Staff Of Ukraine's Chernobyl Plant Mourn Colleagues

KIEV, Ukraine -- Staff from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power station on duty when the plant's fourth reactor exploded 20 years ago honoured colleagues who died in the aftermath and recalled how the disaster shattered their lives.

Staff from the Chernobyl nuclear power station who were on duty at the time of the 1986 explosion pay their respects to deceased colleagues in a Kiev cemetery

Dressed in their best suits and sporting rows of medals, dozens of engineers and firefighters remembered in vivid detail while gathered in a Kiev cemetery the terrifying images of a radiation inferno out of control.

"We have summoned our courage and overcome our pain to come today to bow our heads by these graves," said Oleksander Zelentsov, head of a group which brings together those who were at work at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986.

"What we did with our colleagues will always be remembered. The accident split our lives into 'before and after'. But we have found strength and life supporting each other."

After a memorial service in a church, members of the "Ray 5/2 Union", so named for the two shifts of the day, laid flowers and lit candles at the gravesides of dozens who paid with their lives to contain the world's worst civil nuclear disaster.

A series of explosions at 1.26 a.m. destroyed reactor No. 4 station and several hundred staff and firefighters were thrown into the task of tackling a blaze that burned for 10 days, sending a plume of radiation around the world.

Flames soared into the sky, sparks cascaded down from cables hanging from shattered pumps, dirty water gushed in all directions and the reactor's wreckage was red hot.

Worst of all was a blue-white light shooting skyward -- a shaft of ionising radiation from the exposed reactor core.

LIMITED PROTECTION

Staff toiled without protective clothing and, more often than not, with no equipment to measure the radiation. Their families were asleep a mere 3 km (two miles) away in Pripyat, a town specially built along with the plant.

Absorption of huge radiation doses turned out to be fatal for some. Workers from that shift were ferried to hospitals in Kiev or in Moscow. Many remained for long periods.

"I worked for the entire night," said Oleksander Nikhaev, a senior engineer. "On April 27, I was already in hospital in Moscow. I stayed there until February 1988. Over 80 percent of my skin had radiation burns. I underwent 19 operations."

Twenty years on, all agree that they had lived two lives.

One was anchored in a stable job, with high pay and comfortable housing in Pripyat, a model Soviet town near a river bank and abundant forests.

The other life meant hospitals, disease and destitution.

"The accident took everything away. It changed everything. Health, work problems. It was a calamity," said Oleksander Ogulov, a Chernobyl engineer.

Time has taken a toll.

The Ray 5/2 Union had 250 members when it was founded. Only 174 are left.

"Eight years ago, we brought three baskets of flowers. Today we bring 12 to this cemetery alone," Zelentsov said.

Source: Reuters

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