Vasily Ignatenko

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Vasily Ignatenko
Born(1961-03-13)13 March 1961
Brahin District, Gomel Region, Byelorussian SSR, Soviet Union
Died13 May 1986(1986-05-13) (aged 25)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branchInternal Troops of the Ministry for Internal Affairs
UnitPripyat Fire Department
Battles/warsChernobyl disaster
AwardsHero of Ukraine (2006)
Spouse(s)Lyudmila Ignatenko
ChildrenNatasha Ignatenko

Vasily Ivanovich Ignatenko (Ukrainian: Василь Іванович Ігнатенко; Belarusian: Васіль Іванавіч Ігнаценка; Russian: Василий Иванович Игнатенко; 13 March 1961 – 13 May 1986) was a Soviet firefighter who was one of the first responders at the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster, on the night of 26 April 1986.

Chernobyl disaster[edit]

Ignatenko was among the firefighters that got closest to the exposed reactor core as they attempted to extinguish fires on the roof of the nuclear power plant and in the reactor hall itself. Having absorbed a large and almost surely fatal dose of radiation, estimated in 1,600 roentgens (14 Grays), he soon began to display symptoms of a very serious acute radiation syndrome (ARS). After a brief stay at the Pripyat city hospital, on the same day of the accident he was transported to Hospital Number Six in Moscow, a state-run structure specialized in radiobiology and radiation accidents. He was joined by his wife, Lyudmila, who stayed by his side and witnessed the painful agony of her husband and other affected victims.[1] He died from ARS complications two weeks after the accident, on 13 May 1986.[2]

Ignatenko was laid to rest at the Mitinskoe Cemetery in Moscow along with others—first responders and plant personnel—who died in the Chernobyl disaster. Like the other ARS casualties, he was allegedly buried in a sealed zinc coffin and in a concrete shielding, due to fears that radioactivity could leak out and contaminate the grounds.[3] His widow Lyudmila was seven months pregnant at the time. She went into labor two months later, as she was visiting her husband's grave at the Moscow cemetery, and she gave birth to a daughter, whom Vasily had wished to name Natashenka. The baby girl died just four days after she was born, due to congenital heart malformations and cirrhosis of the liver; Lyudmila stated that these issues were caused by radiation emitted by her dying husband's body, to which she was exposed as she cared for him in the hospital.[1] However, in 2019 doctor Robert Peter Gale, an American hematologist who was directly involved in the treatment of the Chernobyl ARS victims, denied that such an event might have taken place, as Chernobyl victims were not radioactive themselves.[4] In 2006, Ignatenko was posthumously awarded the title of the Hero of Ukraine, the highest national award in the country.[5]

Ignatenko's story was told by his widow in Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich. It became an inspiration for the related storyline in the 2019 HBO miniseries Chernobyl. Vasily Ignatenko is portrayed by the British actor Adam Nagaitis, and his wife by the Irish actress Jessie Buckley.[6][7]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Chernobyl: The lies, the heroes, the horrors". 4 May 2019.
  2. ^ Adam Higginbotham: Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster
  3. ^ Whalen, Andrew (6 June 2019). "CHERNOBYL DISASTER'S FIRST RESPONDERS SHARE TRUE STORIES OF DEATH AND RADIATION". Newsweek. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  4. ^ Gale, Robert Peter (24 May 2019). "Chernobyl, the HBO miniseries: Fact and fiction (Part II)". The Cancer Letter. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  5. ^ Decree of the President of Ukraine dated April 21, 2006: "On the Assignment of the Title of the Hero of Ukraine"
  6. ^ ANDREW WHALEN: 'Chernobyl' HBO Cast: Who Plays a Real Person? Their True Story Counterparts Revealed, Newsweek
  7. ^ Mitchell, Molli (28 May 2019). "Chernobyl: Was firefighter Vasily Ignatenko a real person?". Daily Express. Retrieved 8 June 2019.