While living in Pripyat, the poet, journalist, playwright, and translator Lyubov Sirota witnessed the Chernobyl disaster and was one of its victims. Her poems became well-known around the world after her role in Rollan Sergienko’s film, The Threshold (the script for which she co-authored), and after the publication of her collection of poetry, The Burden. Since then, her poems have been translated into numerous foreign languages, including English, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese.
Literally on the eve Day of memory of Chernobyl tragedy 26 April 2012 in first has appeared the opportunity of the edition of my old fiction – film-story"Pripyat syndrome". The book was issued at support of International public organization "PTRIPAYT.com" and a site of city of Pripyat Pripyat.com, which I thank very much for the book and for all selfless work on preservation of memory of Chernobyl catastrophe and our Pripyat!..
First the first edition of the book was published in Russian, then – in Ukrainian. And in 2013 in English on Amazon.
And now we have good
news about the English version of my book “The Pripyat Syndrome”. The second a
bit expanded edition of the book “The Pripyat Syndrome” in English now is at
the Amazon. In two formats:
In this book telling about the tragic destiny of the young woman – inhabitant of Pripyat, desperately struggling for a life of the son, many of the twists and turns of the first days and the first years of Chernobyl tragedy are displayed vividly and precisely.
---------------------------------------------------- So, now again
anybody who want to can to have it and to read.
Comments, wishes, orders: firstname.lastname@example.org. Second edition ISBN: 9798710522875 Translation by Natalia Ryumina Editing by Birgitta Ingemanson Editing by Paul Brians Illustration by Anton Yukhimenko Agent: Aleksandr Sirota
Contents ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 1 INSTEAD OF A FOREWORD 2 DEDICATION 3 PROLOGUE 4 THE STORY 6 EPILOGUE 191 A NOTE ON RUSSIAN AND UKRAINIAN PERSONAL NAMES 193 EDITOR’S AFTERWORD 195 ABOUT THE AUTHOR 197 ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR 199
The author express their deep gratitude to Natalia Ryumina and Professors Emeritus Washington State University Birgitta Ingemanson and Paul Brians for their selfless work preparing this edition.
OF A FOREWORD
It all started as in a movie. The idea to write a long
prose work about the Chernobyl disaster occurred to me already in 1990, right
after our almost daily two-year struggle to create our film The Threshold
(directed by Rollan Sergienko), which managed to penetrate the “iron curtain”
of denial and silence around the consequences of this disaster. The film itself
was shot in an unbelievably short period of time—just six months. The
production was launched in 1988 thanks to the head of the Alexander Dovzhenko
Film Studio, the famous director Nikolay Mashchenko.
This was when all that I had seen, heard, and lived
through—the whole four years of my post-Chernobyl experience which for a long
time had not entered into my poetry—started to make its way onto the pages of
my future novel, The Pripyat Syndrome.
Somehow perceiving what was going on, Nikolay
Pavlovich suggested at about the same time that I write a film script about the
Chernobyl tragedy, and he even gave it a name: How Can I Save You, Son? But
since the film studio was experiencing a deep financial crisis in those
difficult years of perestroika, work on this movie, which was supposed to be in
two parts, then was reduced to a single episode, and finally was frozen.
Nevertheless, that particular project influenced the
writing and the style of the novel, like а film story, which I am now offering
for your attention, my dear Reader!
This novel is dedicated to my fellow countrymen, the people of Pripyat, and to everyone who has been affected by Chernobyl’s sinister shadow. Although based on real events, it
cannot be classified as a documentary, for its characters are all
A tiny far-away star is pulsating in the dense purple
sky. As it grows, it first transforms itself into a bright whirling star, then
into a huge multi-colored sphere which rapidly approaches, trailing behind a
long, luminous train… Then suddenly—a blinding flash... The whole sky is
illuminated by a red and yellow glow, which shivers feverishly and, it turns
out, has escaped from the core of the exploded reactor No. 4. The enormous
ventilation pipe of the 3rd and 4th blocks of the V. I. Lenin Chernobyl Nuclear
Power Station is red-hot.
Irina suddenly wakes up.The intolerable pain that has become habitual
over the last couple of years seems to be tearing her head apart and filling
every cell of her being with boiling lead. Such bad timing! Just as she is about
to go and pick up her son—and there are still so many things to do before that!
