Chernobyl – How I Let Down My Dad

I wanted to share my memory of the Chernobyl disaster and how it also affected me, a 7-year old boy, at that time.

Me, my older brother and our mom and dad used to live in Tallinn in a grey 9-storey apartment building that dated from the 1970s. I never went to the kindergarten and my granny used to come to our place every morning to look after me. She was a kind and gentle woman, always ready to cook me whatever I wanted.

It was the spring of 1986 and history’s biggest nuclear disaster had just happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Many of the Estonian men, who had turned 18 that year and were, as usual, recruited to the Soviet military, were sent straight to Chernobyl to serve as emergency liquidators. Their lives were in great danger there. Horrible rumours spread about sudden deaths and mutilated bodies. Everyone was scared.

And then my father received an invitation to the Soviet army. He was ordered to show up for the repetitive military course for the officers.

I remember that day. My mom and dad were talking silently in the living room, occasionally throwing worrisome glances at me. Then they turned straight to me: “Tanel, let’s make one thing clear: whenever someone rings the doorbell, do not open it. Not unless you are a 100% sure that there is someone that you know. And in case a stranger approaches you and asks, where your father is, then just say that you don’t know, ok?” I understood that it was important and I quickly said yes.

The next day. My granny and I were at home playing some board game, when unexpectedly my father came home in the middle of the working day, just to get something from the bedroom. It was an ordinary day and I was very jolly happy, jumping around and making fun.

When my father was still in the bedroom behind a closed door, suddenly the doorbell rang and my granny quickly went and opened it. I also ran there and saw that there was a man asking if my dad was at home. “Daddy? Yes, yes, he’s right here I’ll go and get him!”, I said joyously and ran to the back door and opened it…… and saw my father’s face.

Only then I remembered what I had promised him. His eyes were full of fear.

What happened next, I only remember vaguely, because I was so shocked by my own behaviour that I could not say or do anything else that day. I had let down my father.

So what happened next? Fortunately, the man behind the door was no other than my dad’s colleague and friend who had just come to pick him up. So my dad came out and it all ended happily.

But I knew that I had let down my father and nearly sent him to Chernobyl. And that I will remember for the rest of my life.



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