Military Pilot Recalls how He to Deal with Consequences of Chornobyl Disaster
33 years ago, Mykola Volkozub was one of the first liquidators who helped to clean up the world's worst nuclear catastrophe
Ukrainian military pilot, Mykola Volkozub, now 87 visited the new Chornobyl Nuclear Power plant containment dome. This is not his first time there. 33 years ago he flew his MI-8 helicopter over Chornobyl during the cleanup of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe.
“It has nothing in common with how it was in the past. It was devastated. It was totally devastated. There was a pipe and some parts were simply hanging,” he said.
Eyeing up the reactor for the first time in decades, Volkozub said he could barely recognize it. Today, the reactor is covered by a massive confinement shelter, built to stop radiation leaks. While touring the area, Volkozub recalled how he had made three separate flights over the reactor during the disaster.
“On April 27, 1986, the first helicopters landed right here and were loaded here. Boric acid in sacks was brought up here. It was around here,” he said.
The flights were incredibly dangerous. Helicopters had to line their floors with lead and Pilots donned lead vests to protect themselves from the radiation.
“The most dangerous thing I thought of during the preparations was the thermal radiation. Thermal radiation affects the aerodynamics of the main rotor (of an aircraft) and leads to the immediate decrease of thrust,” Volkozub said.
Still, Volkozub said he knew he had to go through with his flights to help contain the disaster.
“Some people may say they have no fear. But there are no people who are not afraid. The only thing is that people perceive fear differently. One is suppressed by fear, another is driven by fear. I had to do it (fly over reactor). I knew it was dangerous. I had been preparing,” he said.
The Chernobyl accident in the then Soviet Ukraine was caused by a botched safety test that sent plumes of nuclear material across much of Europe. It killed dozens of people within weeks and forced tens of thousands to flee. The final death toll of those killed by radiation-related illnesses such as cancer is subject to debate.
Despite his age, Volkzub still supervises test pilots.
For his actions, Volokub was awarded the ‘Hero of Ukraine’ medal for his bravery.