Chernobyl | Returning home 33 years after the world’s worst nuclear explosion | Sunday Night

STEVE PENNELLS: Chernobyl. Just the word is enough to evoke visions of nuclear holocaust. (STATIC BUZZES) But for thousands of.


STEVE PENNELLS: Chernobyl. Just the word is enough to evoke
visions of nuclear holocaust. (STATIC BUZZES) But for thousands of Australians, the nightmare was all too real. (MUSIC SWELLS) She told us to just run.
“Run, run, run.” They are the children
of Chernobyl,…. ..scarred by their experiences, and now, more than 30 years on, determined to confront the past. I really want to go home,
but I’m terrified. I really wonder what’s gonna happen
when we get there. For one Melbourne mum, this will be
a journey of unexpected joy… (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE)
Da. She recognised me. ..and unimaginable heartbreak. This is my friend. Is that how you remember her?
(WOMAN SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) And that’s her dad. Back to a world still in the grip of nuclear devastation. (BEEPING) So, is this dangerous?
Should we be worried now? Uh, yeah, a little. (CHUCKLES) A little bit?
Little bit. Yes.
Yeah? (BEEPING) I remember it as a very beautiful
place to grow up. The people were lovely. I had a beautiful childhood.
I can tell you that much. We look very carefree, don’t we?
WOMAN: Mm. Inna Mitelman grew up in Belarus, in the shadow of Chernobyl. Now 33 years later, she’s happily settled in Melbourne
with two children of her own, three-month-old Gabriel and 11-year-old Mikey. Oh, 65 years of life.
Yeah. Her parents, Irina and Ilia,
live close by. It’s your first year at school.
(CHUCKLES) Memories. Good ones or bad ones? Just… Just memories.
Just memories. Yeah. For Irina and Ilia,
life back then was hard but simple. Inna and my younger daughter Rima. For Inna,
it was an idyllic childhood, with her best friend, Natasha, living in the apartment
right next door. We were pretty inseparable, so our parents were
very close friends. They were very close.
They were like family. And we used to come into each
other’s houses without knocking, so my house was her house;
her house was my house. Your apartments were right next door to each other?
Right next door to each other. That was on this end there.
Yeah. The year before Chernobyl. Chernobyl was 100km away. (HELICOPTER BLADES WHIRR) But on the 26th of April 1986, that was much too close. (PEOPLE SHOUT IN SLAVIC LANGUAGE) The explosion in reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant would be the worst nuclear explosion
in history. A safety test gone wrong, rupturing the reactor core and causing a fire
that released vast clouds of radioactive contamination. (MAN SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) But the Soviet authorities suppressed the true scale
of the disaster… ..and only after 36 hours
was the order given to evacuate the nearby city of Pripyat, home to the power-plant workers
and their families. A convoy of buses and cars
streamed out of the city, seeking safety. Well, the first thing I remember
is seeing new kids in our yard in the morning, when we walked out to go to school. There were kids wrapped up
in blankets. Inna Mitelman was only 11 years old when the refugees from Pripyat
arrived on her doorstep. But the memory is still vivid. So, they basically just got plucked out of their beds, wrapped up,
put in a car, and their parents were washing
the car, and our neighbours
were telling them off, saying,
“There are kids playing here. “We don’t need your dirt here.” Yelling at people,
“Just take your car away. “Don’t wash it here.
We don’t need your dirt here.” So, even then there was a sense that something was dangerous? Oh, definitely. Yeah, there was
definitely something scary going on. As the fire continued to rage
in the reactor, badly injured power-plant workers
and firemen were brought to
the Pripyat hospital, in horrifying scenes recreated
in a recent dramatisation by HBO. Just take her.
Take her away from here. Please. Get away from them.
You want to get sick? Go.
Please take her. Please take her. Please take her. Please. Please. Please.
(BABY CRIES) Please take her! Today the hospital at Pripyat
stands abandoned,… ..like the rest of this
once-thriving city. (BABY CRIES) At least 28 of the men brought here that day would die
over the coming weeks and months,… ..as radiation sickness
slowly destroyed their bodies. Standing here, you can just imagine
the chaos of that night. Firefighters were brought in
with horrific burns. There would have been mass panic. No-one knew what was going on. But the nurses did know enough to take the clothes and the uniforms those firefighters were wearing and put them as far away
