Chernobyl nuclear disaster and Estonia

​The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine happened on 26 April 1986, when the 4th reactor of the energy bloc exploded due to the carelessness of the workers and construction defects. The explosion and the subsequent fire unleashed large quantities of radioactive pollutant into the atmosphere, which spread across the northern part of Europe and reached Estonia as well.

To limit the effect of the disaster, the leaking energy bloc was covered with a concrete sarcophagus. The roofs and the surroundings of the reactors were cleared of radioactive rubbish. Most people involved in this kind of work were Soviet army reservists, despatched there in the course of their reserve training.

In Estonia, the reservists were sent to the disaster area by the Headquarters of the Civil Defence, headed by Major General Vello Vare. In 1986 the 258th single mechanised civil defence regiment in Kohtla-Järve was made up of the reservists, and sent to eliminate the results of the Chernobyl disaster (their destination were villages of Denissovich, Borovich, Novaja Radcha and the township of Poleskoye).

In total, hundreds of thousands of the Soviet army reservists participated in the rescue operations; the number from Estonia was 4742, most of whom suffered permanent health damage afterwards.

The Soviet press initially tried to suppress all information about the disaster. First data about the disaster reached Estonia via the Finnish television. In accordance with the declared glasnost-policy, the Soviet leadership finally decided to inform the public of the incident. After the Chernobyl disaster, environmental dangers and issues were discussed in the Soviet Union, which helped to start discussions also about various hushed-up historical events (Stalin-era persecutions, etc).

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