Spring was always the busiest season for the women who worked in the wool processing plant in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine. More than 21,000 tons of wool went through the factory during the annual sheep shearing season of farms across the country. April and May 1986 were no exception.
Workers pulled 12-hour shifts as they manually sorted the stacks of raw nonwovens before they were washed and baled. Then the women got sick.
Some suffered from nosebleeds, others complained of dizziness and nausea. When the authorities were asked to investigate, they found radiation levels of up to 180 mSv / h in the factory. Anyone who is exposed at these levels would in more than one minute exceed the safe total annual dose in many parts of the world.
You might also like:
• The Bold Plan to Give Chernobyl a New Life
• The bunkers that were built to survive an apocalypse
• Like Plants have recovered the poisoned Chernobyl land
Fifty miles away was the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On April 26, 1
Chernihiv, however, was considered to be far out of the exclusion zone, hastily thrown around the affected plant, and measurements elsewhere in the city had shown that the radiation was comparatively low.
radiation maps, which means that the city was not hit very hard, "says Kate Brown, a science historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "Nevertheless, there were 298 women in the factory who were granted liquidator status, normally reserved for those who documented exposure in the early days of post-accident cleanup."
Brown revealed the history of Chernihiv wool to workers as part of their research on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster. Determined to uncover the true costs of the disaster, she traveled to many parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia to interview survivors, search the official archives, and search through old hospital records.
In 2005, the United Nations predicted that another 4,000 people could die as a result of Chernobyl's radiation exposure.
According to the official, internationally recognized death toll, only 31 people died as a direct result of Chernobyl, with just 50 deaths directly attributable to the disaster. In 2005, they forecast that another 4,000 could die as a result of radiation exposure.
Brown's research suggests, however, that Chernobyl has cast a much longer shadow.
"When I visited the wool factory in Chernihiv, I visited I met some of the women who worked at this time," she says. "There were only 10 of these women left. They told me they would pick up bales of wool and sort them out on tables. In May 1986 the factory received wool with radiation values of up to 30 Sv / h. The wool bales the women wore were like hugging an X-ray machine while it was turned on again and again.
Thousands of animals were slaughtered in the Chernobyl area when it was evacuated. Brown believes that nonwovens of some of these animals, along with other contaminated wool from farms wrapped in the clouds of radioactive material that spread in northern Ukraine, found their way to the Chernihiv factory.
Liquidators "in the wool factory gave their stories a bleak picture of what seems to have happened across the region when ordinary people unrelated to the cleanup of the disaster were exposed to radioactive material.
"It showed different parts of the body that were older than the others and that had health problems," says Brown. "They knew all about what radioactive isotopes were stored in their organs." The other 288 women either died or retired because of illness.
In the weeks and months after the Chernobyl disaster, there were hundreds of thousands of firefighters, engineers, military troops, policemen, miners, cleaners, and medical personnel sent directly around the destroyed power plant to the area around the fire and meltdown to control and prevent radioactive material from spreading further into the environment.
These individuals, who became known as "liquidators" by virtue of the official Soviet definition of "participants in the liquidation of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident", received a special status meaning that they received benefits such as additional health care and payments. Official registries indicate that 600,000 people have been granted liquidator status.
According to a controversial report by members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, up to 830,000 people could have been in the Chernobyl cleanup team. They estimated that by 2005, between 112,000 and 125,000 of them had died – about 15%. However, many of the numbers in the report were denied by Western scientists who questioned their scientific validity.
The Ukrainian authorities, however, kept a register of their own citizens, who were affected by the accident in Chernobyl. In 2015, there were 318,988 Ukrainian cleaners in the database, although 651,453 cleaners were screened for radiation exposure between 2003 and 2007 according to a recent report from the National Radiation Medicine Center in Ukraine. Belarus had 99,693 cleanup workers, while another register had 157,086 Russian liquidators.
In Ukraine, the mortality rate among these brave individuals increased from 3.5 to 17.5 deaths per 1,000 people between 1988 and 2012. Disability among the liquidators has also increased. In 1988, 68% of them were healthy, 26 years later, only 5.5% were healthy. Most – 63% – suffered from cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, while 13% had problems with their nervous system. In Belarus, 40,049 liquidators had cancer by 2008, another 2,833 from Russia.
However, the International Atomic Energy Agency states that health studies on liquidators have "shown no direct correlation between their exposure to radiation". and cancer or other diseases.
Some of the people living closest to the power plant received a dose of radiation in their thyroid glands that was up to 37,000 times the dose of a chest X-ray.
Another group that bore the brunt The exposures in the hours and days after the explosion affected those living in the nearby city of Pripyat and the surrounding area. It took a day and a half until the evacuation started and 49,614 people were evacuated. Later, another 41,986 people from another 80 settlements were evacuated in a 30 km zone around the power plant. Ultimately, however, 200,000 people have been relocated as a result of the accident.
Some of the closest living The station received internal radiation doses in the thyroid glands of up to 3.9 Gy after inhaling radioactive material and consuming contaminated food – about 37,000 times the dose of a chest X-ray. Doctors who examined the evacuees report that mortality among the evacuees has gradually increased, peaking in 2008-2012 with 18 deaths per 1,000 people.