as possible. And they brought them down here. Down… Hello, dog. Down to the basement
of the hospital. Now, this is as far as I can go, because those uniforms
are still here behind a locked door.
And they’re so contaminated, that door can never be opened. (GEIGER COUNTER CLICKS) Outside,
the reactor was still burning, spewing out 400 times more
radioactive material than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki
atomic bombs combined. When was the first time you heard
of what happened at Chernobyl? Well, it was printed
in the Soviet newspaper as small note, like, you know,
2 x 2 inches. Like… Like that big, about some accident. That was all. That was all. But Sergii Mirnyi
soon learnt the truth. He was the commander of a
radiation reconnaissance unit. His job – to seek out the worst
of the hot zones. Tell me about the risk
that you faced. On the missions, several times I happened to measure where the intensity of the radiation was one million times
the background radiation. And still the Soviet government
downplayed what was happening, putting thousands of lives at risk. The next day after it happened, I remember sitting outside with my friends, picking sorrel from the ground and eating it. It’s pretty scary to think about it. What precautions did you have to do? What were you told not to do and…? Try to stay indoor
as much as possible. Close… Lock the windows. Close the windows.
Don’t open windows. Yeah.
Wear a hat outside. That’s all. A hat?
Hat. When you go outside,
we have to wear a hat. That’s going to protect you?
Yeah. (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) There has been a nuclear accident
in the Soviet Union. MALE REPORTER:
High levels of radiation… The rest of the world found out
what was happening soon enough, when radioactive particles
were detected on workers at a nuclear power plant in Sweden, more than 1,000km away. That’s the day my sister called
and said, “It’s a very dangerous situation. “You need to leave now.” “And take children away.”
“And take children away. Because her sister
lived in Australia, and it was announced in Australia that there was a disaster
in Chernobyl. We were not told that it was a
disaster, that it was dangerous. So she called every day and told us, “Leave as fast as possible.” Inna’s mum and dad immediately
sent their daughters away. When the girls returned home more than a year later, the family
began plotting its escape. They made it to Australia via
remote Kazakhstan when Inna was 15. Do you remember
your first impressions of Australia? Yes. First of all,
I didn’t want to go. When parents told me
we were moving to Australia, I dug my heels in and said,
“You’re leaving without me. “I’m staying here.”
I had a boyfriend who I had to give up. I was planning on coming back
to marry him. Thank god I didn’t actually end up
doing that. So, how glad are you
that you got out? Extraordinarily. Could not even begin to describe it. Like, thank heavens. Inna is now a naturopath with a successful practice
in Melbourne, but she hasn’t escaped the curse of Chernobyl. I’ve got thyroid nodules, which were discovered when I was
pregnant with my second child. The surgeon wanted to operate. He said I’ve got a 50% chance
of developing thyroid cancer, so let’s just get it out now. Here’s some Russian cakes. My mum has had cancer
three times already. She’s had thyroid cancer,
she’s had kidney cancer, and she had skin cancer. Yeah, so she’s been through a lot. You’d think this family had
experienced enough of the horror of Chernobyl to last a lifetime, but Inna wants to return
to her homeland to understand a tragic event
from her past that still haunts her. (INDISTINCT INTERCOM ANNOUNCEMENT) STEVE PENNELLS:
Inna Mitelman is going home with her sons, 11-year-old Mikey
and three-month-old Gabriel… ..to the city she fled
as a teenager,… ..when the deadly fallout from the Chernobyl
nuclear power plant explosion poisoned everything in its path. (HORN BLARES) INNA: I’m terrified. I’m terrified. There’s a reason why
we haven’t been back, but you need to do this to… maybe to confront it and deal with it and move on, because the worst thing
that ever happened to me probably was my best friend
dying when I was 11. And I think having to deal with that
freaks me out as well. (TENSE MUSIC) Within days of the accident
at Chernobyl, Inna’s parents sent
their two daughters away to Moscow. Inna’s childhood friend Natasha
stayed. One year later, at the age of ten, she died from brain cancer. Yeah, we were together – completely
