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In shadow of Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine forces train for a potential new crisis

PRIPYAT, Ukraine — In a ghost town with soil still radioactive from the world’s worst nuclear disaster, members of Ukraine’s armed forces and national guard conducted combat training drills to simulate an enemy occupation in an urban area.

The Washington Post

Snipers fired at wooden targets in blown-out windows of buildings deserted since the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986 made this area uninhabitable. Armored vehicles rolled down the snow-covered streets earlier this month as men with Geiger counters looked on to check the radiation levels.

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The service members practiced air reconnaissance with drones and applying first aid on wounded comrades.

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Though the exercise was hypothetical, the ammunition was real, reverberating through the abandoned structures that are still marked with Soviet insignia. The Chernobyl region borders Belarus, where thousands of Russian soldiers have massed ahead of massive joint military exercises that U.S. officials have warned could be used as a springboard to launch an attack on Ukraine from its northern border.

The Washington Post

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, who attended the training in Pripyat, said he’s “not concerned” about a Russian invasion originating from Belarus, though attacking through this area would offer the shortest route to the capital, Kyiv.

He noted that Ukraine has not observed any Russian strike force formations — which would be necessary for an invasion, Reznikov said — gathering in Belarus.

The Washington Post

“This part of the border is the most difficult to cross. Wetlands, woods, rivers — this area is hard to cross not only on tanks but even on foot,” Reznikov said, adding that the radiation in the area is another factor that would ward off enemy forces from crossing through here.

The Washington Post

Denis Monastyrsky, Ukraine's minister of internal affairs, left, addresses journalists during an urban combat training exercise in the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine, within the Chernobyl exclusion zone, on Feb. 4.

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News

Members of the Ukrainian forces work on a simulated injury during an urban combat training exercise in Pripyat, Ukraine.

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News

A firefighter works to extinguish a burning building in a combat training exercise in Pripyat.

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News

Firefighters remove a participant, simulating a war casualty, from a burning building in a combat training exercise in Pripyat.

Bloomberg News

Bloomberg News

Similar drills are often held at military training grounds across Ukraine, but Pripyat’s ghost town status allowed the military and national guard units to practice the “liquidation of criminals” in a more realistic setting. With more than two busloads of Ukrainian and foreign journalists present, it was also an opportunity for Ukraine to demonstrate how far its security forces have come in the eight years since Russian-backed separatists sparked a conflict with Ukraine’s military in the country’s east.

Bloomberg News

“I’m very, very sure that the Ukrainian armed forces are ready for deterring, for resilience,” Reznikov said. “Ukrainian people are ready for deterring and for resilience.”

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The Washington Post

Journalists who were invited to witness the drills had to pass through two different checkpoints to measure their radiation levels on their way back to Kyiv.

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Credits

Editing by Brian Murphy, Jesse Mesner-Hage and Reem Akkad. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman