That user, CCPKA, did an eye-opening “Ask Me Anything” on Saturday that talked about being a kid in the north of Kiev, Ukraine, about 60 miles from the Chernobyl power plant.
At the time of the 1986 explosion that released massive amounts of radioactive particles into the air, Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union went to great lengths to hide the devastation of Chernobyl. Initially, CCPKA wasn’t even told there had been an explosion. From the AMA:
I just turned 11 four days before that, but I remember it very vividly. We didn’t know what happened for almost two weeks, as the helicopters hauling car-sized bags filled with (as we found out later) lead and sand were flying over our house every 20 – 30 minutes. People celebrated Mayday parade, as levels of radiation were off the charts. Kids like me, myself included, rode bikes in fallout rain and swam in rivers with nuclear run off, as our government kept silent about the disaster.
Eventually, after residents realised what had happened, the entire outdoors seemed like a very dangerous place:
You couldn’t go pick mushrooms because trees were sponges for radiation. You couldn’t swim in the rivers, because they contained dust and run off from radiation-infused water. You did not know what would happen to you, how bad it was, whether you will die of radiation poisoning, and government could no longer be trusted when they said “It will be OK. Trust us”.
The most gut-wrenching part of the AMA comes when two teen neighbours who had just joined the Army were sent closer to the site of the explosion:
They were sent to chop down the trees around the area. both died in the 1st week. They were sent to fight this disaster as if it were just a fire, they weren’t told much and just given basic stuff – water purification kit, gas mask, and standard overalls (for chemical clean up). No anti-radiation suits. Both died from radiation poisoning. I remember no one knew what they died of, until much later. Only then their family was able to speak out about it.
Aside from those who died immediately of radiation syndrome, thousands of people in the area likely died from cancers caused by prolonged radiation exposure. As Mary Mycio has pointed out in Slate, however, it’s impossible to know how many incidents of cancer were directly caused by Chernobyl.
Still, Mycio does acknowledge that a spike in thyroid cancer in children exposed to the radiation was probably a direct effect of Chernobyl. A U.N. report said in 2005 that the Chernobyl disaster caused 4,000 incidents of thyroid cancer in people who were teens and kids at the time of the explosion.
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