inseparable – all the time. And I used to tell her stories. Used to tell her stories, and she
used to sit there and listen to me and believe every single word.
(CHUCKLES) Tell me about when your friend
got sick. So, she… We first found out
that something was wrong with her when she became cross-eyed. They investigated.
They found a brain tumour. They operated. But she died the next morning. It took, for us,
a long time just to… ..admit that it happened. And for Inna, I remember she was… She was crying and crying
and crying. And then she was shut…
shut down, you know, so… Didn’t want to talk about that.
And… For a long time.
For a long time. This was my best friend.
This was my, um… ..the person that I grew up with, and her death was completely…
Like, it was… It destroyed me. (HAUNTING MUSIC) But I remember this place. Remember this place?
I do. It’s so run down. It’s horrible. Which was your place? Third entrance from the… That one there?
Yeah. This used to be my kindergarten. This place here? And I think it still is. And if we keep walking this way, we’ll hit my school. And this building is my house. You remember it well, don’t you? It looks awful. (LAUGHS)
(LAUGHS) It also looks much smaller
than what I remember. It’s been three decades.
Mm. If Chernobyl hadn’t happened,
would you still be living here? It’s quite likely. It’s most likely. I really don’t know what it would be
like living here still. (TENSE MUSIC) Belarus is one of
the poorest countries in Europe. Once part of the Soviet Union, it’s now Europe’s
last dictatorship,… ..a regime
that doesn’t tolerate dissent, a place where strangers
are viewed with suspicion and memories endure. (WOMAN SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) Da. (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) She recognised you? She recognised me. She said, “Are you Inna?” (CHUCKLES) She’s gonna let us in. Oh, fantastic. (DOOR BUZZES) This is it.
This is it. Inna wanted to see
the family’s old apartment. Nothing’s changed.
Wow. The… At least it has a light. That light used to be broken
all the time. And the sign, no smoking,
was here as well. Just how you remember it?
Just how I remember it. But new owners have just moved in. It’s the same freaking door. Oh, my god.
My heart’s just, like, pumping. (SIGHS) Natasha used to live here.
Someone’s coming. Someone’s coming. (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) (LOCKS CLICK) Didn’t like the camera. I guess not.
(BOTH LAUGH) I think that was it. I think so, yeah. (CLEARS THROAT)
I think she, like, completely locked it.
She did, yeah. (MOURNFUL MUSIC) Inna’s childhood friend, Natasha, used to live
in the apartment next door. This is where Natasha used to live. Yeah, so they were 43; you were 44. I was 44.
Yeah. Yeah. And you were saying that
between the walls, you could knock…
We could knock. ..and send signals to each other. Yeah, we did.
(BOTH LAUGH) It’s incredible, isn’t it? What do you feel when you’re
back here, at your front door? Just… Yeah. Really emotional. Natasha’s family moved away
after the death of their daughter, but Inna is determined to find them. And while she goes in search,… ..we head into the exclusion zone – (OMINOUS MUSIC) 2,500km2 of contaminated
territory,… (MUSIC SWELLS) ..including Pripyat, the city built
for the power station workers now abandoned. (DRAMATIC MUSIC) Our guide on this day is 21-year-old Olga, whose family lived in Pripyat
when the plant exploded. (METER BLEEPS RAPIDLY) So, what does that mean? It’s a sign that we have already,
um… ..the dose that’s above the normal
for Ukraine. And we can even measure it. 173. So, is this dangerous?
Should we be worried now? Uh, yeah, a little bit. (CHUCKLES)
A little bit, yeah. (BEEPING) This road, uh, you have a permission to go as
fast as possible here on this road. (TENSE MUSIC) 33 years ago, this was the most dangerous spot on the planet. (MUSIC SWELLS) Waves of men wearing only
the most primitive of protection sent to the burning roof
of the reactor to remove radioactive debris. (MEN SHOUT) Each man allowed only a minute to scoop it up, then dash for cover. (DRAMATIC MUSIC) SERGII MIRNYI:
We just found ourself in a situation of where, you know, necess…
something should be done, and we were the only guys who were
in a position to do it, you know. Pripyat was a brand-new city right next to
the nuclear power plant. It was a jewel
in the Soviet crown… ..with a thriving population
of 50,000 people… ..emptied in the course
of a single day. Residents forced to leave
with only what they could carry. (SOMBRE MUSIC) Is this a wild dog here? A stray dog? Yeah. (CHUCKLES) He lives here?
Yeah, lives here. Now these are