With her disobedient hand she reaches out for the medicine on the bedside
table. She takes a painkiller, chews it and tries to reach the glass of water,
but instead she knocks the glass onto the floor. The water spills over the
carpet and onto the letters lying there.
Irina flinches with pain and bitterness. She squeezes
her head between her hands, making her short hair look even more disheveled,
and sits up slowly. She takes some valerian drops, picks up the soaked letters
from the floor and puts them on the bedside table. She sits on her bed for a
while, then struggles to stand up. She cautiously walks towards the bathroom,
moaning in pain, still gripping her head with her hands.
She can hear her son’s voice, as she reads his first
letter from the sanatorium:
“Hello, my dear Mommy, I’m writing this letter right
after you left at 7:31 a.m. I still have a strong headache. I wish that these
two months would fly by quickly, but there are still 58 days to go. I miss you
Irina is inspecting her reflection in the mirror. Her
face has become haggard with illness.
As I told you, I won’t be able to stand this for more
than a month. They say that the weather here will be even hotter soon...
Looking forward to hearing from you, Mom! Your Dennis.”
The image in the mirror is blurred, fading away. A
quiet moan and the sound of something falling.
It is a hot July morning on the outskirts of the
capital. The number of people at the bus stop is too large even for a workday
morning. The bus is probably delayed. On the opposite side of the road there
appears a well-built but unhealthily bent female figure with a handbag over her
shoulder. This is Irina. She slowly crosses the road and approaches the bus
stop. Only now does she notice the unusual gathering.
She tries to stop a passing car in order to get a
lift. Eventually, one of the cars does stop and a respectable-looking driver
“Where’re you going?”
“To the Ministry of Health, please.”
“What! A regular cab costs just ten!”
“Are you getting in or not?” asks the respectable
Irina despairingly slams the door and the car drives
off without her, shrouding her in fumes. Depressed, she returns to the bus
shelter and leans against its rough cold wall. She gets a pill out of her
A woman passing by announces loudly:
“There’s no use waiting! All the buses are late, the
drivers are on strike.”
Her words cause some commotion at the bus stop.
Someone is upset. Someone else, on the contrary, seems glad.
The crowd gradually vanishes. Irina is desperate to
get to the city center today, so she decides to stay and wait for a bus anyway.
She walks up to an empty bench and sits down to lean her aching back against
its back, which—as luck would have it—is not entirely torn off. Although she
worries about the indefinite delay, deep in her soul she is glad for every sign
of change happening in this amazingly enormous country, referred to among its
people by the short and simple name sovok.A strange but very familiar feeling of sweet anxiety reminds her of
… early morning, April 26, 1986. Wearing a light
dressing gown, Irina is typing an article, using her old portable Moscow brand
typewriter. She has spent all night on this article, which is quite normal for
her. She types the final period and takes out the sheet completely covered with
text. Collecting all the sheets, she puts them in a pile and moves the
typewriter to the opposite side of her desk, covering it with the latest issue
of Ogonyok magazine.
On the desk, apart from the typewriter and the
manuscript, there’s also an empty coffee pot and a cup with some leftover
coffee. At the very edge of the desk, right beside the bookshelf, there’s
another pile of papers.
She has to share this desk with her son—he tends to
use it during the day and in the evening, while she gets it all to herself at
Irina loves the silence of her long nights when she
can work or just sit by the window thinking about life and eternity, disturbed
by no one, at one with the stars and with the moon, which constantly,
mysteriously changes its appearance.
Irina turns off the table-lamp since it is now quite
light. The slightly parted curtains covering the sash window glow a brilliant
orange. One side is wide open and the soft spring breeze is blowing the light
tulle curtain. Irina moves it aside and inhales the pleasant, fresh new morning
air while stretching her body. She is happy with the work that she’s
finished—and with the pure blue sky, the breeze that tenderly touches her long
fair hair, and the waking pine forest that stretches far off toward the Office
of the Building Administration, and beyond, to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power
Station. This forest is also a precious part of her night vigils. Today it’s shrouded
in a ghostly grayish fog. Lovely!
