Ukrainians shocked by the “absurd” scenario of Chernobyl

Chernobyl, Ucrania (CNN) – The sudden deafening tone of a radiation meter fills the room as a Ukrainian soldier enters. This is where the Russian soldiers lived Chernobyl nuclear power plantand the radiation levels are now higher than normal.

There is no visible source of the radioactive material in the room, but Ukrainian authorities say it came from small particles and dust brought into the building by soldiers.

“They went to the Red Forest and brought radioactive material in their shoes,” explains Private Ihor Ugolkov. “Other places are fine, but the radiation has increased here, because they lived here.”

CNN gained exclusive access to the power plant for the first time since it returned to Ukrainian control.

Plant officials explain that the levels inside the room used by Russian soldiers are only slightly above what the World Nuclear Association describes as natural radiation. One-time contact would not be dangerous, but continued exposure would pose a health hazard.

“They went everywhere and they even got some radioactive dust [cuando se fueron]”, Aggregates Ugolkov.

It is an example of what Ukrainian officials say was the negligent and careless behavior of Russian soldiers while monitoring site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. The area around Chernobyl, or the Red Forest, remains the most nuclear-polluted area on the planet, with most of the radioactive particles present in the soil.

Ukrainian officials released drone footage of what they say were trenches dug by Russian soldiers in that area, which is particularly radioactive. At a safe spot on the edge of that area, CNN saw a box of Russian military rations showing radiation levels 50 times higher than natural values.

A Ukrainian soldier holds a radiation meter against a pack of Russian military rations.

Russian soldiers held Chernobyl for a month and are believed to have operated in contaminated areas most of the time.

“It’s crazy, really,” Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko at the plant told CNN. “I really have no idea why they did it (go to the Red Forest).

“But we can see that they went in there, the soldiers who went there, came back here and the radiation level went up.”

Although Chernobyl is not an active power plant, the sarcophagus above the reactor that exploded nearly 36 years ago is in need of maintenance to prevent further radiation losses. There is also a significant amount of spent nuclear fuel that needs to be dealt with.

“That fence should have electricity, it should have the ventilation system and so on,” explains Galushchenko. “When the country cannot control it and we are responsible, Ukraine is responsible for security, of course, this is a threat.”

Ukraine’s Energy Minister German Galushchenko says Russian soldiers have behaved irresponsibly in and around Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

Part of that threat also came from the way Russian soldiers handled those responsible for maintaining nuclear facilities.

[Nuestro personal] was here since the first day of the occupation and they only had a chance to be replaced a month later, “he says.” When people are physically and morally exhausted, when you are under gun threat and you have this daily pressure from soldiers, it is really a very difficult job.

Volodymyr Falshovnyk, 64, is a shift supervisor at Chernobyl. He returned to the power plant on March 20 when the Russian military allowed fatigued personnel to rotate with colleagues from the nearby town of Slavutych, where many of the plant’s workers live.

Volodymyr Falshovnyk, 64, head of shift at Chernobyl.

He says the staff were working under tremendous pressure, not only because of what was happening in Chernobyl, but also because of the news they were getting from the outside world.

“Our relatives started calling and saying that the city had been taken over, that there were injuries and deaths,” he says. “We asked the Russians what was going on and they said there were no regular Russian troops there, but we kept hearing there was bombing.”

Falshovnyk also accused Russian soldiers of looting the plant.

“They provided us with personnel from Rosatom (Russian Nuclear Agency) to escort us and with their escort we visited the uncovered warehouses. They robbed these warehouses all the time, ”he adds.

Russian soldiers ransacked the room where plant personnel slept and ransacked some of their personal belongings, says Falshovnyk.

Operating in those conditions was intense, but nothing compared to what the security personnel suffered.

The 169 Ukrainian National Guard soldiers guarding the facility were locked up in the Cold War-era underground nuclear bunker, crammed into cramped neighborhoods with no access to natural light, fresh air or communication with the outside world, according to the minister. of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.

“They were here for 30 days without enough light and food. They couldn’t get out. The last day they were taken from here to an unknown address,” says Denys Monastyrskyy, standing inside the bunker.

The minister says he believes the men were brought to Russia, via Belarus, as prisoners of war, but he doesn’t know for sure.

“Today we know nothing of his fate, unfortunately,” he says.

Members of the Ukrainian National Guard were arrested by Russian soldiers in the Chernobyl underground nuclear bunker.

CNN showed the inside of the bunker and other places usually occupied by the staff of the plant, Ukrainian officials said that Russian soldiers had looted the place. Clothes, hygiene items, and other personal belongings were scattered all over the floor.

“The Russian army searched all Ukrainian clothing, personal items such as dogs, probably looking for money, valuables, laptops,” Monastyrskyy continues. “There has been looting here. The Russian military has stolen computers and equipment.”

Moscow has said very little about what its soldiers did in Chernobyl.

The Russian Defense Ministry last mentioned the nuclear site on February 26, confirming its capture and stating that it has made arrangements to ensure the safety of the electric units, the sarcophagus and a spent nuclear fuel storage facility.

Chernobyl is not an isolated case.

Russia takes control of Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant – what does it imply? 8:17

Ukrainian officials say the Russian military’s behavior and treatment of Ukrainian personnel at the Chernobyl power plant highlights the danger posed by the invasion of Moscow while gaining control of plants in other areas.

In addition to the decommissioned reactors in Chernobyl, Ukraine has four active nuclear power plants, including the largest in Europe in Zaporizhia. The Russian military occupied that facility in early March when it took over the area, bombing some of the buildings on the site in the process.

“The situation is also horrific, especially considering how they captured Zaporizhia because they fired on the station with heavy weapons,” said Energy Minister Galushchenko.

“It’s really an act of nuclear terrorism,” he adds. “I’m not even talking about bombing stations and a situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, but when we don’t have the ability to be responsible for nuclear safety, there is a threat.”

And even as Ukraine has regained control of Chernobyl, Ukrainian officials fear Russian soldiers might try to return.

“We understand that today we must be prepared for a new attack on a nuclear power plant at any time. We will use the best world experience to ensure that the station is protected as the border is only a few tens of kilometers away, “said the Interior Minister. Says Monastyrskyj.

“What we see [en Chernobyl] is a vivid example of an outrage on a nuclear power plant. It is the responsibility not only of Ukraine, but of the whole world, to keep the stations safe, “he says.” The whole world has seen live how tanks have fired at nuclear power plants. [en Zaporiyia]. This story must never be repeated. “

Monastyrskyy says that to do this, his country needs ongoing international support.

“We are ready to invest in the future of Ukraine and the future security of the world,” he continues, repeating his government’s request to send additional weapons to Ukraine.

“Today, the border between totalitarianism and democracy, the border between freedom and oppression, passes behind us,” he says. “We are ready to fight for this”.

Daria Markina and Byron Blunt contributed to this report.

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