"It was so eerie." What it was like growing up in Ukraine after the Chernobyl disaster.



The Chernobyl catastrophe is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Power Plant in Ukraine exploded in an unprecedented nuclear disaster.

Instantly, two men were killed in the blast and in the weeks that followed, 29 people – the majority being firefighters who were first on the scene – passed away.

The disaster would have a lasting impact for decades to come. Even now, over three decades later, the death toll from Chernobyl is still unknown.

But as critically-acclaimed new HBO miniseries Chernobyl has shown, the disaster affected and unequivocally changed the lives of millions.

Watch the official trailer for HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl below. Post continues after video.

In 2014, a Reddit user, who was 11 years old at the time of the disaster, did an eye-opening ‘Ask Me Anything’ about what it was like growing up in the north of Kiev, Ukraine, which was around 100 kilometres from the power plant.

During the thread, the Reddit user explained that residents of Kiev weren’t told about the explosion for several days.

“We didn’t know what happened for almost two weeks,” they wrote.


“People celebrated Mayday parade [May 1, 1986], 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.”

Once residents learned what had happened, the streets of Kiev quickly became deserted.

“A few months before Chernobyl, Soviet movie theatres actually ran a ‘children’s cartoon’ [propaganda about the US of Hiroshima]. When the news did come out, I expected everyone I knew to die of radiation,” they explained. “It was very frightening.”

“After people eventually did find out, the town turned ghostly. Once busy streets were nearly empty – people stayed indoors. If you looked out the window, it was so eerie,” they added.

“We were looking to see which way the clouds were going – if towards us, we had to stay indoors, if away from us, we could go outside.”

chernobyl school
An abandoned school building in Pripyat. Image: Getty.

The threat of radiation poisoning also affected the daily lives of the residents of Kiev.

"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," the Reddit user wrote.

"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 okay. Trust us'."

The user also claimed that two of their teenage neighbours, who were in their first year of mandatory army service, were sent to clean up the Chernobyl disaster.

"They were sent to chop down trees around the area. They weren't told much and just given basic stuff – water purification kit, gas mask, and standard overalls. No anti-radiation suits," they wrote.

"Both died and had to be buried in lead coffins, because their bodies were giving off radiation."

In the years following Chernobyl, there was an increase in birth abnormalities in newly-born children in Ukraine. Image: Getty.

Speaking about the impact Chernobyl had on their own life, the Reddit user, who later reportedly moved to the US, said that their father passed away at a relatively young age from heart problems.

"It's believed the side effects of radiation exposure could cause heart problems," they said.

"I'm not sure if it's related, but both my children had very enlarged tonsils/adenoids that were causing sleep apnea. My son had a urological disorder that is suspected to be related," they added.

"It's hard to say whether it was caused by Chernobyl, but it's equally as hard to dismiss it."

It is unknown how many lives the Chernobyl disaster has affected worldwide.

The five-part miniseries Chernobyl is available to watch now on Foxtel.

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