“How I Survived Chernobyl”


My name is Sasha Yuvchenko, and I would like
to tell you the story of how I survived one of the worst man-made disasters the world
has ever seen. On April 25th, 1986, I was working at the
heart of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant when the No. 4 nuclear reactor exploded. The blast was huge in itself, and one of my
colleagues was pretty much vaporized instantly. What happened after that has become one of
the world’s worst real-life horror stories. But let me start from the beginning. It was evening at the plant where I worked,
which was located near the town of Pripyat in Northern Ukraine. The sky was a radiant blue, it was warm, and
when my colleagues and I clocked-in for our night shift at the plant we were in good spirits. I remember the conversation was all about
what we were going to do for the May-day holidays, and little did we know the near future would
be very different from how we imagined it would be. My wife, Natasha, was at home with my two-year
old. I was 24 at the time, with a new family, and
everything to look forward to. That night we were told we were going to have
to run a test on reactor number four. This didn’t go down well with a lot of the
guys because we weren’t really sure how to do it. We had no choice, though, a command is a command. We argued about the right power level we should
start the test at, and little did we know that there was a design flaw in that reactor. This would prove to be what you might call
a fatal design flaw. What we were basically testing was a simulation
of an electrical power outage. You can probably guess that such a thing,
if it were to happen, would be very dangerous. But if there was an outage the generators
would kick in. The problem was this would take about a minute
to gain full power, and you just don’t have a minute because the water that is pumped
in the reactor to keep it cool would not get pumped and too much heat would be generated. So, the theory was that the electricity could
be taken from the rotational energy of the steam turbine. This would in theory power the cooling pumps
for that minute. So, to do the test we had to simulate this
power loss and see if this theory worked. We’d tried this twice before, but both times
the tests failed. Third time lucky is not exactly how things
turned out. So, we dropped the power levels. That didn’t go well, and suddenly the reactor
became dangerously unstable. We also ignored, and were told to ignore,
some of the vital safety mechanisms. We knew something was wrong, but we were told
to go ahead and keep testing. We removed something called control rods so
that we could get back the power, but that didn’t turn out well either. It was also against safety procedures. Those rods are like a fail-safe, they prevent
the reactor from generating too much power. Power then began to rise, and then rise dramatically. We weren’t sure what was happening. In the reactor steam was building up. You could say what we then had was a pressure
cooker of enormous proportions. We knew then we had an emergency on our hands. We pushed the SCRAM button, which is the emergency
shutdown. We then reinserted the control rods, but they
jammed. What we didn’t know is that the graphite
tips on those rods caused more power to surge. At 1:23:45 a.m this pressure cooker then blew. The 1,000-ton roof was blown right off and
a fireball blasted into the sky. The air was filled with dust, pieces of graphite
were flung everywhere, radiation spilled into the atmosphere. It was hell on Earth, in the literal sense. We were all shocked in the room, the boom
was so big we thought a war had happened. The walls shuddered; the whole place felt
so unstable. Trust me, I am a huge man, and I am not afraid
of much, but at that point I felt tiny, at the mercy of something terrible. I then went looking for my buddy, because
he must have been closest to the explosion. It was dark in the corridors, dust was everywhere,
all I could hear was a hissing sound. He had been too near the pumps. He was dead. I saw the roof had been blown off, and in
the night sky I could see the stars. And then I saw something that looked quite
wonderful, ethereal, like God shining down on us. It was a beam of light. That beam was something more malign than I
was aware of. It was radiation, and that radiation would
kill a lot of people. I then went with some colleagues to the reactor
hall, but the heavy door was jammed. As I said, I am a big man, some people say
a bear of a man. I managed to get the door open while my friends
went inside the hall to try and understand just how much damage had been caused. Those guys would all die in the coming days
and weeks from radiation poisoning. At the time we knew radiation levels were
high because the device used to tell us the level, the dosimeter, was showing a needle
that was off the scale. Still, at the time all we thought was there
goes our job in the nuclear energy business. We had no idea of just how catastrophic that
explosion was. After about an hour, though, I knew something