However, this still accounts for a small proportion of people affected by Chernobyl.
Brown has found evidence from medical records from the time of the accident that shows how widespread the problems were.
"In hospitals across the region and as far as Moscow, people with acute symptoms were pouring in," she says. "According to reports available, at least 40,000 people, including many women and children, were hospitalized following the accident in the summer."
It is generally assumed that the political pressure has led to the true picture of the problem that should be repressed by the US Soviet authorities, who did not want to lose face on the international stage. However, after the collapse of the USSR and when the population in the areas exposed to radiation is confronted with a variety of health problems, a much clearer picture of the disaster caused by the disaster is emerging.
The Chernobyl catastrophe is the largest anthropogenic disaster in human history
Viktor Sushko, Deputy Director-General of the National Radiation Medicine Research Center (NRCRM) in Kiev, Ukraine, describes the Chernobyl disaster as the "greatest anthropogenic catastrophe in The NRCRM estimates that around five million citizens of the former USSR, including three million in Ukraine, suffered from Chernobyl, while in Belarus after the disaster about 800,000 people were reported as radiation-endangered.
Even today Ukrainians The government pays 36,525 women who are the widow of men who have suffered as a result of the Chernobyl accident.  By January 2018, 1.8 million people in Ukraine, including 377,589 children, had the status of victims of Disaster, according to Shushko and his colleagues., The number of people with Disabilities in this population have risen rapidly, from 40,106 in 1995 to 107,115 in 2018.
Interestingly, Shushko and his team have also reported that the number of Chernobyl victims in Ukraine has decreased by 657.988 since 2007 – a decline of 26%. Although they do not explain why, this is likely to be partly due to migration as the victims have left the country, the status of victim status has changed and there are inevitably some deaths.
The mortality rates in radiation contaminated areas are increasingly higher than the rest of Ukraine. They reached their peak in 2007, when more than 26 out of every 1,000 people died, compared to the national average of 16 out of 1,000.
In total, about 150,000 km² of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are contaminated and the restricted area of 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) – an area more than twice the size of London – is virtually uninhabited. But radioactive fallout carried by winds spread across much of the northern hemisphere. Within two days of the explosion, high levels of radiation were detected in Sweden, while contamination of plants and grasslands in the UK for years resulted in severe restrictions on the sale of lamb and other sheep products.
Western European areas affected by Chernobyl precipitation also indicated a higher rate of neoplasms, ie, abnormal tissue proliferation, including cancer.
"It was classified as normal and distributed throughout the area. The country was instructed not to send it to Moscow. "- Brown
But Brown believes that some of the measures taken by those trying to deal with the consequences of the disaster also led to a far greater spread of contamination than would otherwise be the case. In an archive in Moscow, she found records showing that meat, milk and other products from contaminated plants and animals were shipped across the country.
"They developed manuals for the meat, wool and dairy industries to classify products as high, medium and low in terms of radiation," she says. "High-grade meat, for example, was put in a freezer to allow them to wait until it fell. Meat at medium and low levels should be mixed with clean meat and turned into sausage. It was labeled as normal and shipped throughout the country, even though they were ordered not to send it to Moscow.
Brown, who has written a book about her findings entitled "Handbook for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future", discovered similar stories of blueberries that were above the accepted radiation limit and mixed with cleaner berries, so that the entire batch fell below the legal limit.
This meant that people outside Ukraine "woke up with a breakfast of Chernobyl blueberries" without knowing it, she says.
However, it is a difficult task to establish the link between radiation exposure and long-term health effects. It can take years or decades for cancer to occur and can be difficult to associate with a specific cause.
However, a recent study found problems in the genome of children exposed during the disaster or born by parents who were exposed. Increased levels of damage and instability in the genome were noted.
"The instability of the genome poses a significant cancer risk," says Aleksandra Fučić, a genotoxicist at the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia. As the daughter of a Ukrainian woman, she has worked with Russian scientists to study the effects of Chernobyl radiation on children from the region. "In Chernobyl cases, time does not heal. Time is a latency period for carcinogenesis.
There have been other implications, she says. Suicide rates in people exposed to Chernobyl radiation are higher than in the general population. Studies have also shown that people who claim to live in the Chernobyl-affected areas of Ukraine have more alcohol problems and poorer mental health.
To be precise, how many deaths caused worldwide by the Chernobyl disaster can be nearly impossible. But despite the gloomy picture that many of the research colors show, there are also some stories of hope.
Three volunteers who volunteered to release millions of gallons of water from tanks under the burning reactor in the days immediately following the explosion waded water and debris through highly radioactive materials to reach the drain valves. Her exploits are one of the most dramatic moments in HBO's recent dramatization of the disaster.
Surprisingly, two of the three men are still alive, though they provide minimal protection against radiation during their mission. The third man, Borys Baranov, survived until 2005.
Join more than one million Future fans by liking us on Facebook or us on Twitter [folgen19659055] or Instagram .
If you liked this story, subscribe to the weekly bbc.com newsletter titled "The Essential List." A handpicked selection of BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel stories delivered to your inbox every Friday.