Chernobyl disaster site brings dark echoes to Ukraine

Chernobyl disaster site brings dark echoes to Ukraine

Ukraine is deeply scarred by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, when a Soviet-era reactor exploded and pumped radiation into the atmosphere in the country's north.

Russia captured the site when it began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February, causing safety fears, but it was abandoned within a few weeks when Moscow failed to take Kyiv.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine was occupied in the early days of the war but has remained in Russian hands ever since.

Ukraine says enemy troops are launching attacks from the facility -- Europe's largest military - and its own military can't return fire.

The escalating situation brings dark echoes from the past for those with close links to Chernobyl.

Anastasiya's husband Viktor worked as one of the 600,000 liquidators tasked with decontaminating the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where high radiation levels forced civilian evacuations.

The official death toll of Chernobyl remains at 31 but it is hotly contested with some saying that thousands of liquidators may have suffered fatal doses of the invisible rays.

Viktor drove a truck in the zone for a total of 18 days. A gold service ribbon awarded by the Ukraine Chernobyl Union shows atoms swirling around the bell of Chernobyl a symbol that has become a ringing reminder of the event.

A brittle document from Ukraine's defence ministry archives certifies Viktor's work and the dose of radiation he absorbed - 24.80 roentgen.

Anastasiya said that when I see my husband's papers, I feel pain. Many people died or were permanently injured. She added that when the plant is shelled, we can see it quite well. People are rumouring that there is something leaking, but they don't admit it publicly. Vasyl Davydov said there are three liquidators still living in the village of Vyschetarasivka, a bucolic collection of garden bungalows with a hazy view of the Zaporizhzhia plant's six reactors and twin cooling towers.

He is one of them. He spent three and a half months working on Chernobyl decontamination, with 102 trips to the zone operating a crackling dosimeter to measure radiation levels and razing tainted homes to the ground.