Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

“Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one’s ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone – the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there’s no fairness on earth.” ― Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl, first published in 1997 is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Alexievich, then in her 30s, interviewed more than 500 eyewitnesses, including firefighters, liquidators (members of the cleanup team), politicians, physicians, physicists and ordinary citizens over a period of 10 years.

“Come get your apples! Chernobyl apples!’ Someone told her not to advertise that, no one will buy them. ‘Don’t worry!’ she says. ‘They buy them anyway. Some need them for their mother-in-law, some for their boss.” ― Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl


Voices of Chernobyl is one of the most devastating and heartbreaking books I have ever read.  I spent all week reading it and often I just stopped and stared at some lines in complete shock: “My daughter was six years old. I’m putting her into bed, and she whispers in my ear: “Daddy, I want to live. I’m still little.” In chapter titled ‘Monologue about a whole life written down on doors’ a father of the girl asks you to picture yourself little girls being shaved bald. And the little coffins, like boxes for large dolls.

Or in chapter titled ‘Soldiers’ Chorus’, Sonny describes how he’s not afraid to die. He’s not afraid of death itself. But he doesn’t know how he will die. “My friend died. He got huge, fat, like a barrel. And my neighbor – he was also there, he worked a crane. He got black, like coal and shrunk (…) I was in Afghanistan too. It was easier there. They just shot you.”

Alexievich doesn’t succumb to explaining the hows and the whys of what happened. She does ot speculate. She just gives you these annihilating monologues by people who were impacted by this event.

5/ 5 stars


UK title for this book is Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future, translated more directly  from the original title Чернобыльская молитва: Хроника будущего.
2. This is truly bone-chilling read. I think everyone should read it but it’s not easy to stomach these stories.
3. Upsetting read, yet this is the truest and the most beautiful form of journalism. I applaud Alexievich for her courage to write this.
 It’s always about people and about human tragedy. To prevent anything like Chernobyl disaster from happening ever again, one should read this. Tragedies like this can’t be understood by looking at figures.
5. There’s a beautiful film adaptation of this book by Pol Cruchten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9RVnTeApSI

“Is there anything more frightening than people?”
― Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

Cover image:  One Day in the Life of Chernobyl by Diana Markosian from Wikipedia Commons

7 thoughts on “Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

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  1. Sounds devastating and yes heartbreaking. And something we should probably all read. That second quote about the apples made me smile even though there’s nothing funny about what happened. Thanks for sharing, I’ve always been kinda fascinated by Chernobyl just due to the incredible impact it had. .

    1. Indeed. I had the same thought actually. Apples are so normal, however, there’s this horrible twist with these ones. It’s so absurd that it makes you smile.

      Thanks for reading :)

  2. I remember the incident well. Yes, it was a dreadful tragedy. At the time and in the following couple of years, I was trying to do some business in the Soviet Union (as it then was). and I recall wondering whether the disaster was being taken more seriously here (in the UK) than in the USSR itself. Though this incident wasn’t related to the nuclear but to the oil and gas industry, I remember that one of the reactions from the other side to a warning from ours about safety was ‘We have plenty of people in the Soviet Union’. Let’s hope human values and morality have improved over the last thirty years.

    1. Doing business in the Soviet Union, that sounds like an interesting story.

      I suppose it was taken more seriously in non-USSR countries. Mostly because amount and quality of the information were very different. It was same in the book really, some scientists speculated whether they should write about what had happened or would it be better to ignore it all.

  3. Sounds like such a heartbreaking, yet interesting book! I have always been interested in Chernobyl since the first time I saw pictures a photographer had taken using a drone of the city frozen in time. Would love to visit and see it for myself, but haven’t really considered the human aspect of the catastrophe before now! Will try and get a copy of this book to read! :)


    1. It is definitely both, my heart was in tiny unrepairable pieces after reading this…In a good way though. I’ve been wanting to visit Chernobyl too! On one hand, it is dark tourism and that doesn’t excite me too much, on the other hand, how many places are there that are frozen in time like that. It’s just otherworldly.

      1. I can imagine – it’s so completely different to read things from a contemporary survivor of something like that. I went to Auschwitz last weekend, and was recommended a book written by a survivor, which is also on my reading list now for when I feel strong enough to read it. Yes I know exactly what you mean about dark tourism, it’s quite a conflicting and contraversial topic, although I still would love to see it as a little time capsule from an era that doesn’t even exist anymore! Maybe one day we will get a chance to see it :)


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