1. April 26, 1986 (Fate to be saved – Destiny to stay)

Photo from Wikipedia.

The Chernobyl disaster. The nuclear reactor after the disaster. Reactor 4 (center). Turbine building (lower left). Reactor 3 (center right).

Just 15 minutes before midnight, our doorbell rang and somebody pounded on our door. Bell ringing and door knocking were disturbing the silence of the night non-stop and indicated an alarm, a fire, an earthquake and a flood all at the same time. The peace was broken, and the troublemaker entered our house with an aura of disaster. It was my father-in-law. He was, as always, in an old cheap suit and a tie of the past decade. At the same time, he held a senior public position in one of the Kharkiv city government offices. Father-in-law could afford to have the most expensive suits. But new suits in his wardrobe have never been observed. The Soviet boss must look poor. My father-in-law was then the head of the technical department in Kharkov “Neftesbyt”.

Right from the doorstep he said:

– Get dressed immediately. Wake up the children. Gather tents, sleeping bags. Train is in an hour and a half. These are the last tickets. It’s a complete chaos and panic in the city government. Everybody is sending their families to the Crimea and the Caucasus. The reason is unknown to me. All tickets for trains and airplanes sold out for three days ahead. A hotel in the Crimea and the Caucasus can not be booked. Your destination is Foros, Crimea. I made all necessary arrangements with park rangers.

He left our apartment in 30 seconds. And after another 30 minutes, we came out with a full backpack and two children of 2 and 5 years old, camping equipment, yoga mats, passports, and a two-day supply of food. The train was overcrowded. People slept and sat in the aisles and in the vestibules between the cars.

Park rangers allowed us to set up our tent in the forest, on a mountain high above the sea. Nearby there were 5 more tents of young families with children, which informed parents drove away from home. There were really no free rooms in all hotels.

The government of the USSR officially announced about the Chernobyl disaster only two days after the accident – on April 28 in the “Pravda” newspaper. From April 27, the secret evacuation of 47 thousand people, who lived at the accident site within a radius of 10 kilometers, began. After that, in the first week of May, 116 thousand people were evacuated, all who lived within a radius of 30 kilometers from Chernobyl. The next day, April 29, another 20 tents appeared around our six tents. Nobody asked the rangers anymore. There were no more tent places on the mountain. Arriving people started to put up tents right on the beach… People tried to escape from the Chernobyl radiation, wherever they could.

There are people who respond to the information they receive with an active action.

There are people who simply cannot act independently. But if there is an order, then in the execution of this order they have no equal.

There are people who can not act in principle. Even if their house is on fire, they will only watch how someone else will extinguish the fire.

Accordingly, some tried to escape from radiation, while others stayed on their couches at home.

Everyone made their choice.

It was quiet and peaceful in the Crimea. The sea was still cold, but there were almost no waves. And all swam from morning to evening. “It’s necessary to be afraid of radiation,” everyone kept saying and jumped into the cold water. No one held back children. Both kids and teenagers splashed in cold water until they were completely blue.

“Maybe soon we will all die of radiation,” one mother on the beach explained loudly, “So you should at least swim in the sea.”

That was the prevailing sentiment among many at that time. The emissions of radioactive substances after the Chernobyl accident were comparable to the effects of the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima. Every day we lived like the last. The tent camp on Foros in Crimea sheltered those who understood the danger of radioactive waste to human health. But the majority of citizens of our country did not leave their homes and watched the situation in Chernobyl on their television screens.

At that time, the question of the “meaning of life”, the “reassessment of vital, political, moral values” literally “grew out of thin air.” Life demanded a “search for new meaning”. Soviet people stopped believing in the “victory of communism on earth”. In our campground, people indulged in sex, they drank alcohol daily and scolded the country’s leadership.

“Maybe tomorrow we all will be gone”, a bald, fat, whiskered man with a bottle of vodka in his hand was joking.

The atomic catastrophe brought down all the moral framework, opened all forbidden subconscious doors and released the secret desires of the intoxicated by communist propaganda soviet people. All lived this day, as the last. Well, maybe as the last but one.

I practiced yoga every morning during our flight from civilization. Sometimes I managed to meditate right outside our tent. Sometimes I did yoga exercises right on the beach. Some people were interested in my exercises. I eagerly shared my knowledge and conducted free classes in the morning to the sound of the soft surf of the Black Sea. My random students asked me questions in the morning classes and during the evening tea by the fire. Mostly they asked:

– What does Yoga give me personally?

– How work and yoga are combined in my life?

– Is it possible with the help of yoga to remove radiation from the body?

I did not know the answer to the last question. But in this tent camp among the refugees from the Chernobyl disaster, I felt the need for yoga and yoga philosophy for people. At that time I didn’t know at all how this feeling of “being needed by people” would change my whole life.

On one of the May nights in Crimea, I realized that I did not want to go back to the factory, manage drunken Soviet workers, swear with factory bureaucrats and their superiors. I wanted to stay forever on this Crimean seashore, to teach yoga in the mornings, to talk about the philosophy of yoga over evening tea. At that time there were millions of engineers in the Soviet Union, and I was just an ordinary engineer from these statistical millions. The possible future of my engineering career was plain, gray and extremely clear. In this future, there was a daily routine for the tasteless life of a communist country.

In this life there could be nothing interesting, bright, exciting, fascinating. The Chernobyl explosion revealed these thoughts like a ripe furuncle. Will I be able to change my life and destiny? How can I do it? Where to start? I did not have answers to all these questions then. But, as programmers say, “formulation of the problem” – is the most important part of any program.

Days went by in the sunny Crimea near the Black Sea. Nobody wanted to return to the usual life. But the Kremlin radio optimistically stated the significant decrease in the radioactive background. After May 10, people began to fold their tents and return to their cities.

But these people were already different from those who voluntarily stayed in the radioactive territory. They were distinguished by their ability to act and their ability to react to the turns of their Fate.

Leonid Belenitsky Books
Translation from Russian into English: AD Consulting LLC