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Chernobyl's Children Recall Disaster

June 16, 1986|Associated Press

ARTEK PIONEER CAMP, Soviet Union — Chernobyl's children remember.

Natasha Zheryubkina, 9, remembers "a kind of smoke" in the air and that the town "smelled of burning."

Misha Telyatnikov, 10, remembers his mother rousing him and his brother, Oleg, 12, at 3:30 a.m. and telling them they were going to Kiev.

"She didn't tell us why."

It was Saturday, April 26, the day of the Chernobyl nuclear accident that has so far claimed 26 lives.

The children were in their homes in Pripyat, two miles from the Chernobyl plant, when the No. 4 reactor blew up and caught fire at 1:23 a.m. Nearly two hours later Misha and Oleg Telyatnikov were awakened. Their father, Leonid, was a fireman at the No. 4 reactor. He is now in a Moscow hospital for treatment of radiation exposure.

Summer Camp on Black Sea

The two boys are here now at this summer camp on the Black Sea. They were among the 110 Pripyat children who were evacuated for rest and medical supervision.

Not all the children left as early as Misha and Oleg. The official order to evacuate Pripyat was given 36 hours later, and convoys of buses took out the thousands of residents.

Other children in the camp said they went off to school as usual the morning of the accident; children go to school on Saturdays in the Soviet Union. They remember tank trucks washing down the streets.

At school, they said, they listened to teachers instruct them on steps to take against radiation: stay indoors when you get home, tape up the windows, close the balcony doors, wash shoes, change clothes and warn your parents.

Olya Demidova, 14, said that at school, children were given tablets and told to take them. Dima Sokolov, also 14, said lessons previously given about civil defense were taught over again.

'Should Be No Panic'

"The teacher told us everything to do after school," she said. "The main thing was that there should be no panic."

Misha Telyatnikov remembers: "I asked Mama why they didn't evacuate people. She said, 'So there won't be panic.' "

"Of course it was a shame to leave our homes," said Oksana Arzhantsova, 16. "But we knew that we had to."

She and others said that most of the Pripyat residents were taken about 125 miles from the plant to the Polessk region and welcomed "like relatives" by those with whom they were billeted.

Staying Until August

Selected for a stay at this coveted summer camp primarily because their fathers work at the Chernobyl plant, the Pripyat children arrived at Artek on May 18 and will be staying at least until August, said Nikolai Pervukhin, deputy head of Artek's educational department.

The children seemed happy with the rare chance to spend the summer at Artek, considered the nation's best camp for the Communist Party's Young Pioneers, the Soviet equivalent of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

"We gave them everything they didn't have--sport shoes, bathing suits--the things they didn't have time to grab," Pervukhin said.

The children also received medical examinations, which revealed that 25 had above-normal radiation readings, according to Dr. Sergei Lavarev, the camp physician. He described all the increased readings as insignificant.

Blood Tests Taken

Blood tests taken when the children arrived showed five had slightly abnormal blood-cell counts, Lavarev said. Weekly examinations and weekly blood tests taken from all the children showed, however, that cell counts were back to normal after two weeks, he added.

Lavarev and camp counselors said the accident has left no apparent psychological scars on the children.

Two children, Oleg and Larisa Khodemchuk, have their mother with them at Artek, Pervukhin said. Viktor Khodemchuk, their father, was one of two plant workers killed instantly in the Chernobyl accident.

Pervukhin said Khodemchuk's wife is working at Artek and watching her daughter, who underwent an appendectomy while in camp care. He said all three are fine but are still carrying the psychological burden of the death in their family.

'A Little Bit Sick'

Olya Demidova and Dima Sokolov both said there is concern in their families because their fathers had worked at the Chernobyl plant during and after the accident. Dima said his father was "a little bit sick" and hospitalized for a week but is fine now.

The Telyatnikov boys seem buoyant about the prospects for the future once their father gets out of the hospital.

No one knows when, if ever, these children will return home.

"Our town is really very beautiful," said Oksana Arzhantsova. "There are many, many roses in our town, and that's what I remember."

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