"You couldn't see it, you couldn't smell it"

Summary of the interview with Mr. Yakov Smertenko, a driver who drove
clean-up workers to Chernobyl and now lives in USA.

"[After the incident] authorities began to drive out their people right away, on the 27th-28th. The train station was packed, airports were packed. My oldest child was 12, the youngest was 3-4 years old. The oldest went to our relatives to Stavropol, in May, when everybody found out.

I went in from Kiev about a week later, to drive the clean-up workers. I already knew what happened. - the guys came back and told me. All transportation that was able to transport the people was directed to Chernobyl. In some places they stood for 5-10 minutes. People went out on to the street, took the apples and pears that were growing on the trees. Those who ate got sick, and so did everybody who went outside.

Clean-up workers worked for a week. They would come from all over at a certain time. They went there on their own free  will. I drove these workers two times to Pripyat. I went there for about an hour each time. Workers who went there for a week were paid a thousand rubles. We washed and checked all the buses for radiation. We were wearing rubber suits and gas masks.

I got sick. - thyroid - in August. My hands were shaking, a severe weakness, enlarged thyroid; surgery - in September or October. The water was contaminated.   "How would it be, what would be next?"  First you can't drink, then you can't eat. - some fruits, vegetables, mushrooms.

In 1993, I visited Kiev and my workplace, but didn't see any of the 40 drivers who went to Chernobyl." 

For the full transcript of this interview, click here.
Copyright 2000 Aleksandr Kronik