Boris Johnson issues warning to Russia about invading Ukraine
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The unusual strategy was executed to prevent Russian troops from taking the shortest route into Ukraine, which runs directly through the largely abandoned site, now described as a ghost town. In preparation for a potential Russian incursion into the exclusion zone, which was established after a reactor meltdown in 1986, Ukrainian troops are currently patrolling the snowy forests and abandoned streets of Chernobyl, equipped with Kalashnikov rifles – as well as equipment to detect radiation exposure.
Lt. Col. Yuri Shakhraichuk of the Ukrainian border guard service told The New York Times: “It doesn’t matter if it is contaminated or nobody lives here.
“It is our territory, our country, and we must defend it.”
Ukrainian forces patrolling the exclusion area must wear devices on a lanyard around their necks to check for radiation.
There are also protocols stating they must be taken off duty immediately in the event they wander into a highly irradiated area.
None of the troops have suffered exposure to high doses so far, Colonel Shakhraichuk explained.
With a limited number of Ukrainian forces in the area, their mission is not to repel a Russian invasion but to register any warning signs.
Colonel Shakhraichuk said: “We collect information about the situation along the border.”
Additional Ukrainian troops were scrambled to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone two months ago after Kremlin soldiers were moved to Belarus, which has a border only five miles from the exploded reactor.
Signs of Russian hostility towards the area have ignited emotional reactions from those who recall the joint-response launched by Russian and Ukrainian emergency workers in 1986.
Ivan Kovalchuk, a Ukrainian firefighter who battled to control the fire at the plant in the wake of the disaster, said: “How can this be?
“We liquidated the accident together.”
He ended: “For them to do this to us now just makes me feel sorry for people in Ukraine.”
The Chernobyl zone, which is about 1,000 square miles, is the shortest route from the Belarusian border to Kiev.
However, due to its swampy land and thick forests, the invasion route from the north could be viewed less favourably by the Kremlin, despite it being shorter as the crow flies.
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Chernobyl still plays home to workers who complete rotations in the area, maintaining safety apparatus in place – such as a containment structure, which envelopes the reactor.
One worker, Oleksei Prishepa, said: “We don’t know what will kill us first, the virus, radiation or war.”
At the same time, Mr Prishepa expressed his indifference in the face of losing the contaminated land to the Kremlin.
He added: “It’s wasteland… No crop will ever grow here.”
The exclusion zone had been largely unguarded until a number of events in the region led Ukraine to cluster soldiers there.
First, the build-up of Russian troops, followed by a migrant crisis in Belarus in November, which threatened to spill over into Ukraine and ignite unrest.
Ukraine responded by sending 7,500 extra guards to the Belarusian border at the time.
Joint military exercises between Russia and Belarus are planned in February, giving Moscow a reason to send more troops and equipment to the Kremlin ally – and ratcheting up still higher fears of an incursion into Ukraine.
Russia has vehemently denied that it wants to invade Ukraine.
One expert went as far as to suggest that the presence of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine are being used as a diversion tactic while Moscow continues its so-called “hybrid war”, with cyber-attacks and disinformation being key to the Kremlin’s strategy.
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