She wakes up her son and helps him pack his school bag
as he washes and has breakfast, the dishes clattering in their little
Little by little the sun’s glare fills the room of
their tiny, small-family studio apartment. The ray of sunlight plays on the
crystal of the clock on the bookshelf,glancing over the backs of various books, lightly touching the
coffee-colored wallpaper, the decorative chandelier and the soft blanket that
covers the sofa on the other side of the room. It also illuminates the complex
pattern of her cheap Moldavian carpet which, although it is small, manages to
cover the whole floor—that’s how tiny the room is. Nevertheless, another sofa
has been squeezed in by the wall opposite the window. On this sofa lies a
guitar without a case. A bit further away a white double door leads to the
spacious pantry which is also used as a wardrobe. In this small Pripyat
apartment, Irina and Dennis have lived comfortably for several years. Although
in a couple of months they are about to move to a new, bigger flat—something
that they very much look forward to—they still feel a bit sad to leave this
one, for they are so used to it. Maybe for this reason—because they know that
they will have to leave it soon—right now, it seems sweet, precious.
Maybe that’s why a strange melancholy is layered over
her joy on this wonderful spring day.
Fully dressed, Dennis pops into the room to get his
school bag. Irina is surprised by such punctuality: “Where are you going so
early? Classes don’t start for another hour!Doesn’t seem like you at all...”
“Oh, come on, Mom,” importantly replies Dennis, “we’re
supposed to be on school duty today. And Seryozha’s already waiting for me
outside, as we agreed, see? We’ll take a little walk before classes…breathe
some fresh air!”
“Fresh air, that’s good,” agrees Irina sleepily. “OK,
off you go then. Oh,” she suddenly remembers, “Denya, you know what, last night
something was hooting and crashing at the power station again—even our windows
were rattling, didn’t you hear it?”
“Whatever!” Dennis is going already, “I’m off…”
A couple of hours later Irina also leaves the
apartment and, following her usual route through the courtyards, she walks
toward the Palace of Culture,where her
literature and theater studio is meeting today.
She is clearly enjoying the day and for some reason
everything moves her: the birds singing, the branches of maples and lindens
swaying, all in green; even the chestnut trees that аre already spreading their
leaves wide and looking like candlesticks as they embrace the tiny candle-like
Everything around her today is so familiar, so joyous
and somehow so unique! Irina is pleasantly surprised by the sight of the
streams of foaming water on the streets and sidewalks—the street cleaning
machines are everywhere. That’s why the air is so unusually fresh today! They
probably clean the streets this thoroughly every Saturday—it’s just that she’s
never noticed it before. These foaming streams add a certain festive grandeur
to the day.
Meanwhile Irina is pleased to note how conveniently
she’s dressed for such a day—jeans, a light shirt and light, colorful jacket,
and most important—sneakers. This allows her to avoid the puddles easily, or
just to jump over them! The fresh breeze is touching her face and hair so
An old woman, a villager from Polesye,appears from around the corner building and,
while still at quite a distance, asks Irina:
“Where’s the bus station, young lady?”
“Continue down this street, then cross the road and
it’s to your right, next to that forest, just over there, see?” Irina is
explaining everything carefully to the old woman, who by now has come
“Do not go to the bus station!” interrupts a man in a
loud voice. Irina turns around. She sees an odd and messy-looking man in a
dirty uniform, standing about twenty paces away, clearly very concerned about
something. “Today there’s no bus service anyway!” he yells.
The granny starts approaching him in order to find out
why there’s no bus service today, and as for Irina, she shrugs her shoulders,
“so there’s no service, so what?” and continues on her way.
An unusual number of people are strolling happily
along Lenin Avenue and on the square in front of the Palace of Culture. Even
more than that—there are lots of grey militsiya uniforms, which also seems very
surprising to Irina. The festive crowds, the kiosks with ice cream and other
sweets on the sidewalks—all this doesn’t look like an ordinary Saturday—the
approaching May holidays are in the air.
