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"They went in for a 12-hour shift and ended up spending a month at a nuclear power plant." Chernobyl 2022


On April 26, 1986, there was an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Tons of radioactive substances were released into the environment (some of them will remain in the soil for several hundred years), 200 thousand square kilometers of Belarusian, Russian and, of course, Ukrainian lands were affected to some extent.

In the first months after the accident, 50 people died, but the number of deaths indirectly related to the disaster may be in the tens of thousands.

If we talk about the historical consequences of Chernobyl - there is an opinion that it, if not provoked, then clearly accelerated the collapse of the USSR. The fact is that in the first hours and days after the explosion, the authorities glossed over the fact of the disaster and did not inform the population about the threat. Many cities, including Kyiv, held demonstrations on May Day, even though it was extremely dangerous to be outside. When the truth about Chernobyl started to leak out, people simply could not forgive the authorities for their silence. 

In recent years, the Chernobyl disaster resurfaced on the information agenda only on the eve of the next anniversary of the tragedy or in connection with the release of another film about the disaster (by the way, if you have not seen the series "Chernobyl" by HBO - highly recommended).


So, as a result of an accident in 1986, one of the four Chernobyl power units was completely destroyed. A concrete sarcophagus was subsequently erected over it, and then a steel sarcophagus. The other power units were stopped. More than 100 thousand people were evacuated from the 30-kilometer zone around the nuclear power plant (including from the beautiful new town of Pripyat’), and this area became the so-called exclusion zone.

By the way, it is important to understand that Chernobyl is only 11 km from the Belarusian border, so there is an exclusion zone in Belarus as well. There is now the Polessky Radiation and Ecological Reserve, which was created in 1988 for radiobiological and ecological research.

Photo by

For all these years, there are people at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant who monitor the situation in the sarcophagus. They come from the purpose-built town of Slavutich, the youngest town in Ukraine, located 50 km from the plant.

Of course, the workers - more than two hundred people - were also at the plant on February 24, when Russian troops took control of both Slavutich and the ChNPP itself. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, this was necessary "to avoid a nuclear provocation."

Western military experts argued that the Chernobyl NPP was needed by the Russians because it was on the shortest route to Kiev.

Photo Suspilne

In Ukraine, they immediately stated that the radiation level in the exclusion zone exceeded the level due to the movement of heavy military equipment. Roughly speaking, tanks raise the top layers of soil, and the soil in Chernobyl, of course, is contaminated. Here's what Slavutich Mayor Yuri Fomichev said in an interview with Mediazone about this after Russian troops left the nuclear plant:

"It was really a military comfort way for them. (...) Moreover, people have been working in Chernobyl for 35 years, they take tours - 100 thousand people a year come here - everything is fine there, why should we be afraid. But the Chernobyl zone requires certain behavior. You can't go there in heavy machinery, raising the dust, breathing it. That is what they have done - they have inhaled this radioactive dust for a month.

The Russian side claimed that the background in Chernobyl remains normal, as does the health of Russian military personnel who have been in the exclusion zone. The IAEA also reported that no data on Russian soldiers' exposure to radiation were available.

However, on March 6 the main Russian media reported from "an informed source in one of the competent Russian agencies" that the Chernobyl zone was used by Ukrainians to manufacture nuclear weapons (quoted by Interfax):

"Separately, the use of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant zone as a site for the development of nuclear weapons is worth noting. That is where, judging by available information, work was going on both to make a "dirty" bomb and to separate plutonium. The naturally elevated radiation background in the Chernobyl zone concealed these activities.

The IAEA neither confirmed nor denied these claims, which angered Ukraine.

Two weeks after the beginning of the invasion Kiev informed the IAEA: a shift of workers who had been at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant when it was seized, needed a rest.

On February 23, these men started a 12-hour workday, and as a result they spent about a month at the plant, with limited access to water, food, and medicine.

Here's how Alexei Shelestiy, shift supervisor of the electrical shop at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, described the month in an interview with Meduza:

"We were going on an absolutely ordinary, standard night shift. I am, for example, an inveterate smoker, I had about two packs of cigarettes. Someone came with one pack, which was already opened. Someone was going on the last shift before going on vacation, and didn't take any tea or coffee with them because there was little left in the work.

On the third or fourth day, the realization came that we were stuck here, and it could stretch on indefinitely. People reacted in different ways. (...)

Some began to panic and seriously discussed walking from the station into town. I confess I had a moment at the end of the second week, shortly before the blackout: on a call with the management, I allowed myself to be weak. "What," I said, "can't you negotiate there? Why not? How so? We must be changed, we are tired. We were neither morally nor physically prepared for this."

In the end these two hundred people, including Alexei, spent a little less and a little more than a month at the station. They worked around the clock. They rested right in their offices: 

"People made themselves comfortable in whatever way they could. (...) We made chairs [like benches] and covered them with sweatshirts. Fortunately, the guys had cotton jackets in their lockers. We put the overalls on and went ahead [to bed]. Well, what else could we do?”

On March 31, Russian troops began to leave Chernobyl. After that, the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) released drone images that allegedly showed trenches near Chernobyl.

Drone image

These fortifications appeared in the so-called Red Forest, where after the explosion in 1986 the maximum quantity of radioactive dust was deposited and all trees became red.

Photo by UNIAN

Now the IAEA intends to send its mission to Chernobyl to examine the radiological situation and repair equipment.

After the Russians seized the plant, the organization claimed that they lost contact with the monitoring equipment at Chernobyl and that safety cameras on its territory ceased to function, while some of them even disappeared.

In addition, after the Russian army left, Alexander Sirota, chairman of the Public Council of the State Exclusion Zone Management Agency of Ukraine, said on his Facebook page that a long archive about Chernobyl, which the Ukrainians had collected over the years, had been destroyed. The State Agency also published photos of the looted servers of the radiation monitoring system.

Photo State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management

According to the latest reports, an IAEA mission will arrive in the Chernobyl zone as early as the end of April.