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April 26, 2021
Older People

‘The black pages in my life started on April 26, 1986.’


Barren wasteland, with radioactive sign

‘The black pages in my life started on April 26, 1986.’

April 26, 1986. The day of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, 35 years ago. The nuclear reactor was unstable due to a faulty test, but no one knew. When the test drew to a close, the shutdown of the core created an uncontrolled chain of nuclear reactions. Superheated water caused a series of explosions, and the resultant fire burned for 9 days, throwing radiation into the atmosphere.

Thousands of people’s lives changed that day. Many were forced to leave their homes, and give up everything they had to escape the radiation. Others sacrificed their own safety to travel into the exclusion zone to help with the relief efforts. One of these people was Lyudmila.

I was born on January 28, 1954, in a large, friendly Jewish family. In my life everything went well, after school I got married and had a daughter. I started working as a teacher.

The black pages in my life started on April 26, 1986. This is the day of the Chernobyl disaster. A week after the explosion, I was invited to the Komsomol and told that it was necessary to rescue children from inside the exclusion zone.

As a mother and a teacher, I understood that I must help. I made 12 trips to Chernobyl, and took children to makeshift camps in Odessa.

I saw dying children. I heard how children received news of the death of their parents. This has never left me.

Even though 35 years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster, there are still thousands who live with the consequences. Lyudmila still feels the effects of her time spent inside the exclusion zone. Not only is she haunted by the memory of the harrowing things she saw, but she felt the physical effects of being exposed to that much radiation. She spent weeks in hospital with blood disorders, and doctors could do little for her. She recovered slowly, but Lyudmila still felt the long-term effects of the radiation. She had to work two jobs to have enough money to pay for all of her medication. As her health deteriorated, the costs of her medication spiralled, and her income could not keep up. She was trapped in a loop of increasing health problems and increasing costs.

Like Lyudmila, Alexander has felt the long-term effects of the disaster. As part of the Soviet army, he was forced to go and work in the exclusion zone for nearly 3 months. He was so close to the reactor he could see glowing patches of earth, just 30 metres from the epicentre.

If you fell down, no one was allowed to help you up. There is a lot of truth in the films that you see.

The effects of the radiation have permeated his whole life.

All people who worked in Chernobyl had so much radiation. Nobody knew how bad it was as they couldn’t see it, but they ended up with all this radiation inside them.

Alexander, like Lyudmila, had issues with his blood vessels for years that ultimately led to clots in his leg. The doctors gave him two choices – live without your leg, or die. He chose life, and had his leg amputated. He blames Chernobyl. His life changed overnight, and he was no longer able to get around.

It makes you very depressed. I live alone. My life is the TV, the internet… sometimes I go outside alone, but that is it. It’s all I have.

Luckily, World Jewish Relief was able to step in and help Lyudmila and Alexander. We pay for Lyudmila’s medication, and provide her with medical advice and consultations, to help her keep on top of her conditions.

For Alexander, we provide access to his local Jewish Community Centre, a homecare worker to check in on him and keep him company, and we help pay for his heating bills over the winter. Without help, he would have to go without food, his connection to the outside world, and would not be able to stay warm.
Thanks to your support, we can make sure Lyudmila and Alexander are happy, comfortable and safe as they grow older.

Lyudmila is grateful for the help that she gets – she says

The help I get has greatly improved my health situation. I am so thankful for the help I get. It is so important to me.

Alexander said

The Jewish community is always helping others and that is why I feel so close to the community. They wouldn’t let me fall and fail alone.

There are so many older people in Ukraine still suffering the consequences of the explosion 35 years ago – indirect, long lasting effects that have slowly taken over their lives. We ensure that older Jewish people who need our help do not go unnoticed, and are given assistance to make sure they don’t have to go hungry, feel lonely or suffer illnesses.

With your support, we can help many more people like Lyudmila and Alexander live better lives. Read more about how we support older people.

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