You probably don't know their names, but 30 years ago, they saved Europe.

On April 26, 1986, the world experienced the worst ever nuclear disaster.

It occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located in Ukraine. Immediately after the meltdown, dozens died. 30 years later, the number of lives lost to the plant's radiation lies somewhere in the tens of thousands.

If not for the work of three brave men, we may have lost millions of lives instead.


The plant, severely damaged, four days after the disaster. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

10 days after the Chernobyl meltdown, engineers learned of a new threat: nuclear steam explosions.

The plant's water-cooling system had failed, and a pool had formed directly under the highly radioactive reactor. With no cooling, it was just going to be a matter of time before a lava-like substance melted through the remaining barriers, dropping the reactor's core into the pool. If this would have happened, it might have set off steam explosions, firing radiation high and wide into the sky, spreading across parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

"Our experts studied the possibility and concluded that the explosion would have had a force of three to five megatons," said Soviet physicist Vassili Nesterenko. "Minsk, which is 320 kilometers from Chernobyl, would have been razed and Europe rendered uninhabitable."

Soviet engineers test waters for radiation within the 30-kilometer "forbidden zone." Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

Three brave men volunteered to dive under the plant and release a critical pressure valve.

Just one available man knew the location of the release valve. His name was Alexei Ananenko, and he was one of the plant's engineers. He along with fellow engineer Valeri Bezpalov and shift supervisor Boris Baranov were asked to take on what amounted to a suicide mission.

The men were told they could refuse the assignment, but Ananenko later said, "How could I do that when I was the only person on the shift who knew where the valves were located?"

Decades after the disaster, a visitor photographs a memorial built for the first responders of Chernobyl. Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images.

The men released the valve in time and, in doing so, saved the world from a disaster that would have been exponentially worse than the initial explosion.

Over the following days, more than 5 million gallons of water were released from below the plant. A report later confirmed that without the work of Ananeko, Bezpalov, and Baranov, a nuclear explosion would have taken place, turning hundreds of square miles into an inhabitable radioactive wasteland.

A nuclear hazard warning is seen in Kopachi, one of the many villages close to the Chernobyl plant buried after the disaster to reduce the spread of radiation. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

By the time the men surfaced from under the reactor, all three were showing signs of severe radiation poisoning. Tragically, none of them survived for more than a few weeks.

Like other victims of the Chernobyl disaster, the three men were buried in lead coffins.

What makes their actions unique in comparison to those of the disaster's first responders is that these men were warned outright of the danger radiation posed — firefighters weren't given any background on radiation poisoning before running to put out the flames. They're all heroes, but these three men knew they'd die; they did it anyway, saving the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Their story has been mostly lost to time, with references only popping up in books about catastrophe, danger, and disaster. But the names of these three men shouldn't be forgotten.

A monument is dedicated to the lives of all those lost in the Chernobyl disaster. Photo by Boris Cambreleng/AFP/Getty Images.

Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov didn't prevent the Chernobyl disaster; they prevented something much, much worse.

Their story really makes you think about the label "hero." For some, like the three Chernobyl divers, heroics come quietly as the result of a quashed threat. For others, like the first responders at Chernobyl or Fukushima, during 9/11, or in response to other terrorist attacks, heroics are the result of running toward danger so that others may run away from it.

The truth is that heroes are all around us. Teachers, health care workers, and just everyday people are and have the capacity to be heroes in their own right. No capes needed, just a little faith in the human spirit.

Tory Burch

Courtesy of Tory Burch

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This March marks one year since the start of the pandemic… and it's been an incredibly difficult year: Over 500,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. But the pandemic's economic downturn has been disproportionately affecting women because they are more likely to work in hard-hit industries, such as hospitality or entertainment, and many of them have been forced to leave their jobs due to the lack of childcare.

But throughout all that hardship, women have, over and over again, found ways to help one another and solve problems.

"Around the world, women have stepped up and found ways to help where it is needed most," says Tory Burch, an entrepreneur who started her own business in 2004.

Burch knows a thing or two about empowering women: After seeing the many obstacles that women in business face — even before the pandemic — she created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to empower women entrepreneurs.

And now, for International Women's Day, her company is launching a global campaign with Upworthy to celebrate the women around the world who give back and create real change in their communities.

"I hope the creativity and resilience of these women, and the amazing ways they have found to have real impact, will inspire and energize others as much as they have me," Burch says.

This year's Empowered Women certainly are inspiring:

Shalini SamtaniCourtesy of Shalini Samtani

Take, for example, Shalini Samtani. When her daughter was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder, she spent a lot of time in the hospital, which caused her to quickly realize that there wasn't a single company in the toy industry servicing the physical or emotional needs of the 3 million hospitalized children across America every year. She was determined to change that — so she created The Spread the Joy Foundation to deliver free play kits to pediatric patients all around the country.

Varsha YajmanCourtesy of Varsha Yajman

Varsha Yajman is another one of this year's nominees. She is just 18 years old, and yet she has been diligently fighting to build awareness and action for climate justice for the last seven years by leading school strikes, working as a paralegal with Equity Generations Lawyers, and speaking to CEOs from Siemen's and several big Australian banks at AGMs.

Caitlin MurphyCourtesy of Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin Murphy, meanwhile, stepped up in a big way during the pandemic by pivoting her business — Global Gateway Logistics — to secure and transport over 2 million masks to hospitals and senior care facilities across the country. She also created the Gateway for Good program, which purchased and donated 10,000 KN95 masks for local small businesses, charities, cancer patients and their families, immunocompromised, and churches in the area.

