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Why did Russians dig trenches in radioactive Chernobyl woods?

Even Ukrainians who stayed after the nuclear disaster tried to warn their
enemies. On February 24, 2022, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine,
the Russians crossed into the area from Belarus. They stayed for five
weeks, camping out for part of that time in some of the most contaminated
land around the site of the worst nuclear accident in history.

They dug defensive positions in the Red Forest, within a six-mile radius of reactor
No 4, where they lived, ate and slept for a fortnight. Nobody can
understand why.

“Don’t try to find logic,” said Oksana Pyshna, 30, a
tour guide turned employee of the state ministry responsible for the
exclusion zone, who showed us around. “It’s stupid.” The place is
called the Red Forest because that’s the colour the trees went after the
disaster as the cloud of poison spread through Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, on
to the Baltics and Scandinavia.

In 1986 and the years after, teams of men
dug up the topsoil and buried it: under the surface it is far more
poisonous. Carving trenches there was a terrible idea, said Pyshna.
“It’s the most dangerous territory in the special zone, because under
the ground we have nuclear waste.”

Perhaps the Russians felt safer there
because they knew the Ukrainians wouldn’t shell the area around the
nuclear plant. Perhaps the beauty of the woods blinded them to the danger.
Catfish throng the reactor’s cooling channel, deer shy through the silver
birches when visitors pass. There are, apparently, bears in the forests;
wolves too, wild ponies. In the autumn, the trees hang heavy with the most
perfect apples, green and pink.

But their pips can hold radioactive
isotopes: caesium-137 or strontium-90. Some Russian soldiers stationed in
the forest got radiation sickness, diplomats have confirmed. Kicking up the
dust or walking on the moss can contaminate you. Digging is much worse. The
few dozen locals – average age, 86 – who remained here after the
disaster have become unspeakably blasé about the risks of nuclear
radiation. Even they were shocked.

 Times 29th April 2023


May 2, 2023 - Posted by | environment, Ukraine

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