Dmitri was a teenager living in Pripyat when the Chernobyl reactor blew. He and some friends climbed onto the roof of the city’s tallest building. They couldn’t see flames but watched as smoke billowed from the reactor.
Less than 35 hours later Dmitri and the city’s 50,000 residents were forced to evacuate to escape the radioactive fallout. “They told us we’d only leave for a couple of days. I was never allowed back to my home again.” Dmitri lived just two miles from the reactor, where his father worked. It will be decades before the area is safe for people to live there again.
I think of radiation raining down on Dmitri. I was also a pretty curious teenager. If I’d heard rumours of a possible fire at the nearby nuclear plant, I probably would have climbed up on the roof to look, too.
It was by chance that I met Dmitri in Kiev. He is a laidback young Ukrainian guy who wears Diesel jeans and doesn’t speak much.
“How’s your health?” I try to casually inquire. No problems, he replies. “It’s good. I’m fit. Sometimes I take vitamins if I need the extra energy.”
Dmitri hasn’t seen his apartment in 20 years. Since the day 1,100 buses from across Ukraine came to evacuate his town.
I’m about to go Pripyat and the ill-fated Chernobyl reactor. I invite Dmitri to join me. “Sure. Why not?” His face splits into a smile. “I’ll find my home.”