mercredi 25 juin 2008

W. Tchertkoff: the sacrifice

The sacrifice

Emanuela Andreoli
Wladimir Tchertkoff


We see in front of us the smokestack.
To the right, is the control room of block 4.
Turn it on! Like this!

I was on the roof of the power plant 4 days. The first day I hammered the edge of a sheet for water drainage. The second day I put down a sheet of cement. It took 5 minutes. The third day we dismantled a ventilation tube. And on the fourth day I put down a piece of graphite. I had to pick it up with my hands to throw it down.

The graphite and the uranium scattered on the roof of the Chernobyl power plant, irradiated up to twenty thousand Röntgen an hour. A hand held piece of graphite would transmit in one and a half second the dosage accumulated during a lifetime under radioactive normal conditions.
One million men, called liquidators, were sent to the reactor to cover it with a sarcophagus, improvised under terrifying radioactive conditions, and to cancel the consequences of the catastrophe in all the territories. They fought the radionuclides with bare hands, with shovels and water jets. Tens of thousands died and continue to die.
The soviet scientists calculated the if the blaze was not brought under control by the 8th of May, the fusion of nuclear fuel would have perforated the underlying cement sheet, falling on the cooling basin and triggering an atomic explosion twenty to fifty times more powerful than Hiroshima. Europe would have become inhabitable. On the 6th of May the blaze was tamed thanks to the extreme sacrifice of the liquidators. But they were poorly repaid: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus abandoned them and they were left to themselves. The West ignores them.


In the past, when I was awarded an honour certificate, it was encouraging. Now I look at them as rubbish. Then, they made us many promises. They would reward us for the good work on the roof. I worked on the roof, and when I would come down… the colonel would hand them out to us.

They would tell us : "Run like a dog and flee like a hare".

Now, I’m already a second-class disabled person. I have so many diseases that you can’t keep track of them anymore. Like a seventy year old man at 35 years old. We cleaned the roof, because you needed to cover the sarcophagus, and after the explosion there was the uranium, the graphite of the bars. The robots couldn’t hold up: the instruments would melt inside and the robots would stop running. Therefore, they sent men.
We would go on the roof dressed in a regular soldier’s uniform. A filter made of gauze on the face and a piece of glass like a motorcyclist. Using an axe, we would cut the lead to carve out some sort of protection for ourselves, since lead reduces the amount of radiation that goes through. We would make our own clothes.

Pieces of asbestos have already been peeled off.
Load the asbestos on the stretchers.
and in a hurry throw the debris down.
Is it clear?
They carry one, two loads.
Once there, count to 90: 1, 2, 3, 4… up to ninety.
At ninety, put down the instruments and run back.
Any questions? - No, it’s all clear.
Go ahead!

The first time it took forty seconds. In 40 seconds you ran there, if there was a shovel you would grab it. If not, you would take the piece of graphite with your hands. And with the hands we would throw it down in the reactor.

The first day the dosimeter read 34 Röntgen, but they wrote 9. The second, about 30 but again they wrote only 5. I asked the colonel: "What are you doing? Write down what I measured!" "Go away! I don’t want to see you again!" That's all.

I too tried to see clear. The effect was immediate: nausea… a sensation like that as you walk… You’re disoriented, suddenly weak.
I worked on the reactor for 2 months. As an electrician. We would insure the lighting when they would cast the cement. We would climb the reactor to install it. I was everywhere. For me they

wrote only 11,92 Rem. I said: "I will go to the boss and tell that it’s not true!". I get to the boss. He smiles sitting on his chair: "You should be thankful it's so high, if not we would write even less".

The former Health Minister Savchenko, said they had been summoned by Premier Rizkov, who stated: "This matter is more than secret, it's top secret: all doses and information regarding the Chernobyl tragedy". For this reason the calculation of the doses was not done, and if at times it was done, it was compulsory to lower it.

I was told to measure the radioactivity: in the villages, we had to remove a layer of soil to lower the radioactivity. They gave me a radiometer. Wherever I measured it would go haywire, the radioactivity levels were too high. To avoid seeing all this, I gave back the instrument: "Take it back, give me something else". They gave me a big shovel and I went to work. I didn’t work with a shovel for very long. They put me to work on a sprinkling machine... We would water the radioactive dumps and the roads. We worked in these villages. The people were aware that what we did was useless. I would ask, "why do all this rubbish? " "Don’t ask questions, you were sent here, go to work".

We decontaminated the villages. We would scrape the soil with shovels and load it on the trucks by hand. The dust would fly over us and of course, we would breath it. My health… I suffer from a dystonia neurovegetative, a cardiac neurosis, a disease afflicting all of us from Chernobyl. My stomach has worsened and causes me much suffering. I was not ill with my kidneys before, now I have kidney problems. I have slight mental alterations, I’m irritable, without counting my weakness.

It started as soon as I returned in October. In November I lost feeling on my left hand, then on my left arm, then on my left hip and then my legs were paralyzed. They didn’t know what to do. They refused to acknowledge the radiological cause. I continued to work. I drove the trolleybus and never said a word, I had to feed my family. I drove with one hand and one foot. Then one day I lost consciousness at work and they brought me home. I can’t walk now. I feel dizzy, but that’s not important… it’s the legs. The legs don’t want to walk. At home I go wall to wall.

As an officer, I was able to see that the men felt their job was important: "Yes, we are saving lives". And we thought we would not be forgotten. But we have now become useless, we are a load. We’re a nuisance because we ask. We simply ask for a humane treatment.

They told us they would visit us every 6 months. Six months have passed and no one has shown any interest. Not the doctors, no one. We are society’s waste.

