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The Real Life Story Of Chernobyl Firefighter's Wife Is Even More Heart-Breaking

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The Real Life Story Of Chernobyl Firefighter's Wife Is Even More Heart-Breaking

If you've seen the hit HBO show Chernobyl, you probably felt yourself getting a bit emotional as the story of firefighter Vasily Ignatenko, his wife Lyudmilla and their unborn baby played out.

On screen we saw 25-year-old Vasily rushed off to Chernobyl following the explosion. He was one of the first on scene that night and sustained agonising injuries, dying days later.

His wife Lyudmilla, 22, was pregnant and spent the days following the explosion at her husband's bedside, not knowing the damage it was doing to the unborn baby.

Viewers were told Lyudmilla gave birth following her husband's death and that, tragically, the baby died.

Lyudmilla Ignatenko in HBO's Chernobyl. Credit: HBO
Lyudmilla Ignatenko in HBO's Chernobyl. Credit: HBO

But the real-life story of Lyudmilla, actually called Lyusya, is even more heart-breaking.

In a harrowing interview Lyusya described the moment she saw her 'beautiful husband' covered in radiation burns and reveals how she was initially told he was only ill due to 'inhaling smoke' and told not to worry.

Speaking in 2016 as part of a documentary for Ukrainian TV channel 1+1, she thought back to the night it happened and the firefighters getting the call to Reactor 4.

"None of them knew at the time, as they were running to their fire trucks and jumping on the seats, that they were going straight into the hands of death," she said.

"They all drove out in their usual uniforms, not wearing chemical protection, not having anything but a layer of clothes against what was an unimaginable dose of radiation."

Her husband didn't return that night and the following morning she received a phone call to tell her he was in hospital.

"They didn't allow me inside the ward at first," she said. "I had to beg and cry at a security man to let me in. My husband was lying there with his face looking like a mess of peeling skin.

"'I am OK!' he said as he coughed. 'Don't you worry! It only looks scary, but I am OK, please don't cry.'

Lyusya Ignatenko stayed at her husband's bedside while he died of radiation poisoning. Credit: East2West
Lyusya Ignatenko stayed at her husband's bedside while he died of radiation poisoning. Credit: East2West

"A young doctor touched my shoulder and said reassuringly: 'Don't you worry. You might want to go shopping for milk, he is likely to be a bit poisoned after inhaling too much smoke. A nice cup of milk should help.'

"We were all told that they were just poisoned with fumes, and that a series of drips would get them all back to normal."

Tragically, that wasn't the case and as his condition deteriorated, Vasily was moved to another hospital in Moscow.

It was here a female doctor tried to explain to Lyusya the potential problems her unborn baby might have - warning her 'don't give birth'.

"She was showering me with terminology, trying to get the message through that his central nervous system was 100 percent affected by radiation, along with all of his bone marrow.

"But I was a 22-year-old silly pregnant young woman, madly in love with my husband.

"With every cell of my body I wanted to believe that this was indeed the fume poisoning.

"I wasn't hearing what she was saying. I wasn't getting just how serious her message was."

Lyusya and Vasily's little girl died four days after she was born. Credit East2West
Lyusya and Vasily's little girl died four days after she was born. Credit East2West

Meanwhile, Vasily was given a bone marrow transplant to try and save him as he continued to get worse.

Remembering the moment she saw her husband inside a pressure chamber, Lyusya said: "I remember the feeling of absolute shock and pain when I saw my beautiful - the world's most beautiful - husband looking like a bloodied monster.

"He asked me to give him a mirror. I refused, but he begged and begged me, and finally I gave up.

"When he saw himself in the mirror, he screamed. I cried, looking at the horror on his face.

"I still remember the feeling of patches his skin left on my fingertips each time I touched him."

Tragically, Lyusya still believed her husband could be made well again and it was only when she was called to a meeting by Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, that she was given the devastating news. She was also told Vasily would have to be buried in Moscow inside a specially designed concrete crate.

Lyusya Ignatenko gave a heart-wrenching interview in 2016. Credit: East2West
Lyusya Ignatenko gave a heart-wrenching interview in 2016. Credit: East2West

Months later, Lyusya gave birth to a little girl, whom she named Vasya. Vasya died four days after her birth due to 'congenital heart disease'.

Three years after the deaths, Lyusya got pregnant again, but after seeing a doctor she was warned the baby was missing its right arm.

However, she gave birth to a little baby boy, with two arms. Talking about his birth she said it was "the moment of the biggest happiness I felt since marrying to Vasily."

Her son is now in his 20s and lives in Kiev.

Topics: World News, TV and Film, Chernobyl

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