the permanent residents. So, what do your parents
tell you about what happened here? My father was from here, and it’s hard for him to… ..handle it. During the conversation, he tried to stop crying and… Really?
Yeah, yeah. It’s… He cries when he talks to you
about this? Yeah, because it was
from his childhood. For me, it’s like… Even right now, I feel like my heart, uh… How to name it? Your heart’s beating fast. Yeah, my heart’s a bit fast.
Right now? I feel the same
that they felt that time, because all that they told me was sad. (SIGHS) Nothing prepares you for the sheer
scale of what was lost here… ..or for the speed in which nature has reclaimed this
once gleaming metropolis. But Pripyat is no longer
a ghost city. (GENTLE PIANO MUSIC) (CAMERA SHUTTER CLICKS) Today its abandoned buildings echo with the chatter
of tour groups… ..and Aussie accents. What is it about Chernobyl
that still fascinates people? Oh, I don’t know. I think
it’s just this whole kind of, like, ghost-town thing where people
just imagine themselves just going, “Right, you’re told.
You’ve just gotta leave now.” And it’s just how it is,
you know, from 30 years ago. That is amazing, I think. (BEEPING) (EXPLOSION BOOMS) (OMINOUS MUSIC) This HBO television drama
has sparked an extraordinary wave of interest. VALERY LEGASOV: Every atom
of uranium is like a bullet penetrating everything in its path. Wood. Metal. Concrete. Flesh. ‘Chernobyl’ the series is a gritty, often horrifying
retelling of the events before and after the explosion… Now, Chernobyl holds over
three trillion of these bullets. Some of these bullets will not
stop firing for 50,000 years. ..and a promotional bonanza for
former liquidator Sergii Mirnyi,… ..now Chernobyl’s
biggest tour operator. We accept something like 140,000 tourists. 140,000? That’s almost 400 a day. Exactly. Exactly. It’s really a lot of people,
you know. Sergii Mirnyi claims the areas
open to tourists are all completely safe,… ..the same dose of radiation you’d get on a flight between Sydney
and Melbourne. The shattered reactor is now encased
in a new safe-containment building. And it is indeed possible
to get very close. (COUNTER CLICKS) Comparing to what I measured in 1986, the radiation has decreased 1,000 times, and it’s
a huge achievement, you know? And so I calcu…
I estimated the daily dose, and it was, you know,
not simply safe; it was miserable. It was like one-hour flight. (EERIE MUSIC) But it’s clear
there are places within the zone, including those thronging
with tourists, where radiation levels
are still alarmingly high. Now, this is a hospital entrance, the waiting area where the patients
were first brought. And it’s a time capsule
of what happened that night, but it’s
an incredibly dangerous one, still, 33 years later. To give you an idea of
what I’m talking about, this is a reception area. This is where the patients
were brought. The paperwork is still here, and here’s a bandage that was used
on one of the patients that night. Now, this Geiger counter says I’m
pretty safe standing where I am, but watch what happens when I
put it closer to the bandage. (COUNTER CLICKS, BEEPS RAPIDLY) 40 times the radiation. (COUNTER BEEPS) (POIGNANT MUSIC) STEVE PENNELLS: Inna Mitelman has
returned to the city her family fled 33 years ago. As fallout from the Chernobyl
disaster poisoned the air and the forest, Inna’s best friend died of brain
cancer at the age of ten,… ..a year after the accident. INNA: I would go to the cemetery and
sit on her grave every single day. For about a year, I would go there and read my books. I would go there to talk to her. I just went there and sat there
every day. Grieving. Yeah, just grieving, missing her, not knowing what to do with myself, “How can I move on?” I think I had some survivor’s guilt
as well, because she didn’t go anywhere. She stayed when we left. Do you think that contributed to
what happened, that she stayed behind? To me it was connected. She was a perfectly healthy child. Inna lost contact with Natasha’s
family when she left for Australia, but she’s just heard
that Natasha’s mother, Tamara, is at the cemetery,… ..tending to her daughter’s grave, as she has every week for 32 years. When we arrive at the cemetery, an emotional Tamara
throws herself at Inna. (BOTH SPEAK SLAVIC LANGUAGE) (LAUGHS) (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) (BOTH SPEAK SLAVIC LANGUAGE) We discover that Tamara’s husband
died just four months ago and is now buried
beside their daughter. (SNIFFLES) (SIGHS) (SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) (SIGHS) This is my friend.
(SNIFFLES) Is that how you remembered her? Mm.