To such a likeable person, I award you this certificate.
I wish you health, prosperity… and perseverance!


It happened that I would fall repeatedly. My wife said: go on the wheelchair. And so I did, that’s it. I’m a wheelchair man. What do I know?
It hurts to remember. It’s better not to. The sun shines, that’s beautiful. If you remember, it's all a nightmare. It’s better not to remember. "It happened so long ago and it’s not real".
I would like to ask, if there is someone overseas that may want, I don't know… to help me find a car. Even if used, any type of car. Only to be able to go out in nature. Like this, without nature it’s difficult. It’s a nightmare. I want it so much. I know it's a dream, probably unattainable. But…
I was on the bed laying flat like a board. The dog arrives and looks at me. "Why are you looking at me?". I say: "Bow!". He thinks, the man has gone crazy… who knows?. He leaves and goes in the kitchen. Then comes back. "What's the matter? Bow!". He leaves again. Comes back a third time. I do: "Bow!". He does "Bow!". "There, we had a talk together". What a nightmare.
Man is finished, that’s all. We must resign ourselves to everything. I’m still young, but… Practically 38 years old. We could also say 60, what’s the difference?
I have resigned myself… in all these years of Chernobyl.
Vodolazsky is dead. Migorok Klimovich is dead. Lionka Zaturanov is dead. Only Kolka Verbitsky and I are left. Of the 5 of us, I’ve been left like… a white raven, a misfit. I don’t know.
It happened, but as they say: "it happened so long ago and it’s not real, don’t believe anyone". It’s better not to remember those times… Before I was a man. Before I walked. Before I drove the car. Now, instead, I’m not here or there.
There must be something. I don’t think that I sinned that much before God, but…
I don’t know… normal I think. It’s a nightmare.


We married in 1983, and in '86 he was already at Chernobyl. The difficulties began then. He was continuously in and out of hospitals. Then his left arm was paralyzed, then his left leg. They would tell him: "You're pretending, you're being silly". But when a man can’t walk… what does it mean?
He tripped and fell often. The doctors would say: "Maybe you’ve got a cold. You work as a driver, you’ve been exposed to an air draft". In fact, it was an all-together different illness.

Chernobyl is a tragedy not yet fully understood. This radiation disease is practically incurable, and these sick people are used for testing. He was bedridden for six months, after which… you could say, he decomposed while still alive. All his tissue started to decompose to the point that the iliac bones were visible. I took care of him myself following the doctor's instructions. I would go to the lady doctor and she would explain to me what to do.
It was like this until his heart stopped. All of tissue fell off… His back in one piece… the bones were bare. The articulation bone of the femur could easily be touched. Using a glove I would introduce my hand and disinfect the bone. I would extract… bone residuals, of the decomposed, rotten bone.
Suddenly he worsened, I don’t know why. I asked the doctor, we turned to the professor. We asked everyone that we could. They told us: " We are not familiar with this disease. We can only help to limit the suffering", things like that. In front of the decomposition of the bone marrow they threw up their arms. They couldn’t do anything.
He would ask to die soon to stop his suffering. He would tell that it hurt a lot… When I turned him from side to side, he would grind his teeth, and sometimes moan. In fact he never screamed, he tolerated it. He had a lot of will.

My daughter has displaced kidneys. My son stutters a bit and has problems with his eyes.

I have a lowered kidney and it hurts.

I think that this is not just our tragedy, but for all of Belarus as well, because… like that, for nothing, these human beings. Specially the people that helped, that did everything, and soon, afterwards, were totally forgotten.
Even the apartment was obtained with a hunger strike. This apartment where we live. My husband was hospitalized, and it was there that they fought for their rights by fasting. To obtain assistance. When they recruited, they made big promises. They would promise housing, nursery schools for the children. But in the end, nothing happened.
It’s very painful. It hurts to think about it, to look at all this. You don't understand why. Yes. He could talk to anyone about anything. He could make anyone talk about any argument. It was easy to live with a man like this. Who understood everything. And who gave everything to life.

There are people who live quietly. "I have" and that's all. "I have this or that" and it’s enough. But he needed to have something more in life. He aimed at something more. Further away… He was in a hurry to live.
After he had been buried, about one year afterwards, the Chernobyl association telephoned to ask about my husband. We told them that he died. They didn’t even know it.

Once he said: "God let me live for 13 years after Chernobyl!", it means this was a great thing for him. Otherwise… how can you explain that he resisted for so long? Here, the men died right away. Our good friend Vodolazsky, colonel, an helicopter pilot, died almost immediately, and exactly like him. He suffered from the same body decomposition. He had flown over the reactor, he was there with the soldiers when they covered the sarcophagus. He would send away his soldiers on duty with him, he would keep them away from the flights and pilot himself… He understood where all this would go.


On December 15, 2000 the last operating reactor at Chernobyl was definitively closed. But inside the sarcophagus, stuck like lava, there are 200 tons of nuclear fuel spread in different environments, that will have to be extracted in the future. The program for the estimated work could last a century. Specialist teams monitor and document the stability of the construction 24 hours a day, inspect the cracks and watch the humidity level to avoid a chain nuclear reaction. Radioactivity sensors, introduced in the vicinity of uranium235, have indicated in two or three readings the presence of neutron. In the presence of a critical mass of uranium and humidity, the neutrons may start off a chain reaction that provokes an explosion. The Chernobyl monster lives on.

It happened so long ago and it’s not real. It’s a nightmare.

camera and sound




© Feldat.- Film december 2003

Aucun commentaire: