A 62-year-old man who helped prevent a second explosion during the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has had to flee his Kyiv home amidst the threat of bombing from invading Russian forces, a feat documented by the successful drama miniseries Chernobyl in 2019.

Reactor Number Four was destroyed on April 26th, 1986 — and is to date the worst nuclear power disaster in history, both in cost and casualties sustained. After the lethal radioactive meltdown, it was discovered that the reactor’s core was seeping through the basement, which contained five million gallons of water.

This was a ticking time-bomb for the Soviets. The intense heat and energy from the initial explosion created a mixture of molten graphite, radioactive fuel and concrete called corium.

Chernobyl Corium

At above 1200 °C, this ‘lava’-like substance had the potential to cause a steam explosion on contact with the water reserves which it was slowly melting its way towards. The explosion had a projected blast yield of 3-5 megatons, or over 300 times that of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, enough to vaporize everything and everyone around it.

Alexai’s Heroic Dive

Alexai Ananenko was about 26 years old when he stepped into the line of duty as a volunteer no less for what was thought to be a suicide mission.

Alexai Ananenko young

Accompanied by fellow engineer Valeri Bezpalov and shift supervisor Boris Baranov, the three men dived through a treacherous toxic cocktail and drained the water reservoir, saving thousands of lives.

“I did my job and it’s nothing to brag about,” said Ananenko. “I wasn’t scared because I focused on my duties. I had worked at Chernobyl for three years. I was worried that we would not find the right fittings but that fear quickly disappeared when the valves were marked. They opened relatively easily. We just opened the latches and immediately there was a noise. We understood the water was gone and we just had to go back.”

The trio were awarded the Order For Courage by Ukrainian ex-President Petro Poroshenko in May 2018.

A Heroic Past, but Tragic Present

Alexai Ananenko

Today, Ananenko has different problems to deal with. After being hit by a car in 2018 and left in a coma for 36 days, he had to learn how to walk all over again. A crucial surgery in favor of his recovery was postponed due to Covid-19, and further delayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“First Covid disturbed our plans, now this damned Putler [Putin-Hitler] is destroying the kind and peaceful Ukrainian people,” his wife Valentina stated. She went on to state how she has “never been so offended by Russia” and “cannot forgive this genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

‘I’m not sure we will have a place to come back to. Right now we are at the border. I’m crying. So many of our relatives remain in Ukraine.

We are heartbroken. It is so hard, like never before.”

(Featured Image Credits: HBO, East2West News)