THIS is the story of a courageous Soviet soldier who decided not to tell his superiors when a nuclear missile alert sounded – single-handedly halting nuclear Armageddon and averting World War 3.
Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov kept his brave decision secret for eight years before it was revealed in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of the Cold War.
Exactly 38 years ago yesterday, Petrov was an officer on duty at a secret command centre south of Moscow when an chilling alarm went off.
It signalling that the United States had launched intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.
Petrov was faced with an impossible choice, report the alarm to his superiors and potentially start a war – and bank on it being a false alarm.
Heroically and following his gut instinct, he decided to ignore the signal and hope it was a mistake.
He later said: “I categorically refused to be guilty of starting World War 3.”
“I felt like I was being led to an execution,” he said of those dramatic moments.
The lieutenant colonel, then aged 44, reported a system malfunction and an investigation that followed afterwards proved he was right.
He has since become dubbed “the man who saved the world”.
Petrov came home only several days later but did not tell his wife or family about his extraordinary day at work.
“He came home knackered but did not tell us anything,” his son Dmitry said.
Later that year, Petrov received an award “for services to the Fatherland” but the incident at the control centre was kept secret for many years.
He was always surprised that people were making a hero out of him. He simply did his job well
In 1984, he left the military and settled in the town of Fryazino around 12 miles outside of Moscow.
Petrov’s story only came to light after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and over the years he became the subject of numerous media reports in Russia and abroad.
A self-effacing man, Petrov never thought of himself as a hero, according to his son.
He said: “My father could not have cared less. He was always surprised that people were making a hero out of him. He simply did his job well.”
Petrov’s son said his father received hundreds of letters from people thanking him for averting the outbreak of a nuclear war.
“The Man Who Saved the World”, a documentary film directed by Danish filmmaker Peter Anthony and narrated by US actor Kevin Costner, was released in 2014.
Footage of the elderly Petrov is combined with re-enactments of what happened at that secret control centre in 1983.
The former soldier, who was lauded with several international awards and was honoured at the United Nations, lived in a small town outside Moscow and died in relative obscurity in 2017 aged 77.
His death only made headlines months later when a German friend wrote a blog post in tribute to him.
At a ceremony honouring him in 2018 at the Museum of Mathematics in New York, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon paid tribute to Petrov.
He said: “It is hard to imagine anything more devastating for humanity than all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States.
“Yet this might have occurred by accident on September 26 1983, were it not for the wise decisions of Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.
“For this, he deserves humanity’s profound gratitude. Let us resolve to work together to realise a world free from fear of nuclear weapons.”