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Russian troops hospitalized after digging trenches in radioactive Chernobyl, Ukrainian official says

Radioactivity warning sign on a hill at the east end of Red Forest. (Photo by Timm Suess, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
April 01, 2022

Some Russian soldiers who invaded Ukraine have reportedly been taken to a radiation treatment facility this week after digging trenches in the area around Chernobyl, the site of an infamous nuclear power plant meltdown.

Yaroslav Yemelianenko, a council member of the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management, claimed in a series of Facebook posts on Thursday that numerous Russian troops were likely experiencing radiation sickness.

In one post, Yemelianenko said Ukraine had documented trenches dug in the Red Forest, an area of Chernobyl where trees have turned a rust color after absorbing high levels of radiation following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The 1986 incident was the worst disaster at a nuclear power plant in history, and the Red Forest has some of the highest levels of radioactive material.

Given the trenches dug in the highly radioactive soil, Yemelianenko said it’s a “quite logical” explanation for why lines of “occupiers” are waiting outside the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Radiation Medicine and Human Ecology in Gomel, Belarus. The hospital was the primary facility for providing specialized medical care after the Chernobyl incident. Gomel is situated near the Ukrainian-Belarusian border and is about 120 miles from Chernobyl.

“The enemy suffered heavy casualties in the Kyiv area and significant radiation damage in Chernobyl because it did not comply with radiation safety standards,” Yemelianenko wrote.

In a Friday Facebook post, Yemelianenko shared a segment from an interview with a Ukrainian news station, in which he said Ukrainian authorities would have to decontaminate roads, bridges and other infrastructure around Chernobyl after Russian troops tracked radioactive soil with them when they left the area.

Yemelianenko said he will also oversee the refilling of the trenches Russian troops dug in the Red Forest, “But I’ll insist on keeping some of them in pristine form – for history, to demonstrate to the new generation of Ukrainians and visitors from all over the world the stupidity of the racists.”

The U.S. military has taken note of Russian activity within Chernobyl, but has not directly indicated that Russian troops have been sickened by radiation.

“Since the Russians moved into Chernobyl we said very clearly that we were concerned about their occupation of that defunct nuclear facility and our concerns over their lack of understanding or adherence to any kind of safety protocols,” a senior U.S. defense official said in an official background call Thursday. “So that’s a long-standing concern.”

While Yemelianenko claimed Russian troops encountered “significant radiation damage” in Chernobyl, other nuclear researchers have been more skeptical that the radiation exposure would result in serious illnesses.

The Environmental data group Safecast has said Russian soldiers were “reckless, and could get notable radiation exposure in the Red Forest,” though their exposure likely was “not enough for Acute Radiation Sickness,” Newsweek reported.

Mark Nelson, founder of the Radiant Energy Fund and an adviser on nuclear energy, noted the radioactive material around Chernobyl has had 36 years to decay. He told Newsweek that while Russian activity likely in the area might increase their exposure to radiation, “it is not plausible that it would lead to mass acute radiation sickness.”