In contrast, the Palace is almost empty. Irina says
hello to the concierge whom everybody calls “Grandma Pasha” although she isn’t
even that old.She loves to chat with
Irina and today too she’s about to say something. But Irina gestures that she’s
late, and quickly runs upstairs, crossing the gracefully decorated dance hall. There
are only two people in the studio. One is Tatyana, an engineer at the power
station, who recently gave birth to her third child. On parental leave now, she
spends all her time writing poems and drawing. She has come here earlier than
usual today to start making the wall newspaper.The other person in the room is Sophia—a professional journalist who
works for the local newspaper and part-time for the radio. She is standing by
the window, smoking. Tatyana sits at the desk in front of a huge and completely
blank sheet of paper.
“What’s the news?” they ask simultaneously in a
“What are you talking about?” Irina is surprised.
“Where’s everybody else? I thought I was running late!”
“Oh,” Sophia exhales despondently, coming up to Irina
and kissing her on the cheek. She wipes off the mark of her lipstick. “This kid
is still in total ignorance. What do you think of that, Tatyana?”
Sophia returns to the unfinished cigarette she had
left on top of the ashtray by the window. She inhales the smoke, curiously
“God’s birdie knows no worry and no labor,” says
Tatyana,but then adds seriously,
“Nobody else is coming, I guess. Will you be all right with just the two of us?
You can start, ‘boss.’”
“What’s happened?” Irina asks quietly.
“We hardly know anything,” answers Tatyana,
“Something’s happened at the power station. Something really bad... There are
“Don’t panic!” interrupts Sophia, exhaling the smoke.
“If it was really that bad, I’d definitely have known about it by now! Don’t
worry, boss,” she addresses Irina, “let’s see what we’ve got here today and
then we’ll go home. I’m still a bit concerned about the kids.”
“Yes, and you know what? In School No. 3 they’re not
even allowed outside today,” agrees Tatyana. Her eldest daughter goes to that
school, in the fifth grade.
“So, that’s what it is,” Irina thinks, and an unusual
feeling of sweet anxiety possesses her, mixing with the morning’s excitement,
filling every cell of her body and even tickling her nose.But she pulls herself together and continues,
“OK, let’s not make any guesses. Tatyana, you try to
get through to the power station, and meanwhile I’ll check our schedule for the
“There’s no point in calling!” mutters Sophia, sitting
on the window sill. She’s already spent half an hour on the phone trying to get
through. The atomic station remains silent.
Irina sits down by the table and opens her
“Right. Well, what can we do? You Tanya are excused.
Go home to your baby. He needs you more than we do right now. And Sophushka, we
have two shows in the residence halls tonight. Let’s do this: go home now and
come back at 6 o’clock. By that time I’ll have called—or just somehow got in
touch with the residence halls. I doubt they’re up for a poetic evening in
right now, at least in the power station residence hall, but in the Builders’
Residence Hall they’llprobably expect us. You can read the poems, I’ll sing
the songs, and then we’ll answer their questions, just like always! OK?”
“OK!” Sophia jumps down from the windowsill, her long
dark wavy hair swaying. “See you tonight!” She kisses Irina on the cheek and
tenderly tousles Tatyana’s short hair.
Irina is home. Anxious, she measures the room with her
steps, from time to time popping into the kitchen to check on her lunch
cooking. Suddenly recollecting something, she shuts the window. Her son is not
home yet. The clock shows half past two in the afternoon.
At last she hears the front door open and rushes into
the small hallway. The sight is shocking—her boy is covered in clay and sand.
When he takes off his shoes, piles of sand pour out on the floor.
“My god! Where have you been?” Irina is
“We had a subbotnik today.We... swept the school yard.” Dennis is
lying. The truth is, he and Seryozhka had gone to the river after school, but
Irina will find this out later. She is exasperated.
“In some schools the kids were not even allowed to go
outside today and in yours it’s a subbotnik, and for primary school pupils?
Dennis is changing his clothes. Knowingly, he
“I know everything. Last night something exploded at
the power station! We even had a teachers’ meeting at school. We were told to
take some iodine pills and the grown-ups can have wine... Maybe us kids will
even be e-va... taken out of town.”
“Evacuated?” suggests Irina.
“Yes, that’s right! E-va-cu-ated,” he agrees, washing
“All right, my little expert! Wash yourself. Have some
food. Do something nice. Read a book! I still have a couple of things to take
care of tonight, so I’ll be back late. I’ll lock the door. Be good! And don’t
open the window, understood?”