Chernobyl. Last Day of Pripyal

Alexey Akindinov  Oil Painting  2014

Thirty years ago the world witnessed a catastrophic nuclear disaster, one that would be considered the  worst until Fukushima Daiichi in 2011.  This level 7 disaster (on a scale of 7) came just seven years after the level 5 accident at Three Mile Island.  On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyal, Ukrainian SSR experienced a meltdown that released radioactive particles into the atmosphere of most of western USSR and Europe.

Because the plant was state run out of Moscow, the Ukrainian government did not initially receive word about the explosion or continuing fire.  The people of Pripyal went about their daily business.  It would be several hours before they were asked to evacuate.  Even then they were told everything was under control, it was a minor incident.  Those evacuated left the majority of their possessions as they were told they would be able to return after about three days.  Their possessions remain there thirty years later.

Thirty one deaths were originally reported as a direct result of the explosion.  That number is now generally thought to be closer to 50 when you include those in a helicopter crash, although the number is still disputed.  Hundreds of fire and rescue workers suffered from acute radiation poisoning.  Some believe the actual total of deaths related to the meltdown could eventually be as high as 4,000, mostly due to thyroid poisoning.  Still others believe an additional 5,000 on top of that will deal with cancer or illness related to the fallout.

There is a lot of data available not only about the direct human toll, but also about how the radiation effected the air, the water, and the land, as well as the economic impact and social impact.  After this event, many countries upgraded or changed their nuclear power regulations and evacuation plans.  Although the US had already implemented several safety upgrades and changes after Three Mile Island, public opinion was unmistakably shaken.  The nuclear energy sector in America has never fully recovered.

This amazing painting by Alexey Akindinov tells three stories at once.  To the right there is a circle enclosing a mother with a baby in Pripyal looking out toward Chernobyl.  They look out to the Ferris wheel in the distance.  The circle is framed with small radiation symbols.  She does not yet know what is to become of her home, her health, or the health of her baby.

The largest part of the painting is the middle section of the plant itself.  Note the workers fleeing in the background.  The fire fighters and rescue workers attempt to extinguish the flames.

The lower left depicts the scene of the miners digging a tunnel to build a cooling slab under the fourth reactor.  This was done so they could build a sarcophagus around the reactor to keep it from releasing further radiation to the atmosphere.  Notice the collapsed miner outside the tunnel.  A note about the original sarcophagus, it was built to last twenty or thirty years.

The entire painting is covered with what I would describe as snowflakes.  This is really what drew me to this painting.  They are to represent the radiation that was saturating the air.  I think the texture this creates is just incredible.

There are a lot of close ups of this painting here:  This website also has a lot of information about each of the vignettes represented in the artist’s own words.  The translation is a bit sketchy, but you’ll get the picture.

There are also some very interesting photos and diagrams in this current USA Today article.




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