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21 Scary Chernobyl Facts That I Don't Recommend You Read Late At Night

"Chernobyl won't be safe for humans to inhabit for at least 20,000 years."

Warning: upsetting and graphic content ahead.

1. It's difficult to estimate, but the ultimate Chernobyl mortality toll could be anywhere between 4,000 and 90,000 people.

AFP / Getty Images

This number would include the two immediate deaths from the initial explosion, 29 deaths from acute radiation sickness in the following months, and the thousands who may die in the future of radiation-related causes.

2. Vasily Ignatenko, one of the first firefighter responders to the disaster (who appeared as a character on HBO's Chernobyl), suffered a gruesomely slow two-week death from radiation exposure.


He excreted blood and mucus stool more than 25 times a day and coughed up pieces of his own internal organs.

3. At Ignatenko's funeral, his body had become so swollen and deformed, his shoes and clothes did not fit.

Igor Kostin / Getty

His widow, Lyudmila (pictured above IRL), recounted in the book Voices From Chernobyl, "They couldn't get shoes on him because his feet had swelled up. They had to cut up the formal wear, too, because they couldn't get it on him, there wasn't a whole body to put it on."

4. Other accounts from people include their bodies breaking out in "black spots," bodies getting "fat, like a barrel," and also turning "black, like coal, and shrinking."

Igor Kostin / Getty Images

Many of these stories from Voices From Chernobyl were told by people in neighboring areas who had to flee their homes.

5. There were an estimated 100,000–200,000 abortions in Europe after Chernobyl as a result of "radiophobia."

Igor Kostin / Getty Images

According to Live Science, "Many doctors throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union advised pregnant women to undergo abortions to avoid bearing children with birth defects or other disorders, though the actual level of radiation exposure these women experienced were too low to cause any problems."

6. The area around Chernobyl became known as the Red Forest because of all the dead trees.

Knyazd / Getty Images

They turned a bright, red, ginger color and were eventually bulldozed and buried.

7. Chernobyl, Pripyat (the nearby city with lots of residents), and a lot of the surrounding area are now known as the Zone of Alienation or the Exclusion Zone.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

And it is illegal to live there.

8. And, although it's illegal, people still live in this zone.

Viktor Drachev / AFP / Getty Images

It's estimated that 130–150 people live there — many of them older women, who are still farming their family's land.

9. And life in the Exclusion Zone is grim.

Sergei Gapon / AFP / Getty Images

There are no schools or health care and it's definitely not safe to live there because it is still radioactive.

10. Residents were not allowed to take their pets during the evacuation back in 1986 — there are upsetting accounts of dogs "howling" and "running after the buses for ages."

Igor Kostin / Getty Images

And, like in the show, there were squads sent in to put the animals down.

11. But there are hundreds of stray dogs still surviving in the woods of Chernobyl and the Exclusion Zone.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

They are descendants of the ones who were suddenly left behind and survived.

12. Sadly, though, these dogs have a shortened life expectancy due to the radiation.

Sergei Supinsky / AFP / Getty Images

According to the Guardian, "They often carry increased levels of radiation in their fur and few live beyond the age of six."

13. You can actually still VISIT the Exclusion Zone — in fact, thousands of people have done it.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Tour agencies have reported as much as a 40% jump in day-trip bookings since HBO's show aired.

14. Things you might see today include a school canteen filled with discarded gas masks on the floor.

Cavan Images / Getty Images

One of the creepy "attractions" you can see on a tour.

15. Or these mysterious dolls that have popped up, arranged neatly on beds, in Chernobyl.

Enolabrain / Getty Images, Temizyurek / Getty Images

It's unclear who did this, but it's possible the imagery is meant to serve as a "tribute" to the children who once lived there.

16. There are even eerie silhouette paintings that have appeared on various buildings.

Sopa Images / Getty Images

A ghostly image.

17. And an abandoned amusement park in Pripyat that looks haunted.

Scott Peterson / Getty Images, Konoplytska / Getty Images


18. In Ukraine, in the first five years after the disaster, cases of cancer among children increased by more than 90%.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

And during the first 20 years after the accident, approximately 5,000 cases of thyroid cancer were registered in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus for people under 18.

19. It took over 25 years to build a new shelter over the damaged reactor at Chernobyl.

Sopa Images / Getty Images

Although there is still some debate about how effective this container has been and will be in the future.

20. The Chernobyl nuclear plant actually continued operation up until as recently as December 2000.

Sergey Supinski / AFP / Getty Images

This image is from the closing ceremony.

21. And finally, the area around Chernobyl won't be safe for humans to inhabit for at least 20,000 years.

Mediaproduction / Getty Images

Specifically, the zone around the former plant.

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