“American journalists are reporting from Moscow that a catastrophe has taken place at the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant not far from Kyiv” – these were the words with which RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on April 29, 1986 announced the news about the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Anatoly Kaminsky, director of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service from 1983 – 1989, recalled the Service’s coverage of the event in a 2013 interview prepared in conjunction with the Service’s 60th anniversary. Kaminsky said, “In the case of Chernobyl, we were probably the first to inform the audience about this catastrophe, and on the second day after it happened, we were already transmitting instructions on to how to behave in that environment, how to prevent further exposure to radiation, what diet is best to follow, how to handle vegetables and fruits, and more. Even back then, we were already broadcasting detailed instructions. From the feedback we received later, it seemed that the listeners really appreciated this work of Radio Liberty.” [How We Remember Anatol Kaminsky]
The Service’s first Chernobyl broadcast continued:
“Increased radioactivity was detected on Monday, April 28 in areas of Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Radioactivity in Norway was six times higher than the norm. In Sweden, about 600 workers were evacuated from the Forsmark nuclear power plant because the Swedes believed that the radiation might be coming from there. Human security is always of great importance in democratic Western countries.
However, the search for a source of radioactivity by the Soviet Union's northern neighbors was futile. Meanwhile, concerns about radioactivity have come from Denmark. After analyzing meteorological data, in particular the direction of the wind over the last 72 hours, Swedish experts concluded that the radiation came from the Soviet Union, and that the source of the increased radioactivity may have been an accident at one of the Soviet nuclear power plants. But Soviet representatives in the field of nuclear energy said in Moscow that they knew nothing about any incident in the Soviet Union.
However, you cannot hide a needle in a haystack. The Soviet Union has been forced to admit that the tragedy occurred on their territory. The TASS news agency has acknowledged that an accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kyiv. The radiation came as a result of the accident at one of the nuclear reactors. TASS briefly reported the following: “Measures have been taken...Victims are being provided with medical care.” However, the number of people were affected, what the consequences could be, etc. -- details of the disaster were not immediately provided. The correspondent of the American television network CNN reports from Moscow that this is not surprising, because the Soviet Union does not inform its citizens at all. People walk the streets and do not know that they are in an area of high radiation and that it may endanger their health.
Accidents at Soviet nuclear power plants had occurred before but have not been reported. One of the biggest disasters occurred in the late 1950s near the city of Kyshtym in the Urals. Western observers have suggested that the Soviet Union might not have reported the tragedy in Ukraine, but since radiation had reached the Scandinavian countries, the Chernobyl power plant catastrophe had to be reported. If the radiation reached Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, then one can only imagine what danger threatened and may further threaten residents of Chernobyl, Kyiv, and the surrounding regions of Ukraine.
According to the magazine Under The Flag Of Leninism, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant produces 17.2 percent of Ukraine's electricity."
This text has been prepared from materials of the Hoover Institute Archive (Stanford, USA). From the Radio Liberty Archive: Chornobyl Disaster Report (1986)