Former Chernobyl residents take a bittersweet visit home

Mon Apr 25, 2016 7:46am EDT
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By Gleb Garanich and Alessandra Prentice

PRIPYAT, Ukraine (Reuters) - For residents of Chernobyl, a three-day evacuation turned into a thirty-year exile.

On the morning of April 26, 1986, no one could yet tell that a meltdown in reactor 4 of the nuclear plant in then-Soviet Ukraine was poisoning the air with so much deadly radioactivity that it would become the world's worst nuclear accident.

Now, as some survivors returned to their hometown of Pripyat on the eve of the anniversary, memories of confusion and sacrifice abound.

"I barely found my apartment, I mean it's a forest now - trees growing through the pavement, on the roofs. All the rooms are empty, the glass is gone from the windows and everything's destroyed," said Zoya Perevozchenko, 66.

She only realised something might be wrong that day 30 years before when her husband, Valeriy, didn't come back from his night shift as a foreman at the stricken reactor.

She left her apartment in Pripyat, a model Soviet town built in the 1970s to house Chernobyl workers and their families, to look for him.

"I remember thinking 'Goodness it's hot' and some people were in masks. But they didn't explain things to us straight away, it was all secret. And the kids were running about barefoot in the puddles," she said.

She found her husband in a local clinic. He had received a fatal dose of radiation that had burned the skin on his face bright red.   Continued...

Roman Chernyavskiy, 32, poses for a photograph in his flat which was evacuated after an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in the ghost town of Pripyat, Ukraine April 18, 2016.  REUTERS/Gleb Garanich