There Hasn’t Been An Emergency Like This Since 1986 - Ukrainian Volunteer On Fires in Chernobyl
28 April, 2020
Aleksandr Sirota in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, April 26, 2019. Pavlo Florescu

Aleksandr Sirota was 10 years old when Chernobyl reactor №4 exploded. He was living with his mother in Pripyat, and was in the third grade at the time. As an adult, Sirota returned to the area and began to work at the Chernobyl plant. And 7 years ago he moved with his family to the village of Dytiatky at the entrance to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. He now heads the public council at the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management.

For the past three weeks, Sirota has been overseeing a volunteer headquarters that feeds those fighting the Chernobyl fires and provides help in the Exclusion Zone. Currently, according to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, there are no active wildfire sites in the Exclusion Zone, and the work is currently underway to eliminate peat smoldering.

READ MORE: Chernobyl Zone After Huge Blaze (VIDEO)

We asked Sirota about what could set the Exclusion Zone on fire, about the damage, the animals saved, as well as the memory of the disaster in 1986.

"Respirators, fire trucks – this is reminiscent of 1986"

On April 8, I began to fly around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone with a drone. This drone can see how a fire develops even in a very heavy smoke. It's not my drone, it's what our friends and colleagues have put to use.

We also took on the volunteer headquarters at the Dytiatky checkpoint (The main one in the exclusion zone – ed.) because without permission you just won't get into the zone. We first provided targeted assistance and then focused on feeding all the forces in the Exclusion Zone, including the firemen and the National Guard.

The funding of the State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management was cut. All the food from the warehouses was immediately eaten. There has been no such prolonged fire before.

In general, I do not recall such an emergency since 1986. And in general, many things reminded me of what was then, 34 years ago – the firefighters in respirators, all these fire trucks. As of yesterday, 1,300 people were involved – from the State Emergency Service, the National Guard, not to mention the forest fire stations.

Aleksandr Sirota at the scene of the fire in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, April 25, 2020. Photo: Aleksandr Sirota's Facebook page

"We are not allowed to extinguish the fires"

I have a rather unpleasant feeling that someone is starting these fires, and we aren’t being not allowed to extinguish them. As soon as information emerges that we have some kind of victory, some large blaze being extinguished, information appears about a new fire where nothing was burning before. There could be a lot of reasons for this, but when something is burning in a place where no one has ever logged – then this is something altogether different.

Fires in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, April 10, 2020. Photo: Aleksandr Sirota's Facebook page

“Pripyat has turned into a thoroughfare”

Stalkers are people who enter the Exclusion Zone illegally, for any reason. It is quite a large community. There are those who are very fond of this place and do no harm, on the contrary. And there are those who can be called absolute idiots.

The likelihood that stalkers could set these fires is equal to the likelihood that it was someone else, even people from the Exclusion Zone. But with respect to the fines [for unauthorized entry], I agree that they are very small. The 310 hryvnia ($11) fine is ridiculous, even many stalkers agree with this. They say that Pripyat has already turned into a thoroughfare.

This is unacceptable to me – I have always done it legally. I can't understand why they climb over the fence. But I respect their choice. And it is not possible to cover the territory of 2,500 km2 and put a police officer every kilometer.

Aleksandr Sirota with a group of tourists in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, August 17, 2019. Photo: Ruslana Chechulina's Facebook page

Squirrels and Przewalski's Horse

With regard to the animals affected, I know of only two cases: squirrels and Przewalski's horse foals. The squirrels were taken to a shelter in Kyiv where they are fine. They will need a new home in the future, because they will already be tame animals which can’t be returned to the wild. As for the foal, the ones that rescued it fed it inappropriate food. And now specialists are trying to save it.

Moose have crossed the road to firefighters, but not just to them. They have been doing this for the last 30 years. Moose will find pastures, as much of the territory remains intact.

Wild Horses in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, April 13, 2020. Photo: Aleksandr Sirota's Facebook page

"Quarantine and fires cannot cancel the anniversary of the disaster"

The “Chernobyl – light a candle” commemoration event has existed since the early 2000s. And we have been holding this event in the Exclusion Zone for the last two years. Pripyat is a perfect place for this. But this year we will do it at my home in Dytiatky.

As far as I know, there will be no official events because of the quarantine. But quarantine cannot cancel the anniversary. We will be joined by people who also remember and respect those who have lost their homes [in the Exclusion Zone].

Pripyat is not affected, but the villages you can well remember from childhood – although there are no inhabitants there already – are burning. But those people are still alive, they remember, they write to me now and ask what was burned and what is left – this is a very painful topic for them. Historical memory is being lost.

READ MORE: Chernobyl: The Tourist Mecca that Never Was?

/By Anastasia Stanko

/Translated by Vladyslav Kudryk