As tensions mount between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian forces preparing for potential conflict have begun training in an unlikely place – right in the heart of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The abandoned and crumbling nearby town of Pripyat is giving soldiers a unique region to practice urban warfare, far from any civilians that may get caught in the drills. It also provides the perfect environment to run through classified military operations and identify weaknesses in the area – that is, until they invited a swarm of international journalists to watch.
As the Ukrainian Army takes part in live-fire exercises in the desolate streets of Pripyat, journalists from all over the world watched as the soldiers display the lessons learned from the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The display was supposedly a show of strength, but also serves as a potent propaganda tool to combat the increasing propaganda coming from Moscow.
"All these scenarios are taken and summarized from the cases that have occurred since 2014," said Denys Monastyrsky, internal affairs minister for Ukraine, in a statement to local media outlets, reports CNN.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone spans 2,600 square-kilometer (1,000 square-mile) across Ukraine and borders a radioecological reserve in Belarus, and due to the border, the area has been identified as a possible entry site for Russia to invade in the event of war. With a direct route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the expansive but largely abandoned area would be an ideal entry site into the country, and as such Ukraine has since sent soldiers to defend it alongside the military exercises.
Despite increasing military presence on the Russia-Ukraine borders and surrounding waters, president Vladimir Putin continues to deny the prospect of an invasion. However, the US has continued to warn that this may not be the case.
While many may recoil at the idea of taking a stroll through the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, the Exclusion Zone is actually entirely safe, so long as you stay away from the forest and scattered machinery used to remove burning radioactive material from the melting reactor. Visitors regularly tour the incredible scenery near the reactor and surrounding area, which includes: Pripyat, the abandoned town complete with dilapidated theme park; multiple laboratories, containing lines of jars with specimens in; a secret Soviet radar station; and some of the last remaining statues of Lenin from the Soviet Union that weren’t destroyed by subsequent administrations.
Workers in the zone must adhere to a strict 3-week on, 3-week off shift pattern, to limit the amount of background radiation they are exposed to. However, some local residents, nicknamed "stalkers", regularly enter the zone and camp in the area, and some residents living there prior to the disaster have returned to live in the abandoned villages.