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Chernobyl Firefighters Honored for Heroism

September 25, 1986

MOSCOW (AP) _ The commander of the firefighting unit that battled the blaze at Chernobyl and two firefighters who died of radiation sickness were named Heroes of the Soviet Union, the country’s highest award for bravery.

The government newspaper Izvestia said Maj. Leonid Telyatnikov, Viktor Kibenok and Vladimir Pravik were awarded gold stars for their role in fighting the fire that raged for days at the nuclear power plant.

Kibenok and Pravik were among six firefighters who died in the first week of May and are buried in a special cemetery plot outside Moscow.

A chemical explosion on April 26 sparked the fire at the Chernobyl nuclear plant’s No. 4 reactor, about 80 miles north of Kiev in the Soviet Ukraine. A total of 31 people were killed, and radioactive fallout from the fire eventually was detected around the world.

Izvestia’s front page carried a large picture of Telyatnikov and said he was ″long confined to his bed″ after the disaster.

It said the major, who was reported this summer to have left a hospital for a sanatorium outside Moscow, was resting at his parents’ home in Kustanay in northern Kazakhstan.

Telyatnikov was shown bald but smiling. The newspaper quoted him as thanking the doctors who cared for him and saying that he thinks continually of his dead colleagues.

″They died, but they have not left me,″ he was quoted as saying. ″I remember that terrible night. Pravik and Kibenok were the last to leave the roof,″ where radiation doses were highest.

Previous media accounts have lauded Telyatnikov for preventing the fire from spreading to nearby oil storage tanks and the No. 3 reactor.

″The risk taken by the firefighters was great. They knew what they were getting into,″ Izvestia said.

″Alas, Kibenok and Pravik got such a heavy dose of radiation that the best doctors in the country could not save their lives,″ it said.

Dr. Angelina Guskova, who oversaw treatment of Chernobyl radiation victims brought to her Moscow clinic, was quoted as saying all her doctors and nurses were amazed at the strength and courage shown by Pravik and Kibenok before they died in her hospital.

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