The body of the first victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was never found
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At least 31 people were killed directly on the night of the Chernobyl disaster, with countless more suffering in the aftermath. But the very first person to die in the incident has never been found.
Valery Khodemchuk, 35, was a Ukrainian engineer working at the nuclear power plant on the night of the meltdown.
An experienced pump operator, Valery was in one of the main circulation pump engine rooms in the reactor 4 building when it started to malfunction.
As the engineers commenced with their ill-fated safety test on the reactor, Khodemchuk was sent to the core to report on the results of the test once it had been completed.
Seconds later, a series of explosions rocked the core and blew the 1000-ton roof right off the reactor in an enormous radioactive fireball.
Khodemchuk is believed to have died instantly in the explosion and to this very day, his body has never been found; presumed to be entombed forever in the nuclear debris of reactor 4.
His death was reported on at the time by Soviet news outlet Pravda, who said: “The fourth (reactor) block will also become his coffin. And, perhaps, someone will write on those concrete walls, that it is not the reactor which is buried here, but Valery Khodemchuk.”
Fellow engineer Vladimir Shashenok also died that evening trying to rescue Khodemchuk.
The two men were the first to die at the disaster site that evening, with 29 firefighters and first-responders dying of acute radiation poisoning in the coming weeks.
A memorial dedicated to Khodemchuk was later built deep in the Unit 3/Unit 4 Ventilation blocks, which is still there today.
Although he never appears directly in the HBO Chernobyl miniseries, a photo of the real-life Khodemchuk is used in the series’ final episode when he is mentioned.
Underneath his portrait, the text reads: “Valery Khodemchuk’s body was never recovered. He is permanently entombed under Reactor 4.”
Officially, the death toll for the incident is only 31, although it is believed thousands more people have died as a result of long term radiation exposure in the years since.
Estimates range from 4,000 to 27,000 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, whereas Greenpeace estimates that between 93,000 - 200,000 people died as a result of the disaster.