(SPEAKS SLAVIC LANGUAGE) She was basically
just like my sister. (SNIFFLES) We met when she was three
and I was four. And that haircut –
she’s always had that haircut. Yeah?
Ever since I can remember her, she’s always had the same haircut. That’s a good likeness of her? Mm. I think it’s a photo. Mm.
(SNIFFLES) Did you expect to be this emotional? No, I didn’t realise
I’d be this emotional. Was it important to show your son
this as well? Yeah, I think so. I mean, he… I told him stories,
but… What’s your mother told you
about her friend? Like, how she was, like,
best friends and they used to do everything
together when they were younger and how every single day, they used
to go into each other’s houses and have fun and get always up to,
like, some mischief and how, like,
amazing she was to her and how, like, they bonded together. Da?
Da. Da. Da?
Da. A long time ago,
but those feelings are still strong, aren’t they? They’re powerful.
Yeah. I did not expect it to be so…
(SNIFFLES) Yeah, I really didn’t expect it. (SOMBRE MUSIC) (CRIES) (DOOR OPENS) For many new mothers
here in Belarus, there’s a profound fear
that the effects of Chernobyl might be passed on to
a second generation. (MONITOR CHIMES) At the local children’s hospital, chief doctor Irina Kalmanovich
has been treating Chernobyl survivors
for more than 30 years. She has no doubt
she is still seeing children suffering from the disaster. And unlike other doctors
in this repressive regime, she’s willing to risk saying it. (BOTH SPEAK SLAVIC LANGUAGE) IRINA: It’s my opinion it can be… ..a result of Chernobyl, because we have many, many patients even in our hospital – children with tumour different parts of body,
a tumour of brain, leukaemia, so we have many, uh, patients. (CHILDREN CHATTER) (WOMEN SPEAK SLAVIC LANGUAGE) Hello. How are you? I’m Steve. Steve.
Katya. Katya.
Katya. Out in the park, we meet one of
Dr Kalmanovich’s patients,… Hello. Yeah. (CHUCKLES) ..five-year-old Anya, who has a brain tumour. Five? Five years old? Five? Yeah? We saw a lot of the first generation
of people affected by Chernobyl, but you believe there’s a second
generation now being affected by it? A second generation, and my opinion, it’s really a result of Chernobyl. You believe this is a legacy of Chernobyl?
Yeah. I believe. (POIGNANT MUSIC) Both of Inna’s children, who were born in Australia, appear to be healthy,… ..but her pregnancies
were filled with dread. You’re counting the fingers and toes
while you’re having ultrasounds, but… (CHUCKLES)
but you definitely… Yeah, it’s…
The sense of relief is overwhelming. (POIGNANT MUSIC) This is a chance to say the goodbye
she was never able to as a child,… ..to be grateful for the chance
she was given for a new life in a new country,… (MUSIC SWELLS) ..far from the poison that has
blighted the lives of her friends and neighbours. (POIGNANT MUSIC) If it wasn’t for Chernobyl,… ..I honestly doubt we would ever
end up in Australia. Chernobyl saved you in some way. Australia is the best thing
that ever happened to me. (POIGNANT MUSIC) I’ve always appreciated immensely… ..the amazing country
that we live in. But now this has, like, quadrupled.
(LAUGHS) (POIGNANT MUSIC SLOWS)

15 thoughts on “Chernobyl | Returning home 33 years after the world’s worst nuclear explosion | Sunday Night”

  1. Absolutely DISGUSTING they're touring there. Makes me want to vomit. She be off limits if not only to family of those effected..

  2. In how many different ways are humans going to shit on this planet before this planet shrugs us off like the virus we are?

    Remember everyone, the planet will be fine (she'll recover), it's us that will die off : )

    Edit – How on Earth can she be so terrified of the poisonous nuclear yada yada yada and yet bring her three month old baby???

  3. I can't understand why people would still go there. The women bringing her babies there for what? They won't even remember it and you could of possibly put them in danger. smh.

  4. I was 3 months pregnant with our second child when we were told a Chernobyl cloud could possibly affect my state of Oregon. It was frightening, I can’t imagine how it was for all these people. So sad.

  5. The boss wouldn't listen to his less-experienced workers, they kept trying to tell him what was happening and he just didn't care, so cause of that the reactor exploded. He has been sent to jail

  6. I am totally against nuclear anything. I dont understand why they are allowed to build power plants using this poison. We have plenty of sun and wind power here in Florida without needing to jeopardize life.

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