When Chernobyl went boom in 1986, I was 5 years old. That, and I was roughly within 70km away from ground zero, living my peaceful life as a happy little person in Kiev, Ukraine. The local nuclear power station exploding was certainly not a pleasant experience to say the least, but one thing made my (and most other people living in Kiev) life somewhat more livable - the wind carried most of the fallout towards Russia and Belorus, and only 30% or so went towards Kiev. Although, with state-controlled media, who knows. Maybe the fallout went all over the place. Maybe it went into outer space. I don't really know, and have a mental block against investigating this further.

I only have vague recollections of what happened then, but it is not something that you could generally forget, having to remember and look back at it every April. The soviet government-controlled media downplayed the event majorly, and the majority of the country did not hear much about the explosion until 2-3 days after, when it was reported as a minor fire. It took roughly a week for everyone to realise exactly how serious the problem was. By that time many firefighters have already died or, as Mr. Option mentions above, became 'disabled'.

They are the people that I am most grateful to. If it wasn't for the firefighters, many more people, including my parents, would have died.

Three or four days after the explosion I was already on a train going to stay with my grandparents in the middle-east Russia, about 5000km away from Kiev. And I didn't get back for about a year or so, until my parents thought the radiation levels were more or less acceptable. They had a geiger counter and everything, and still used it for good few years after the disaster.

After the fallout most people living within 20-30km of Chernobyl moved to Kiev, and eventually tales of two-headed cows (true) and huge radioactive worms (not so true) disappeared from the local media. Most people that had anything to do with the tragedy were either dead or permanently sick, and the rest of Kiev was enjoying government-subsidised milk (apparently that's a way to improve your bone structure, something that the nuclear waste products get into and damage). And although right now I am living about 15,000km away from Chernobyl, it still sends a chill down my spine every time I hear of it.

Update: The word Chernobyl does not mean 'wormwood' or 'absinthe'. It is simply a name of a small village that was geographically closest to the power plant. An attempt at the translation of the name would be as follows - 'Cherno' means 'black', and 'byl' ... well, it's a Ukrainian word that could mean a variety of things, often used in the same sense as the English word 'hut'. Then again, a name of a village is not something that you would usually translate.