On April 26, 1986, the biggest and most catastrophic nuclear disaster happened in the Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, in the town of Pripyat (today: Ukraine). The accident occurred during a safety test on a common Soviet reactor type and caused tremendous failures in a few minutes. This disaster is considered to be the worst in the history of humanity taking thousands of lives away. The accident affected the whole European continent, including Hungary, where according to stories and rumours the following happened.
Right after the explosion, the Soviet engineers had to face a problem they have never seen before. The damage needed to be repaired as soon as possible, otherwise the whole European continent would have become inhabitable. As the Soviet State was considered to be sacred and powerful, the Soviet leadership did not intend to inform foreign countries about the accident, and if yes, the techniques of propaganda and manipulation had to be used. Many people were unaware of the fact of how a nuclear plant works in real life.
Ordinary citizens in the Soviet Union knew two types of atoms: the “good-atom” which provides energy, and the “bad-atom” which is used to make bombs. To measure the amount of radiation, which is extremely dangerous for humans, were complicated and hard, and even today, it is problematic to determine an exact number with modern technology.
The wind took this enormous radioactive cloud and started to spread it above the European Continent. On April 28, Swedish scientist noticed the increased amount of radiation in the air and determined where it came from. From this moment, the Soviet Union could not keep the accident in secret anymore and had to inform the whole world about what happened in Chernobyl.
The radioactive cloud entered Hungary in two waves: on April 29, and May 7. People only talked about the accident in Chernobyl as a mere rumour and joked around at the dining table not to eat certain products because it “might be Chernobylised”. Although the Soviet Union informed the country as several Hungarian radio stations began to spread the information and details about the accident. In schools, for example, students stopped learning and listened to the radio during the class.
The next day more news arrived in Hungary to newspapers and radio stations emphasising the fact that a significant amount of radiation is in the air. In a few hours, every Hungarian knew that the accident in Chernobyl is more than a simple joke.
People started to warn each other not to drink milk and to wash every vegetable before eating or cooking. At many supermarkets and shops the price of salad, for example, went down to 0 HUF because everyone was afraid that it might be radioactive. Many people and children did not go to work or school and stayed at home to avoid polluted air.
Allegedly, the Hungarian city Szombathely (Vas County) was the most polluted area in Hungary. According to stories and memories, the special device which was set up in the city to measure the amount of radiation broke down immediately. Heavy rain caused a high amount of pollution over the area. According to doctors’ stories, those people who were on the streets during the rain, were all diagnosed with cancer after a few years.
The Soviet press started to spread the truth in the world about the exact amount of radiation and how dangerous the disaster was. Although there were some articles which mentioned that the pollution started to disappear from the air. Later on, the country was affected by its biggest diarrhea epidemic, but doctors denied the fact that it is had anything to do with Chernobyl.
In the next few years, many Hungarians visited the sight of Chernobyl to see the remains with their own eyes; many of whom were diagnosed with different diseases later.
Despite the stories, rumours, and shocking facts, Hungary was lucky because the wind brought most of the radiation cloud to Northern Europe. Although the country was not affected as seriously as others, the Soviet propaganda and the lack of information strongly influenced gossip about Chernobyl in the country.
Featured image: www.facebook.com/Chernobyl2019hbo
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