I wish I had known Serhii Plokhy was writing this book. I would have told him why the Chernobyl disaster is an indelible part of my life. When the nuclear plant’s fourth reactor exploded in the early hours of Saturday, April 26 1986, I was 130km away in Kiev. A Moscow-based reporter for Reuters news agency, I was spending the weekend in the Ukrainian capital with a friend who taught at Kiev university under a British Council programme. Like almost all the city’s 2.5m residents, we knew nothing about the accident, the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Until the evening of Monday April 28, the Kremlin held to its unforgivable decision to keep Soviet citizens and the world in complete darkness. All that time, radiation was spreading far beyond the stricken reactor. For the first few days, the strongest winds blew to the north-west, so anyone in Kiev – which is south of Chernobyl – got off relatively lightly. However, when I returned to Moscow and underwent a radiation check at the US embassy, the Geiger counter went beep-beep-beep, registering abnormal levels on my clothes. Before my eyes an embassy official tossed my jeans into an incinerator. Plokhy, a Harvard professor of Ukrainian background, is ideally placed to tell the harrowing story of Chernobyl. He is the first western-based historian to make extensive use of Chernobyl-related material in Communist party, government and, especially, KGB security police archives that became available after Ukraine’s 2014 pro-democracy revolution.
FT 15th May 2018 read more »