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Ukrainian troops have been sent to guard the Chernobyl exclusion zone as escalating tensions with Russia have led to concerns that they could attempt to invade through the largely unguarded wasteland.
The area surrounding the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the abandoned city of Pripyat has been identified as a potential weak spot that the Russian army could exploit to get into the country.
The exclusion zone is largely uninhabited – although some hardy folks do remain – but Russian forces could use a border with their ally Belarus to forge a path through the area to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
So, troops have been sent to patrol the abandoned towns and radioactive forests, despite the risk of poisoning if too long is spent there, the New York Times has reported.
The troops have been equipped with guns and radiation detectors and protocols have been put in place to ensure that no soldiers spend too much time in the highly radioactive zones.
Even though the Ukrainian forces do not have enough capacity to stop an invasion, the troops have been sent to check for signs that a Russian incursion could be imminent.
They have been positioned there for around two months, but many have questions whether they are not wasting their time, given that Ukraine is already struggling to defend its borders.
One person who still works within the area said: “It’s wasteland. No crop will ever grow here.”
The entire Chernobyl exclusion zone was created in the aftermath of the 1986 disaster that occurred when reactor number four at the power plant exploded.
It is thought that the area will take hundreds of years to fully recover from the world’s worst nuclear incident.
Tens of thousands of people fled the area after the explosion, which happened when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet government tried to cover up the extent of the damage at the time, although it released massive quantities of radioactive material into the air.
Now, only the few who are tasked with maintaining the remaining equipment and conducting safety checks work within the region, although it has become popular with some tourists.
Still, with the continuing tension with Russia, the government is adamant that the area must be defended.
Yury Shakhraichuk, Lieutenant Colonel of the Ukrainian Border Service, said: “It doesn’t matter if it is infected or no one lives here. This is our territory, our country, and we must protect it.”
Even though the radiation wouldn’t be a problem if invading troops were only passing through briefly, it is not thought to be the most opportune place through which Russia could invade.
The boggy and heavily forested area could make it difficult to traverse.
The Russian government has consistently denied that they are planning any kind of invasion.