable tunnel of the station, we start fighting it, and we slock and slock and slock it. And this guy Grechko from my battalion - he drops into a hatch and breaks his leg...
Well, I can't know it for sure – whether it's true or not – but allegedly, those who were here before us – the previous shift – they were given red wine to drink. But when we arrived – nobody gave us no nothing. And nobody gave soldiers anything. But you know what it's like with soldiers – you give him a “shot” - a 100 grams of spirits – and he says “another one, please”. And then, maybe another one. Them soldiers, they were always searching for “moonshine” - and found it. Local residents sold them home-made alcohol. Soldiers were given canned meat and condensed milk – and they sold it all or exchanged – to get some booze. It's true, I'm telling you!
Well, look, what struck me was those “bricks” - i.e. “no entry” signs everywhere, and secondly – a sense of danger, as I drove. So, I arrived and – automatically (I think, it was noticeable from aside) – I look around, trying to catch sight of that danger, 'cause subconsciously you brace yourself to see it. And you look around, searching for it – but everything's all right, just normal, like in your everyday life. Same air, same blue sky, no radiation to be seen – neither smell, no nothing. And they say - “radiation”! Where is it? What is it like? Don't know what.
“We've been working on the reactor! We are all a bit excited at the moment. You must drive us soft and steady! So we don't feel no bumps no hollows. We must travel and relax!”,- they said. But I was used to driving at good speeds at that time, and of course there were bumps and hollows, and the bus jerked a bit as I switched the gears.
At night the local police officer in an aviation bus pulled up at my place of residence. It was around 10.30 pm, I think. They took me – at this time of day, that is. They took me, brought me to the (medical) board, and after that we fetched our military ID cards, and then they said where we were going to – Chernobyl. I didn't know what it was, really. Lots of people didn't know what Chernobyl was. They had called reservists for service before – but where to? To the “virgin lands” – agricultural work for half a year. But this time – well, it's only later that we realized where we were.
This unit's function was to repair machinery which could not be evacuated from the 30 mile zone – either for technical reasons, or because of heavy contamination. And, you know, one had to dismantle and replace rear axles, engines, gear boxes right where they were . Which means, in the dust and in the dirt, and in the snow – without a ram, without a pit and without a lifter winch...