Chernobyl: The secrets they tried to bury

Chernobyl: The secrets they tried to bury

Three months after the accident, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health issued 5,000 copies of a pamphlet addressed to ‘residents of communities exposed to radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl atomic station’. The pamphlet, speaking directly to the reader (‘you’), begins with assurances. 

Dear Comrades!

Since the accident at the Chernobyl power plant, there has been a detailed analysis of the radioactivity of the food and territory of your population point. The results show that living and working in your village will cause no harm to adults or children. The main portion of radioactivity has decayed. You have no reason to limit your consumption of local agricultural produce. 

If villagers read beyond the first page, they found that the confident tone trailed off: 

Please follow these guidelines:

–  Do not include in your diet berries and mushrooms gathered this year.

– Children should not enter the forest beyond the village.

–  Limit fresh greens. Do not consume local meat and milk.

– Wash down homes regularly.

– Remove topsoil from the garden and bury it in specially prepared graves far from the village.

– Better to give up the milk cow and keep pigs instead.

The pamphlet is actually a survival manual, one that is unique in human history. Earlier nuclear accidents had left people living on territory contaminated with radioactive fallout, but never before Chernobyl had a state been forced to admit publicly to the problem and issue instructions on how to live in a new, post-nuclear reality.

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