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ometimes we look at victories and praise the whole nation without paying the respect that is due to the individuals who are responsible for such victories. Everyone is aware of the disaster that occurred on the 25th of April, 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. However, only a few people actually know the people responsible for stopping a second and much larger explosion from happening.

A disaster waiting to get bigger

After 10 days from the main explosion taking place, the engineers that were on sight learned of a new threat that was potentially much larger. The first explosion damaged the plant’s water-cooling system which caused a large pool to form under the melting nuclear core. If the nuclear core were to reach this water it would have caused what experts call a steam explosion.

The melted nuclear core formed a sort of radioactive lava. The photo was taken in December 1986 by Artur Korneyev. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The experts who analyzed this matter said that the explosion could have had a force of five megatons. That would have not been such a big issue, however, all the steam released would infect the sky full of radiation which would end up spreading across the whole of Europe and Russia. Soviet physicist Vassili Nesterenko mentioned that this explosion would have made Europe uninhabitable.

Brave Souls

In order to stop this from happening, the water supply from the colling system had to be manually closed by turning a valve located in a chamber below the core. The problem was that this chamber was filled with extremely radioactive water. The first squadron of firefighters that have arrived on the scene on the 25th of April when the explosion occurred had all died by the 10th day and that was from just being close to parts of the exploded core.

Three of the workers from the power plant volunteered to a mission that was simply put, suicidal. They knew that someone had to do it and that it was their duty as workers from the plant. They were told that they would end up most likely to die down there due to the high levels of radiation.

These three brave souls were Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov. They all volunteered to go on this suicide mission and were asked before going in if they want to back out. Ananenko was the most valuable person out of them all who felt a bit forced by his position to volunteer and this is because he was the only one on shift that knew exactly where the valve was located.

Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov Being suited for the mission (Source: History)

Despite having the best possible anti-radiation gear, it was not looking promising for these three heroes. All equipped with flashlights went in and got promised that in case they were to die, the government would look after their families for being heroes. The water was only at knee height as firefighters managed to pump some of it out before the heroes entered.

However, finding that valve in a corridor full of pipes and other valves was like finding a needle in the haystack. They were pressured by time, as the longer, they spent down there, the shorter their life spans were becoming or their chances of survival.

Ananenko mentioned in an interview that it was a miracle they managed to find the valve in time, as many of the pipes have been scattered due to the explosion. Once they managed to close the valve that was releasing water, they made their way out and were happy to see the sun. The heroes were rushed to a decontamination room.

These people became heroes as they not only saved Chernobyl from a much worst faith but the whole of Europe. If the steam explosion was to happen, it would have released at least 400 times more radiation than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

What happened to the heroes?

Whilst researching about these three heroes, I was surprised to see how many lies have been written about their fate. Most journals and articles mention that they died a few hours after the mission. Some say that they managed to turn the valve, but no one survived and they all died inside the chamber.

The truth can be found in Andrew Leatherbarrow’s book “Chernobyl 01:23:40” published in 2016. Whilst writing this book, the author did a lot of research and even looked for these three heroes. To his surprise, they have lived many years after their suicidal mission.

Boris Baranov was the first out of the three to die in 2005 from a heart attack. It was unclear if the radiations suffered on the mission had anything to do with the heart attack, but I don’t think so based on how many years have passed. In 2015 Leatherbarrow found Valeri Bezpalov well and healthy whilst still working within the nuclear industry.

Alexei Ananenko at home in September 2019, holding the Order of Courage medal awarded to him the previous year by President Petro Poroshenko (Source: EX Utopia)

The latest update on Alexei Ananeko was early in 2021 when he was taken an interview about his sacrifice. He was also publicly presented in Ukraine in the summer of 2019 when he was awarded by the new president Volodymyr Zelenskyy with the Hero of Ukraine medal for his sacrifice in 1986. Ananenko is also still working within the same industry and living a healthy life.

Despite what experts said many years ago about the health implications of the three, they all managed to reach old age and didn’t grow any extra limbs. Some argue that because they have spent so many years working on a nuclear power plant, they may have built some sort of immune system to radiations that kept them alive that day.

Just like the characters in the movie “Suicide Squad”, despite the risk of the mission, they always seem to make it out alive. Whatever the case, we must pay our respects to these heroes for saving countless lives and the future of Europe.

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