On April 26, 1986, one of the four reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded as a result of what was meant to be a routine systems test. The explosion and the fire that continued for 10 days afterwards discharged a large amount of radioactive substances into the atmosphere, dramatically increasing the level of radiation in the local area. The quantity of radioactive isotopes released into the atmosphere was 300 times greater than Hiroshima; in some places, the level of radiation was almost 77,000 times higher than the average background norm and 40 times the maximum permissible.
Over 100 radioactive elements released during the explosion contaminated substantial amounts of soil and waterways in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Many other neighbouring countries - Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Romania and Sweden - suffered radioactive contamination as well. The fallout from Chernobyl reached as far as Canada and the United States.
To this day, there is no agreement on the scale of human suffering and loss. Official data projected only 4,000 deaths related to the explosion, including the immediate radiation burn injuries and the deaths of over 30 plant workers and firemen. Alternative studies find that the death toll is likely to be over 200,000 for the population of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and up to 6 million people globally.
Such a discrepancy reveals how politicised this topic remains even decades after the explosion. One of the worst nuclear accidents in history and one of only two "level seven" events on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale had a profound political and social impact which lasts until today.
It was claimed that life was divided into before and after Chernobyl. Ulrich Beck, followed by many others, described Chernobyl as an anthropological shock. The name of a small town in Ukraine that gave its name to a nearby nuclear power plant became a globally recognised symbol and a significant element of political transformations.
My experience as a volunteer in the Chernobyl-effected territories in Ukraine... helped me understand that remembering Chernobyl is not only a commemoration of the immediate victims of the disaster but also a recognition of the experience of the hundreds of thousands that this event has displaced, condemning them to the life of refugees in their own country.