Russian soldiers setting up offensive positions in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have fallen ill from radiation sickness, according to multiple media outlets.
After entering the heavily irradiated areas of the EZ early in the invasion, it was suspected that truckloads of soldiers leaving the area developed sickness, and it appears diplomats have since confirmed it according to the Independent.
Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant entered meltdown on April 26, 1986, resulting in a catastrophic explosion that sent irradiated material high into the atmosphere and across Europe. After showering the immediate area with contaminated dust, a large 2,600 square kilometer (1,000 square mile) exclusion zone was created to avoid continued exposure to the general public. The area was strictly monitored by military guards, but could actually be visited by tourists due to a safe radiation level – so long as you wear long sleeves, don’t disturb the ground, and avoid the “red forest”.
The Russian soldiers that used the EZ as a point of entry into Ukraine, however, didn't follow these important safety rules. To secure their positions, they reportedly began digging trenches in the cover of the forested areas, which absorbed a large amount of the fallout following the disaster. Disturbing the ground and vegetation in the area is a surefire way to receive dangerous doses of radiation, and the soldiers reportedly camped there for around five weeks. They also fished in the canal for catfish – catfish in the cooling pond of the plant are known to be abnormally large (though likely not because of radiation, rather because they have been left undisturbed for decades).
According to the Times, local Ukrainians that refused to evacuate the area even warned the soldiers of the dangers of doing so, but the soldiers continued. They reportedly knew the risks but were “just thick”, one resident said, and so ignored them.
The Russians entered the EZ on February 24, 2022, and stayed in position until April 1, 2022, when Ukrainian troops mounted a successful counterattack to secure the area.
Diplomats have allegedly confirmed that soldiers did in fact fall ill as a result. Although the locals state they warned the soldiers, it is unclear if all of them knew of the risks. It is almost certain that leadership knew of the risks, but many Russians are not taught of the disaster in schools and many may have been unaware of the dangers posed by the forest.