Take me with you. I want to have a look at the Red Forest! ”. What is a Red Forest, well, that is, why it is red? Has it burned down? Why is it standing? Does’t it have to fall to the ground? [...] In Ivankov, they wanted to leave me, I’m saying: "You know, I want to go to Chernobyl." Well, I had to look at the red forest. Stupidity is an accident or it is a pattern - I can not say. I lay in the ambulance on the floor, because the checkpoint would be checked. [...] I saw the red forest. Not to say red – a terracotta one rather. It’s such a bright color and the pines there. That is, radiation passed like a typhoon passed! I can not say that they burned down, they have just become colourless.
If now some people say that it is urgent to separate the liquidators from the displaced people - I am always against this matter. Despite the fact that the liquidators, yes, are dying, there are fewer of them, and the displaced are born and there are more of them. I always disagree, since we would leave and return home. Well, yes. I’ve damaged my health, it’s a fact. And they have nothing - no health, and they were taken away, and they have nothing with them, no home, no health, nothing at all, there is no homeland! Therefore, when they are going to the zone on these memorial day, people are going - they are dying from the fact that they came to their homeland, so much they longed for it. I say, we have arrived - we have everything. People arrived - they have neither forks, nor spoons, nor towels, nothing, just nothing. How can you say that he suffered less than you have? It’s beyond comprehension
I worked as a baker for about three weeks. We baked bread. We were 24 people. That work was real hell, of course: slaving from 2 a.m. until 2 p.m. No weekends, no holidays – each and every day! It was summer, the hottest season. We lived in tents. […] The tents were in the forest, so, on a meadow. Once I got out and saw that all the trees around were white, all the trunks were white! Well, we had been told that everything around was “glowing” because of radiation or something. We knew nothing after all! I came up to the commander and asked: “Are the pine-trees white because they are “glowing”? I mean there, behind the barbed wire?”. – “Oh, no, - he said. – That’s because they beat used flour sacks there”.
I stayed in Chernobyl from October 20, 1986 to January 20, 1987. So, I spent there 86 days. I worked in the bath-and-laundry unit. I worked for about 14-16 hours every day - from 4 am to 8 pm.
Yes, it amounted to about 16 hours. First I worked as a heater – I heated boilers in the canteen. A lot depended on me, of course. If I don’t heat what must be heated, the whole squad will be left without dinner. Then I worked in the bath-and-laundry unit where I did the laundry. And since nobody could go home without visiting the reactor, I had to spend some time – a certain number of hours - on such missions. So, while I was working in the laundry after leaving the canteen, I went from time to time to work at the reactor. Imagine, you work for 12 hours in the laundry, then you have some free time, you take a nap, and then you go to the reactor. You serve out your hours at the reactor and come back. We did all sorts of manual work at the reactor. It could be digging, loading, carrying something. All kinds of jobs - various, very diverse.
After three weeks of such a life you begin to realize what happiness actually is. It is when you come back home in the evening and it is still summer and you may take off your boots and sit on the grass and admire for a while. And a small creek flows somewhere nearby. We started living like zombies because you come home just at 7 or 8 o`clock, and you might have to go to the local authority first, the authority is in the place called the Blue Lakes, and you'll have to return on foot, and it is about 15-20 minutes away from our camp… So, since then I have developed something like a basic instinct: once I find myself in a bus and once I lean my head against the window… How much time has it been? – about 27 years.. But I still start falling asleep once I find myself in public transport and lean my head against the glass window…
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.
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.”
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.
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.