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MCCC student was 12 when he survived Chernobyl

Published: Thursday, September 8, 2011

Updated: Thursday, September 8, 2011 14:09


MCCC's Chernobyl survivor is a healthy (thankfully) 38-year old Dean's List student, and my husband, Michael Mayzlin. I would imagine that he is the only Chernobyl survivor in all of southeast Michigan.

Over the span of our 13-year marriage, I have listened to his thoughts, fears, dreams and memories of Chernobyl, which is about 60 miles north of his former home in Kiev. Generally, Michael is a shy and quiet person, who is not one to make too many waves wherever he goes. This being the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, it's a good time to tell his story.

Q. How old were you when Chernobyl occurred?

I was 12 years old in April 1986, just before my 13th birthday.

Q. What did you hear from the government?

Absolutely nothing on the day of the accident. I think the first official announcement came May 1 in a 30-second blurb during the nightly newscast. The announcer read a short prepared statement about a small accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and said everything was under control.

Q. How was it determined when you'd evacuate?

The school year always ended at the end of May. One day, about two weeks before the end of school, local government officials in Kiev made verbal announcements in schools and various work places that the school year would end early and everyone under the age of 18 is to evacuate the city of Kiev within the next couple of weeks due to health hazards associated with the accident at Chernobyl.

Q. Who determined where you'd go?

Families were given a choice to take their kids out of Kiev. Those who did not have anywhere to go, would be taken in bus loads to summer camps. Luckily, we had relatives living in Chisinau, Moldova, deep in the south of the Soviet Union on the border with Romania.

I was actually excited to go because it was like taking a summer trip to another country. Some of my friends simply left the city for their summer "dachas" in the countryside.

Q. What if people had no money?

Money was needed only for a train ticket and personal expenses if you were not on a "government bus" going to a summer camp. Actually, not too many people had too much money anyway back in those days.

Q. How did you get there?

I traveled by train with one of my parents, my mom, I think. My parents bought a ticket (which was not very expensive in those days) for the Kiev-Chisinau train. Took about 12 hours to get there.

I loved taking the train because all long-travel trains had several rooms that would carry four passengers each. I would lie on the top bunk, look out of the window, and enjoy the countryside.

Q. How did you know it was safe to come back?

During the initial mass-evacuation, we were told that all kids who evacuate would be coming back for the first day of school on Sept. 1.

Whether it was safe or not is a different story. No one really knew if it was safe. Most people didn't really know the severity of the situation. I heard from my friends that radiation makes living things explode in growth, but I didn't realize that the bushes in front of our apartment building will turn into large trees.

I guess when I came back and couldn't see the playground behind those "trees," I knew that it was more severe than what we were told.

Q. What were your fears? Dreams? Worries?

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