Viktor Pinigen, surveyor and liquidator, Belarus

„The silence. It was like a vacuum."

Viktor Pinigen is a surveyor. A the end of May 1986, he was deployed as a liquidator in the 30 - kilometre eclusion zone.

"Medal for the deserving work of the liquidators"

"It had to be at the end of May, around one month after the reactor disaster in Chernobyl, but I can no longer remember precisely. I was called up as an army reservist and had to set out immediately. Why and where exactly I would only learn later. Together with five other men, I travelled in an empty train in the direction of Gomel. We thought we might be going to war. There we were met by the chairman of the Executive Committee. All the doors in the administrative building were wide open, hardly anyone was there. We were told that we had arrived in Naroulia, a town near the Ukrainian border. We received quarters at an inn and were the only guests. But we still didn't know what was going on. The inn was only around 100 metres away from the Pripjat River with a very beautiful, sandy shore. So we bathed. We were finally picked up and driven to a deserted village located in the midst of the 30-kilometre exclusion zone around the destroyed reactor in Chernobyl. Our task was to conduct surveying activities in several villages. Large, heavily contaminated areas were to be paved over – but we only learned that much later.
I still know by heart the names of the villages where we worked for the week: Bely Bereg, Danilejewka, Lichownja, Grushevka. And I will never forget the silence. It was dead quiet. No singing birds, no buzzing bees or flies, only the occasional stray cats and dogs, all of whom were later shot dead. The villages were deserted, doors and windows boarded up, the wells filled in. And the silence. Like a vacuum. One afternoon they had forgotten about us. We simply weren't picked up. So we walked 15 kilometres back to our inn through a beautiful, uninhabited landscape. At the boundary of the exclusion zone, I saw firefighters and soldiers in protective suits and protective masks, and a policeman was washing every car that drove out of the zone. We worked in our civilian clothes, which no one seemed to care about. And we didn't have a dosimeter, even though everyone who worked in the exclusion zone was actually supposed to carry one. I still don't know to this day how much radiation I was exposed to. Six years later – and after quite some insistence – I was acknowledged as a liquidator and received a nice medal. It shows a drop of blood and the alpha, beta and gamma rays. But unlike other countries of the former Soviet Union, I have never received any compensation or a pension. In Belarus we were celebrated as heroes, but that was all. Today we're no longer even that. Instead we're now regarded as victims. However, a right to compensation therefore still doesn't exist. But I'm also not a victim. To the contrary: I'm proud to have played my part in tackling this disaster. And I'm still alive. Three of my former comrades have died.

read more:


The suffering of the liquidators

 

 

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