By Carles Grau-Sivera
Kyiv, Apr 25 (EFE).- Valeriy Semenov’s main concern when Russian troops stormed Chernobyl, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, was to avoid history repeating itself with another monumental catastrophe.
Dozens of employees and Semenov bunkered in the plant during the 35 days Russian troops occupied the exclusion zone, causing radioactive levels to rise.
Russian tanks and dozens of soldiers seized the plant on February 24.
Shortly after, Kremlin forces in their thousands looted the premises, tinkered with contaminated objects, and risked their own safety by acting recklessly in an area with some of the highest radiation levels on the planet.
Semenov, an engineer in charge of security and maintenance at the plant, continued to work despite regular threats from Russians soldiers.
He toiled 24 hour shifts and checked on potential radioactive leaks daily to avert a disaster like the one that ravaged the area in 1986.
“We are not just talking about the security of this city, but of the whole of Ukraine,” the engineer tells Efe over the phone. “Anything that happened to Chernobyl would affect the rest of the country.”
PLAYING WITH FIRE
When Russian troops seized Chernobyl, the 177 Ukrainian soldiers guarding the area handed over their weapons for two reasons, according to Semenov: because the invaders had more weapons, and because shooting inside the nuclear plant is literally playing with fire.
“Anything that happened inside the plant, if they had damaged it, there would be radiation leaks that would have affected us a lot. It was a huge threat,” he says.
After hours of negotiations with the Russians, they reached an agreement to allow maintenance experts to continue their work to ensure the safety of the site.
The sarcophagus that contains the nuclear reactor partially destroyed in the accident 36 years ago was of particular concern to the plant’s workers.
The agreement came at a price, though.
The Russians took 169 Ukrainian soldiers hostage and transported them in trucks to an unknown destination, possibly Belarus or Russia, according to Ukrainian authorities.
One of Semenov’s main tasks during the occupation was to “watch the Russians” and warn them of dangers in the area.
Semenov says his attempts to keep everyone safe went ignored.
Many of the Russian soldiers, all of them very young, “were very curious,” he adds.
According to Semenov, Russian forces stole all sorts of gadgets, tampered with contaminated objects, and even tinkered with relics from a small display of equipment which operated in 1986, which they also used to reinforce barricades at the nuclear plant.