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As a springboard for the attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, one of the most toxic places on Earth, may not have been the best choice. But that did not seem to bother the Russian generals who had captured the site in the early stages of the war.

“We told them not to do this, it’s dangerous, but they ignored us,” Valery Semyonov, chief safety engineer at the Chernobyl nuclear site, said in an interview.

Apparently undeterred by safety concerns, Russian forces pounded the ground with bulldozers and tanks, digging trenches and bunkers – exposing themselves to potentially harmful doses of radiation lingering beneath the surface.

On a visit to the recently liberated nuclear plant, which was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, winds blew swirls of dust along roads, and scenes of disregard for safety were everywhere, although Ukrainian nuclear officials say it did not. A large radioactive leak due to the Russian military occupation for a month.

At just one trench-digging site a few hundred meters outside Chernobyl, the Russian army has dug an intricate labyrinth of sunken passages and bunkers. Nearby sat an abandoned armored personnel carrier.

Apparently the soldiers had been camping for weeks in the radioactive forest. While International nuclear safety experts They say they have not confirmed any cases of radiation sickness among soldiers, and that cancers and other potential health problems associated with radiation exposure may not develop until decades later.

Semyonov said the Russian military had deployed officers from a nuclear, biological and chemical unit, as well as experts from Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy company, who had consulted with Ukrainian scientists.

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But he said it appears that Russian nuclear experts do not have much influence over the military’s leaders. The military men seemed more preoccupied with planning the attack on Kyiv, and then they failed, using Chernobyl as an escape route into Belarus for their poorly attacked forces.

“They came and did what they wanted” in the area around the station, said Mr. Semyonov. Despite the efforts of he and other Ukrainian nuclear engineers and technicians who remained at the site during the occupation, working around the clock and unable to leave except for one shift change in late March, solidification continued.

The excavation was not the only case of reckless treatment of a site so toxic that it still had the potential to spread radiation beyond Ukraine’s borders.

In a particularly unwise act, a Russian soldier from a chemical, biological and nuclear protection unit picked up a source of cobalt-60 at a waste storage site with his bare hands, exposing himself to so much radiation in a few seconds that Mr. . He said it was not clear what happened to the man.

The most alarming moment, Semyonov said, came in mid-March, when a cooling basin storing spent nuclear fuel rods that contained several times more radioactive material than was dispersed in the 1986 catastrophe lost power. Ukrainians worried that a fire would break out if Boiling water cools the fuel rods, exposing them to the air, although that possibility was Quickly rejected by experts.

While withdrawing from Chernobyl, Russian forces blew up a bridge in the exclusion zone and planted a dense maze of anti-personnel mines, detonating wires and booby traps around the defunct station. The Ukrainian government agency that runs the site said two Ukrainian soldiers trampled mines last week.

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In a strange final sign of the unit’s adventures, Ukrainian soldiers have found discarded electronic devices and goods on the roads in the Chernobyl region. These were apparently looted from cities deep in Ukraine and were disposed of for reasons unclear in the final withdrawal. Journalists found one washing machine on the shoulder of a road outside Chernobyl.

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