was wrong, and I mean wrong with me. I started to throw up, and then I got a sore
throat. Outside firefighters were already on the scene. They didn’t know either about the dangerous
levels of radiation, and many of those brave guys would die slow horrible deaths. In the town nearby people stood outside, mesmerized
by this great big beam of light. Some of those people would also die from radiation
poisoning, but as I said, no one really knew about the danger they were in. I had a good idea as time went on, because
at about 6 am I couldn’t even walk. I felt deathly ill. The grim reaper of radiation was inside me,
slowly trying to relieve me of my life, my kid, my loving wife. I was taken to the hospital and there a few
of us talked about what was happening to us. Just how much radiation had we been exposed
to? One guy seemed to know what he was talking
about, and he said if you throw up like that so quickly, well, it’s a lot. We might even die. In fact, I later learned that vomiting after
radiation poisoning means death for most people. I found out I’d been exposed to 4.1Sv of
radiation. You don’t know what that means of course,
but let me tell you that it was about 650 times above the level that workers at a nuclear
plant should get exposed not in an hour, but a year. It’s 5,000 times more than the average person
should be exposed to in a whole year. I knew I was in trouble. Some of those guys I talked to at the hospital
died horribly. In a way you could say they melted from the
inside. Then things got even more surreal when the
KGB came to the hospital and started to talk to me. I was then told I had to go to Moscow, and
that’s where they took me without even informing my wife. 128 of us made that trip, and I believe five
people in this group died. I mean died soon, of course. God knows who died as a result of being poisoned
in the years to come. I got to Moscow and one of the first things
they did to me was shave my head. This was no time to care about appearances,
and anyway, in a week all my body hair just fell out. Most of us were having trouble breathing. Our eyes hurt, our noses hurt, everything
seemed to hurt. Then we were given bone-marrow transplants. I had many in fact. What’s really weird, and chilling, is the
fact that me and a lot of guys suddenly felt a lot better. What we didn’t know was with radiation poisoning
at such high levels there is a kind of rest period, a hiatus in the chaos happening inside. You think you’re getting better, but then
the worst stuff starts to happen. For me a low point was pulling back my bed
sheets one day and seeing my ulcerous skin dead. The worst parts of me were my shoulder, my
hip, my calf. That’s because when I held that door those
parts were exposed to really high levels of radiation. Had I gone inside, well, that would have been
game over for me. Parts of my body just seemed to be eaten alive. Bits of me just turned black. It was awful to see. I was turning into a monster, a kind of radioactive
mutant. But I was lucky. I went through many operations and had lots
of skin grafts. I wasn’t dead, but when I was told I might
lose my arm I was a bit upset. They saved it, but it stayed covered in bandages
for the next seven years of my life. Even these days I might occasionally see ulcerations
on the parts of my skin that were most exposed to the radiation. One of the things that saved me was the fact
they sent me to Berlin to have microsurgery, where blood vessels were transferred from
my leg to my arm. Like I said, I was lucky. I am a fortunate man. One of the guys that worked close to me had
similar surgeries. He went blind, and then within a month of
his exposure he died. What had happened to him and to the rest of
us is bone marrow cells had been destroyed from the radiation, and this causes a drop
in white blood cells. When that happens you can’t fight off infection,
and that’s when you slowly start to be eaten alive from within. I spent in total one year inside hospitals,
and then for years after I had to regularly go back for rehab. They told me I shouldn’t have another child,
because the chances of that child developing leukemia were very high. Now and again I get morbid and think when
will the worst happen, but so far my good old body has been excellent at repairing itself. My wife has stood by me, and it wasn’t easy
at times. People knew about what had happened to me
and thought I was a walking time bomb. They’d cross the street when they saw me
because they thought I’d pass the poison on to them. I was one of the monsters of Chernobyl to
them, walking around with a radiation hazard sign on my back. But I am here and I am happy. I think I can now safely say that I survived
Chernobyl. My name is Sasha Yuvchenko, and that’s my
story. Tell us what you think about this story in
the comments. Also, check out our other video Chernobyl
Suicide Squad – 3 Men Who Prevented Even Worse Nuclear Disaster. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, subscribe. See you next time.

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