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Thirty-one years ago, on April 26, 1986, a nuclear reactor exploded at the USSR’s Chernobyl power plant, in what is now Ukraine. The explosion exposed the reactor’s core, and produced a radioactive cloud that spread and drifted, causing radiation levels to rise across all of Europe. At least 30 people died immediately. Many more from Pripyat, founded in 1970 to service the reactor, and the surrounding area would die from related injuries, deformities and cancers over the next decades.

“That morning in April 26, I went to school,” says Lomakin. “Before the first lesson we went to morning exercises at the school square—all students did it open air. In the second lesson, we were given iodine tablets.” Panic spread only slowly. That night, he and his sister watched the power plant burn from their window, through binoculars.

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