Simone GordonCourtesy of Simone Gordon

Simone Gordon, a domestic violence survivor and single mom, wanted to pay it forward after she received help getting essentials and tuition assistance — so she created the Instagram account @TheBlackFairyGodMotherOfficial and nonprofit to provide direct assistance to families in need. During the pandemic alone, they have raised over $50,000 for families and they have provided emergency assistance — in the form of groceries — for numerous women and families of color.

Victoria SanusiCourtesy of Victoria Sanusi

Victoria Sanusi started Black Gals Livin' with her friend Jas and the podcast has been an incredibly powerful way of destigmatizing mental health for numerous listeners. The podcast quickly surpassed a million listens, was featured on Michaela Coel's "I May Destroy You," won podcast of the year at the Brown Sugar Awards, and was named one of Elle Magazine's best podcasts of 2020.

And Upworthy and the Tory Burch are just getting started. They are still searching the globe for more extraordinary women who are making an impact in their communities.

Do you know one? If you do, nominate her now. If she's selected, she could receive $5,000 to give to a nonprofit of her choice through the Tory Burch Foundation. Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis — and one Empowered woman will be selected each month starting in April.

Nominate her now at www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen.

Like millions of others, I tuned in last night to watch Oprah Winfrey's interview with (former) Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Although watching "The Crown" has admittedly piqued my curiosity about the Royal Family, I've never had any particular interest in following the drama in real life. As inconsequential as the un-royaling of Harry and Meghan is to me personally, it's a historically and socially significant development.

The story touches so many hot buttons at once—power, wealth, tradition, sexism, racism, colonialism, family drama, freedom, security, and the media. But as I sat and watched the first hour of just Oprah and Meghan Markle talking, I was struck by the simple significance of what I was seeing.

Here were two Black women, one who had battled sexism and racism in her industry and broke countless barriers to create her own empire, and one who has battled racism and sexism to protect her babies, whose royal lineage can be traced back through 1,200 years of rule over the British Empire. And the conversation these women were having had the power to take down—or at least do real damage to—one of the longest-standing monarchies in the world.

Whoa.

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Tory Burch

Courtesy of Tory Burch

True

This March marks one year since the start of the pandemic… and it's been an incredibly difficult year: Over 500,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. But the pandemic's economic downturn has been disproportionately affecting women because they are more likely to work in hard-hit industries, such as hospitality or entertainment, and many of them have been forced to leave their jobs due to the lack of childcare.

But throughout all that hardship, women have, over and over again, found ways to help one another and solve problems.

"Around the world, women have stepped up and found ways to help where it is needed most," says Tory Burch, an entrepreneur who started her own business in 2004.

Burch knows a thing or two about empowering women: After seeing the many obstacles that women in business face — even before the pandemic — she created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to empower women entrepreneurs.

And now, for International Women's Day, her company is launching a global campaign with Upworthy to celebrate the women around the world who give back and create real change in their communities.

"I hope the creativity and resilience of these women, and the amazing ways they have found to have real impact, will inspire and energize others as much as they have me," Burch says.

This year's Empowered Women certainly are inspiring:

Shalini SamtaniCourtesy of Shalini Samtani

Take, for example, Shalini Samtani. When her daughter was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder, she spent a lot of time in the hospital, which caused her to quickly realize that there wasn't a single company in the toy industry servicing the physical or emotional needs of the 3 million hospitalized children across America every year. She was determined to change that — so she created The Spread the Joy Foundation to deliver free play kits to pediatric patients all around the country.

Varsha YajmanCourtesy of Varsha Yajman

Varsha Yajman is another one of this year's nominees. She is just 18 years old, and yet she has been diligently fighting to build awareness and action for climate justice for the last seven years by leading school strikes, working as a paralegal with Equity Generations Lawyers, and speaking to CEOs from Siemen's and several big Australian banks at AGMs.

Caitlin MurphyCourtesy of Caitlin Murphy

Caitlin Murphy, meanwhile, stepped up in a big way during the pandemic by pivoting her business — Global Gateway Logistics — to secure and transport over 2 million masks to hospitals and senior care facilities across the country. She also created the Gateway for Good program, which purchased and donated 10,000 KN95 masks for local small businesses, charities, cancer patients and their families, immunocompromised, and churches in the area.

Simone GordonCourtesy of Simone Gordon

Simone Gordon, a domestic violence survivor and single mom, wanted to pay it forward after she received help getting essentials and tuition assistance — so she created the Instagram account @TheBlackFairyGodMotherOfficial and nonprofit to provide direct assistance to families in need. During the pandemic alone, they have raised over $50,000 for families and they have provided emergency assistance — in the form of groceries — for numerous women and families of color.

Victoria SanusiCourtesy of Victoria Sanusi

Victoria Sanusi started Black Gals Livin' with her friend Jas and the podcast has been an incredibly powerful way of destigmatizing mental health for numerous listeners. The podcast quickly surpassed a million listens, was featured on Michaela Coel's "I May Destroy You," won podcast of the year at the Brown Sugar Awards, and was named one of Elle Magazine's best podcasts of 2020.

And Upworthy and the Tory Burch are just getting started. They are still searching the globe for more extraordinary women who are making an impact in their communities.

Do you know one? If you do, nominate her now. If she's selected, she could receive $5,000 to give to a nonprofit of her choice through the Tory Burch Foundation. Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis — and one Empowered woman will be selected each month starting in April.

Nominate her now at www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen.

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