Born in Spiaryžža, Russia on March 13, 1961, Vasily Ignatenko was one of the very first responders at the Chernobyl plant in Pripyat. He was 25 years old when he tended to the blaze along with other firefighters at Chernobyl. Determined to do his job no matter the dangers, he took to the building’s roof.
It was this attempt to extinguish the open-air graphite fires atop that gave Ignatenko his lethal dose of radiation.
When Ignatenko died, his body — along with those of 27 other firefighters who died of radiation sickness in the following weeks — was still radioactive. They had to be buried beneath hefty amounts of zinc and concrete to protect the public.