CHERNOBYL, Ukraine.— As a staging post for an assault on kyiv, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, one of the most toxic places on Earth, was probably not the best option. But that didn’t seem to bother the Russian generals who took over the siege in the early stages of the war. “We told them not to do it, that it was dangerous, but they ignored us”Valeriy Simyonov, chief security engineer at the Chernobyl nuclear site, said in an interview. Seemingly undeterred by security concerns, Russian forces trampled the grounds with bulldozers and tanks, dug trenches and bunkers, and exposed themselves to potentially damaging doses of radiation that persisted below the surface. The Russian military had excavated an elaborate maze of walkways and sunken bunkers. An abandoned armored personnel carrier was nearby. Apparently, the soldiers had camped for weeks in the radioactive forest.An abandoned Russian checkpoint on Thursday, April 7, 2022 in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine. The camps showed signs of Russian forces digging into soil that could contain radioactivity 1,000 times ambient levels, enough to cause cancerIVOR PRICKETT – NYTNSAThough nuclear security experts say they haven’t confirmed any cases of radiation sickness among soldiers, it’s possible that cancers and other potential health problems associated with radiation exposure may not develop until decades later. Simyonov said the Russian military had deployed officers from a nuclear, biological and chemical unit, as well as experts from Rosatom, the state-owned company nuclear power plant of Russia, who consulted with Ukrainian scientists.But Russian nuclear experts seemed to have little influence over military commanders., said. The military seemed more concerned with planning the assault on kyiv and, after it failed, using Chernobyl as an escape route to Belarus for its battered troops.A temporary crossing built by the Ukrainian military to replace a bridge that was destroyed by retreating Russian forces.IVOR PRICKETT – NYTNS“They came and did what they wanted” in the area around the station, Simyonov said. Despite the efforts of him and other Ukrainian nuclear engineers and technicians who remained on site during the occupation, working around the clock and unable to leave except for a shift change in late March, the entrenchment continued. they were not the only case of recklessness in dealing with a site so toxic that it still has the potential to spread radiation far beyond Ukraine’s borders. In a particularly ill-advised action, 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 he went off the scale of a Geiger counter, Simyonov said. It was not clear what happened to the man, he said.A Ukrainian soldier outside the main station of the Chernobyl nuclear power plantIVOR PRICKETT – NYTNSThe most worrying moment, Simyonov said, sIt occurred in mid-March when power went out at a cooling pool that expended nuclear fuel rod reservoirs containing many times more radioactive material than was dispersed in the 1986 catastrophe. That raised concerns among Ukrainians of a fire if the water that cooled the fuel rods evaporated, exposing them to the air. , though experts quickly dismissed that possibility. “They are emphasizing worst-case scenarios, which are possible but not necessarily plausible,” said Edwin Lyman, a reactor expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The biggest risk in a prolonged blackout, experts say, was that hydrogen generated by the Spent fuel could accumulate and explode. Bruno Chareyron, laboratory director of CRIIRAD, a French group that monitors radiation risks, cited a 2008 study of the Chernobyl site that suggests this could happen within about 15 days.A Ukrainian soldier outside the main station of the Chernobyl nuclear power plantIVOR PRICKETT – NYTNSSeventually, however, electricity was restored to the plant, allaying any fears.The formation stormed Ukraine on February 2. On February 24, he fought for nearly a month in the suburbs of kyiv and then withdrew, leaving in his wake burned armored vehicles, his own war dead, widespread destruction and evidence of human rights abuses, including hundreds of bodies. of civilians in the streets of the city. of Bucha.While withdrawing from Chernobyl, Russian troops blew up a bridge in the exclusion zone and planted a dense maze of anti-personnel mines, tripwires and booby traps around the defunct station. Two Ukrainian soldiers stepped on mines last week, according to the Ukrainian government agency that manages the site.Valeriy Simyonov, left, the chief safety engineer at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear siteIVOR PRICKETT – NYTNSIn a rare final sign of the unit’s misadventures, soldiers found discarded Ukrainian appliances and electronics on roads in the area of Chernobyl. These were apparently looted from cities deeper within the Ukraine and abandoned for reasons unclear in the final withdrawal.