On the morning of Saturday 26 April, as Pripyat hospital began filling up with casualties, there had still been no official announcement about the accident at the Nuclear Power Plant.
Located on Druzhby Narodov (Friendship of the People) street the hospital complex МСЧ-126 has five main buildings of six stories with a number of smaller outbuildings. Built to serve the population of Pripyat, primarily Power Plant workers and their families, it could accommodate 410 patients and 3 clinics.
The letters on the roof of the hospital once read “Здоров’я народу – багатство країни” or “health of the people – riches of the country”.
As we stood on the crumbling steps of the front entrance our guide explained how the closest two buildings were the most interesting and that there was little of interest in the buildings to the rear. True to an extent, the buildings at the back have certainly been more comprehensively stripped, but they still contain a number of interesting items for those with the time to seek them out.
The basement of the hospital is infamous for containing the clothing worn by the first responder’s, the firemen who attended the scene immediately following the explosion. Hastily dumped in the basement these items of clothing, including boots, helmets and gloves, have lain protected from the elements for decades.
Likely pulled on in a hurry during the early hours of the 26th April in 1986 they still emit dangerously high levels of radiation over 30 years later. A sobering reminder of the levels of radiation those people first on the scene were exposed to.
In theory, anyone exposed to radiation at the Power Plant should have been washed and dressed in uncontaminated clothing at the plant prior to arrival at the hospital. That didn’t happen and by 10am in the morning 108 firefighters and plant workers had been brought directly to the hospital.
In the aftermath of the accident, 237 people suffered from acute radiation sickness (ARS), of whom according to World Health Organisation’s 2006 report, 28 died within the first three months, mostly fireman and rescue workers. The majority of those in a critical condition were transferred to a specialist hospital in Moscow.
Without an adequate filter or hazmat suit, I chose not to venture into the basement. A decision I don’t regret.
Others have been into the basement with some taking more than just photos. At the time I didn’t connect the helmet sat on the table in the hospital with those below ground.
I wasn’t familiar with the design; it naturally differs from firefighter helmets in the UK, dark in colour it looked flimsy, almost toy-like, but someone had obviously brought one upstairs. Fortunately, I didn’t try it on for size.
From later reports I understand the helmet was gone 2 months later. Only its highly radioactive straps remained. It’s very possible somebody may have an extremely dangerous souvenir.
I visited the hospital on a number of occasions. The third time I was verging on organised and even had a map. It quickly became apparent it may have been a map of a different hospital but eventually, I was able to locate all I’d wanted to see including what remained of the morgue.
Hospitals are a human refuge. Consequently, they are not abandoned lightly.