For almost a month, the Russian armed forces held the Chernobyl power plant, spreading radioactive dust in their path.
WAR IN UKRAINE – For the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, journalists were able to visit the Chernobyl power plant. They recount and bear witness to the passage of the Russian army, which left behind trails of radioactive dust and real chaos.
This Saturday, April 9, CNN and the BBC unveil in reports the first echoes from inside the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in the hands of Russian army soldiers from the first day of the war on February 24.
Although it is no longer active, after the 1986 disaster, the Chernobyl nuclear site was controlled for nearly a month by Russia and the accounts of journalists on site testify in particular to the laxity and negligence of the troops of Vladimir Putin faced with the high level of radioactivity in the surroundings of the power plant.
“They went to the Red Forest and brought radioactive material back with them on their shoes,” Ihor Ugolkov, a soldier, told CNN. “Other places are fine, but the radiation went up, because they lived here.” “They went everywhere, and they also took radioactive dust on them [quand ils sont partis]”, also adds this Ukrainian soldier.
While plant officials want to be reassuring about the general level of radioactivity at Chernobyl, they note, for example, that the room used by Russian soldiers to live experiences radiation slightly higher than what the World Nuclear Association describes as radiation. natural. According to them, occasional contact in these places cannot be dangerous to health, unless there is prolonged exposure.
Rampage and ill-treatment
According to drone images, the Ukrainian army believes that Russian troops even dug trenches around the Chernobyl zone, namely the Red Forest. A place that remains to this day the most contaminated area with nuclear radiation on the planet.
Most of the radioactive particles being present on the ground, the Ukrainian authorities are still reeling from the damage caused by the Russian army by going to this particularly dangerous area. “It’s really crazy,” said Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko to CNN journalists. The same findings of Russian trenches and camps in this area are relayed by the BBC.
“I really have no idea why they did this (going to the Red Forest). We can see that they went there, the soldiers who went there came back here and the level of radiation has increased”, notes German Galushchenko.
However, the damage is not only radioactive in Chernobyl. During this month of control, the Russian troops looted and ransacked the premises of the plant, as evidenced by Volodymyr Falshovnyk, shift manager at Chernobyl.
It also recounts the difficult conditions under which the personnel of the plant were forced to operate, under pressure from enemy soldiers and the scant news from the rest of Ukraine. “Our relatives started calling and saying that the town was taken over, that there were injuries and deaths. We asked the Russians what was going on and they said there were no regular Russian troops there, but we kept hearing that there was shelling,” said the 64-year-old. .
“The Russian army searched all Ukrainian clothes, personal effects, like dogs, probably looking for money, valuables or laptops”, also explains Denys Monastyrskyy, Minister of the Interior Ukrainian. “There has been looting here. The Russian army stole computers and equipment,” the minister also pointed out to reporters on the spot.
Satellite photo dated March 10, 2022 showing the Chernobyl power plant, which has been under Russian control for almost a month. (Photo: Maxar Technologies – via AFP)
At the BBC, Valeriy Semonov, an engineer, gives another striking testimony: “We constantly had to negotiate with them and try not to offend them, so that they let our staff manage the installation”. After a power cut for three days, Valeriy says he hastened to find fuel, not hesitating for a second to steal it from the Russian soldiers to run the generator.
“If we had lost electricity, it could have been catastrophic,” says Oleksandr Lobada, head of radiation protection at the station. “I was not afraid for my life. I was afraid of what would happen if I wasn’t there to watch over the factory. I was afraid that it would be a tragedy for humanity”, he adds to the British media.
The ordeal of captured Ukrainian soldiers
According to these echoes of Chernobyl, the harshest treatment was reserved for the approximately 169 soldiers of the Ukrainian National Guard present on the site during the Russian invasion. The plant’s security personnel were locked in a former Cold War nuclear bunker. According to Denys Monastyrskyy, they were crammed into a room with no light and no communication with the outside world.
“They were kept here for 30 days without sufficient light or food. They weren’t allowed out. On the last day they were taken from here in an unknown direction, clarifies the Minister of the Interior, today we unfortunately do not know anything about their fate”. According to him, these men of the Ukrainian National Guard were taken to Russia, via Belarus, as prisoners of war, but he remains cautious and says he is not completely sure at the moment.
This story about the underside of the Russian occupation in Chernobyl does nothing to reassure the Ukrainian authorities, while another power plant among the four active in Ukraine was in the hands of Russia. The Zaporijjia power station, located between kyiv and Donetsk, was heavily attacked by Russian forces before they took control of it in early March.
“The situation there is also horrible, especially considering how they captured Zaporizhia because they fired on the plant, with heavy weapons,” the energy minister told CNN. He also indicates that it is not excluded either that the Russian troops return to Chernobyl.
“We understand that today we must be ready at any time for a new attack on a nuclear power plant”, he adds, imploring that “this history never repeats itself”.
See also on The HuffPost: Footage From Inside Ukraine’s Attacked Nuclear Power Plant
This article was originally published on The HuffPost and has been updated.
VIDEO – Benjamin Hautecouverture: “The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is a strategic resource that the enemy is getting their hands on”