Charnobyl disaster witness commits suicide due to illness. Leaves note

Viktar Smahin / Photo from the Smahin Archive

Viktar Smahin / Photo from the Smahin Archive / Фота з сямейнага архіва Смагіных

Viktar Smahin, a shift supervisor at the Charnobyl Nuclear Power Plant Unit 4, has died. He was 75 years old. According to the preliminary investigation, he committed suicide because of a serious illness. A suicide note was found on his desk in which he apologized to his family for his decision.

In April 1986, Viktar Smahin worked as a shift supervisor at the Charnobyl Nuclear Power Plant Unit 4. The nuclear worker returned to Pripyat from vacation two days before the tragedy.

After receiving the news about the explosion, he immediately ran to the NPP to save his colleagues, although he was supposed to start his shift later. As a result, Smahin received a heavy dose of radiation, from which he suffered for the rest of his life. Here's how Smahin himself recalled the morning of April 26, 1986:

"I slept soundly that night, did not hear the explosions. I woke up at seven in the morning and went out on the balcony to smoke. From the fourteenth floor, I could clearly see the nuclear power plant. I looked in that direction and immediately realized that the central hall of the fourth block, where I worked, had been destroyed. There was fire and smoke above the block. I realized that it was a bad situation. I rushed to the phone to call the control room, but the connection had already been cut by the KGB, apparently to prevent information from leaking out. I was about to leave. I told my wife to lock the windows and doors tightly. Not to let the children out of the house. Not to leave the house herself. Stay at home until I returned..."

Smahin returned from the NPP to the medical unit with a high dose of radiation. For courage and heroism during the liquidation of the Charnobyl disaster in 1986, he was awarded the Order of Lenin - although at first he was considered for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. After treatment, he worked in the USSR Ministry of Atomic Energy.

Smahin shares his memories of the Charnobyl disaster liquidation in his book "Charnobyl Notebook". Among other things, he describes how he came to the graves of the liquidators:

"Your deaths shook people, at least on a spit they moved away from hibernation, from blind and gray executive routine... Let's bow our heads before them - the martyrs and heroes of Charnobyl. So what is the main lesson? The most important is the feeling of the fragility of human life, its vulnerability. Charnobyl demonstrated the omnipotence and powerlessness of man. And it warned, "Do not revel in your omnipotence, man, do not joke with it. For you are the cause, but you are also the effect. In the end, this is the most painful of all: those chromosome strands cut by radiation, those genes killed or mutilated, they have already gone into the future".

You can read an excerpt of Viktar Smahin's memoir here.

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