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June 17, 2019 2:52 pm

As ‘Chernobyl’ HBO Miniseries Becomes Global Hit, Israeli Doctor Recalls a Reality That Was ‘Much Worse’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The Chernobyl reactor #4 building as of 2006, including the later-built sarcophagus and elements of the maximum-security perimeter. Photo: Carl Montgomery via Wikimedia Commons.

As the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” has become a global hit, one Israeli doctor knows especially well how accurate it is: “Everything you see in the series is true, except in reality it was much worse,” he said.

Doctor Michael Fishkin, who is currently a leading member of the staff at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, was a young man of 26 when he was sent from his home in Russia to the Ukraine to aid soldiers and cleanup crews at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after its reactor exploded.

“We ate and breathed radiation,” Fishkin recalled for the Israeli news site Mako. “The soldiers would ask me, ‘Tell me doctor, will it really kill us?’ I couldn’t lie to them.”

Even after the passage of decades, Fishkin is bitter about his experience, saying, “I was angry at the system that send us without protection and without a trace of humanity, and because of this we absorbed excessive radiation without a good reason. Only because we were there and the state wanted to display power and control.”

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Fishkin said he was even more upset by the fact that, he believes, the majority of doctors sent to Chernobyl were Jews.

In one terrifying moment, Fishkin drove to the site of the destroyed reactor with a scientist and their vehicle broke down at the site of the disaster, which was highly irradiated.

“At that moment I thought — that’s it, I’m going to die,” he said. “Our radiation detector spun around in all directions and everything flew toward us.”

After ten minutes, the car started again and the two men escaped.

After returning from Chernobyl, Fishkin decided to leave the Soviet Union and made aliyah. Despite his success in his field, he remains scarred by the experience, suffering from several chronic illnesses he attributes to his time in the disaster zone, including asthma, a weakened immune system and liver problems.

“I was a young doctor and I knew I was sent to a place I might not come back from, and if I did, it would be with diseases, but I had no choice. It was the mission,” he said.

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