Russian soldiers drove through a highly toxic zone without radiation protection when they seized the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster late February.
That’s according to two Ukrainian workers on duty there at the time, who said they saw the Russians’ armored vehicles kick up clouds of radioactive dust as they drove through the so-called “Red Forest”.
It’s the most radioactively contaminated area around Chernobyl, and got its name when miles of pine trees turned red after absorbing radiation from the 1986 explosion.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Balthasar Lindauer, the nuclear safety department head at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, called the Russian troops “reckless”.
"We have seen in the first few days, a spike in radiation that is very likely due to the transport of very heavy military equipment. So that gives you an indication that these troops do not know what they are doing and behaving recklessly."
Lindauer said it was “lucky” they’ve done no further damage so far.
“But if the behaviour of the troops continues as they have shown in the past, of course there is a huge danger for severe accidents that could affect the region and it would be a disaster.”
One of the Chernobyl workers told Reuters, some of the soldiers now stationed there said they had never heard of the 1986 nuclear disaster.
And one called the Russian soldiers’ “Red Forest” drive “suicidal”, as inhaling the radioactive dust would likely cause internal radiation.
Reuters could not independently verify their accounts, and Russia's defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
The Russian military said after capturing the plant that radiation was within normal levels and their actions prevented possible "nuclear provocations" by Ukrainian nationalists.