Chernobyl survivor’s excruciating radiation poisoning 5,000 times average annual dose

Putin trying to ‘cover up’ deaths says William Hague

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Radiation levels at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine have hit abnormal levels , according to the head of the UN’s atomic agency. International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Grossi told reporters today, on the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, that Russia’s week-long occupation of the site was “very, very dangerous” Last week, Volodymyr Zelensky also warned his country to prepare for the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack, and called on Ukrainians to stockpile on radiation pills. 

The Ukrainian President insisted that the world “must prepare for” Russia using nuclear weapons, and asked his compatriots to get hold of medicine that would help curb radiation sickness. 

Mr Zelensky’s has repeatedly refused to rule out the grim prospect of nuclear war after the Kremlin made a number of veiled and daunting threats to the West.

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin made the ambiguous move to shift his “deterrent forces” ‒ nuclear weapons ‒ to “combat ready” status. 

Earlier this month Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Moscow would use a nuclear deterrent on Ukraine in the event of an “existential threat”. 

Read More: Putin ‘paralysed with fear’ as 2000 disaster changed approach forever

The devastation a nuclear bomb can cause is widely known ‒ the blast and subsequent ionising radiation causes significant destruction within seconds of detonation. 

The delayed effects of a blast, including radioactive fallout and a number of environmental effects, can also cause damage lasting years. 

Sasha Yumchenko was an engineer mechanic during the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, where reactor Number Four of the Chernobyl power plant exploded, causing one of the worst nuclear incidents in history in terms of both cost and casualties. 

In a 2005 interview, Mr Yumchenko recalled what happened on that terrible night as well as the short and long term effects the radiation had on him. 

Speaking to The Guardian he said: “There was a heavy thud. A couple of seconds later, I felt a wave come through the room. 

“The thick concrete walls were bent like rubber. I thought war had started. We started to look for Khodemchuk [his colleague] but he had been by the pumps and had been vaporised. 

“Steam wrapped around everything: it was dark and there was a horrible hissing noise. 

“There was no ceiling, only sky; a sky full of stars. I remember thinking how beautiful it was.”

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Mr Yuvchenko went with a party of men to assess the damaged reactor hall. 

He stayed outside, to prop open the heavy reactor door open for his colleagues with his shoulder.

All three of his colleagues died, while Mr Yuvchenko’s left arm is now half the size of his right and shiny with scar tissue. 

He explained: “You don’t feel anything at the time. We had no idea there was so much radiation. 

“We met a guy with a dosimeter and the needle was just off the dial. But even then, we were still only thinking ‘Rats, this means the end of our careers in the nuclear industry.’ 

“We all thought, ‘We’ve been exposed now, this has happened on our watch’ and set about doing what we could. After about an hour, I started to vomit uncontrollably. My throat was very sore.”

It is generally considered that vomiting within the first half an hour of being exposed to radiation indicates a fatal dose. 

Soon, Mr Yuvchenko could no longer walk, and was taken to hospital, still unaware of the huge radiation dose he had received.

He said: “We were thinking we might have had 20, perhaps 50rem. But there was a man there who’d been involved in a nuclear accident in the submarine fleet. He said it was more serious than that. ‘You don’t vomit at 50’ he said.”

He soon discovered that he’d received 410rem — 650 times the EU’s permitted yearly radiation dose and more than 5,000 times the average annual dose.

Mr Yuvchenko was sent to a specialised treatment centre in Moscow alongside 128 other people. 

Within days all his body hair fell out, while he began to face breathing problems caused by rubber-like mucus, as well as herpes-like rashes on his lips and face.

Those who started vomiting early were given bone-marrow transplants, while Mr Yuvchenko received the first of many transfusions. 

When the vomiting subsides there is a period of calm, before a seemingly trivial reddening of the skin.

Mr Yuvchenko recalled pulling back his sheets in hospital and seeing a cloud of black dust ‒ his dead skin. 

Where his body had touched the door, the deadly radiation had gnawed away at his flesh, and caused the tissue deep in his arm to become swollen, turn black, and die. 

Death after acute radiation exposure usually comes from infection as the radiation destroys bone-marrow cells and causes a drop in infection-fighting white blood cells. 

Mr Yuvchenko spent a year in hospital and a further two in rehab, and attributes his unlikely survival to his treatment in Moscow, and his large muscles, given he was a former Soviet champion rower.

He said: “The doctors told me that if you’ve survived this, you shouldn’t worry about anything else. I always think they might find something.”

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