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The 'Liquidators' Who Risked It All to Clean Up Chernobyl

Photographer Tom Skipp pays tribute to the 600,000 men and women tasked with the job.

In late April, Tom Skipp traveled to Slavutycch, Ukraine to meet the "liquidators" of Chernobyl, men and women who cleaned up the disaster. Here, several pose for a group picture at a local museum before a picture of the exploded reactor and a clock stopped at the time of the disaster.

Sukhetsky Anatoly Kasianovich was made head of the radiation safety monitoring service after the accident. "In those days, the state had a debt to us, and we owed the state in return. We fulfilled our duty, and we knew that the state would take care of us," he told Skipp.

Shirokov Alexey Vitalievich, 70, told Skipp, "No, I never regretted a thing. Nobody forced us to be there ... I was invited to work ... And the young lads—I tried to protect them ... After a stroke I can hardly remember my words."

Ivanov Valentin Vasilyevich, 80, worked at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station for 25 years. Skipp asked him what the disaster meant to him. "I can't explain that simply," he said. "Our youth was taken, and that was it. We thought that we'd go back to Prypyat after three days, and we never went back."

Trusov Evgeniy Dmitrievich lived and worked in Pripyat, a city that housed plant workers. "I’ve been working at the station since the 1972," he told Skipp. "My daughter works at the station. My son worked in the fourth reactor but wasn't there that day. And now here I am 17 years unemployed!"

"I grew up in an orphanage," Koshevaja Halyna Ivanivna told Skipp. "My fate was my own: If you are working somewhere, then you are responsible for that place of work. When the accident happened, of course, my soul was on fire because I had to watch what happened there and work out how I could be of any use."

Yashin Evgeniy Mikhailovich, 72, told Skipp, "Nobody was obliged to work. I did my job. I wasn't forced to. After the accident Pripyat was completely cut off from the country. You couldn't send a telegram or call anyone."

"Let me tell you something, without breaking my own heart," Markin Vasily Nikolaevich, 70, told Skipp. "I returned because I loved this work. Why did not I stay in Kiev—I cannot live in big cities! I’m used to living in satellite towns. That's all. That's all the motivation."

The Museum in Slavutych documents the Chernobyl disaster, as well as the construction of Slavytych.

Eugene Abdupayevich Alimov directs the Museum of Slavutych and Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Eugene is a photographer, and he documented the building of Slavutych.

Lidiia Klímova is head of the Chernobyl Veteran's Foundation. She helped Skipp meet the liquidators.

Oleksandr Kupnyi worked at Chernobyl as a dosimetrist. After the disaster, he worked as a liquidator.

"There aren't lots of people like me left," Lakov Mamedov told Skipp. "I have only one man left here which also, like me, was taken from the reactor. He's now walking holding his bicycle. We had 12 people in our ward, only four survived. Others were just covered and taken away."

Svetlana and Jay Zaharchenko at their home in Slavutych. Svetlana was four months pregnant with Jay at the time of the disaster when she lived in Pripyat, the worker's city. Jay was born with serious liver complications and now lives off a meager state pension.

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