KEY POINTS

  • Russian soldiers allegedly ransacked two laboratories in the Chernobyl area
  • They also stole computers and office equipment from a lab in the NPP Security Institute
  • Russian soldiers likely took the radioactive materials as a souvenir, says a Ukrainian agency

Russian soldiers who occupied the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine may have stolen deadly radioactive substances from the laboratories in the area. 

Russian troops occupied the nuclear plant on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion of Ukraine. During their occupation of the Chernobyl power plant, Russian soldiers allegedly ransacked two laboratories in the area. They also entered a storage area of one of the research bases in Chernobyl and stole 133 highly radioactive substances, according to the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management. 

"Even a small portion of this activity is deadly dangerous when unprofessional and uncontrollable behavior with it," the agency said. “Currently, the location of the stolen sources is unknown. The degree of preservation and safety of calibration sources and sample radioactive solutions is impossible to be established, and the condition of the damaged will be determined after the appropriate inventory and measurements are carried out.”

It further said that in addition to stealing highly radioactive materials, the Russian troops also took computers and office equipment from a laboratory in the NPP Security Institute. 

The agency warned that the materials could have been left somewhere in the exclusion zone, posing a threat to the safety of Chernobyl staff members. However, they said the items were likely taken as a form of “souvenir”. 

Russian soldiers stayed at the Chernobyl plant for more than a month until they retreated on March 31 after falling ill due to exposure to high levels of radiation after digging trenches in the Red Forest. The forest is the most contaminated area in Chernobyl. 

Ukraine’s Energy Minister German Galushchenko suggested that some Russian soldiers may only have less than a year to live after being exposed to a “shocking” amount of nuclear radiation. 

"They dug bare soil contaminated with radiation, collected radioactive sand in bags for fortification, breathed this dust," Galushchenko said in a Facebook post. “After a month of such negligence, they had a maximum year of life. More precisely, not life, but a slow death from diseases.”

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. The Red Forest, an area in Chernobyl, earned its moniker after the pine trees turned red due to extremely high levels of radiation.

A Maxar satellite image taken on March 10, 2022 and showing the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, which Russian forces have begun to pull out of, according to the US A Maxar satellite image taken on March 10, 2022 and showing the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, which Russian forces have begun to pull out of, according to the US Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AFP