Ukraine holds drills in Zaporizhzhia to prepare for radiation leaks from Russian-held nuclear plant

Ukraine saw the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986 and now, 16 months into the Russian invasion, it's preparing for another possible disaster

Vasilisa Stepanenko
Thursday 29 June 2023 20:05 BST

Dressed in white and yellow protective suits and armed with devices to detect radiation levels, Ukrainian emergency workers took part in a drill Thursday to prepare for a potential risk of radiation leakage from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Dozens of civilians joined the drill on the outskirts of the city of Zaporizhzhia, located around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest.

In a tent set up to provide first aid, emergency workers practiced hosing people down with soap and going through the motions of administering treatment to individuals who play-acted victims from possible radiation-affected areas.

Russia occupied the plant in the early stages of the war. Over the past year, it has become a focal point of concern as Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling the plant.

Ukraine’s military intelligence recently claimed, without providing evidence, that Russia is planning a “large-scale provocation” at the nuclear power plant in the southeast of the country. Last week, members of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government briefed international representatives on the possible threat.

Should something happen at the plant, the people would be brought from radiation-contaminated areas to a location where they would be given medical and psychological assistance, the emergency services said.

Next stop would be a temporary center where people would be washed to wipe away surface radiation and then transported to evacuation points.

Larysa Mykolaieva, who took part in the drill, said while it made her anxious, she understands why it is being undertaken. Her family has already stocked up on large bottles of drinking water, stored food supplies, and purchased masks to prepare for a possible disaster.

“We need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Mykolaieva said.

Last year, when a threat of an accident at the plant first arose, Ukraine established a crisis response headquarters. Thursday's drill was not the first time exercises were held.

According to the emergency services, in case of a nuclear disaster at the plant, approximately 300,000 people would be evacuated from the areas closest to the facility. That covers four regions: Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv. The evacuation would be mandatory.

People will be allowed to bring their pets with them, according to the services. Buses, trains, and personal cars would be used for the evacuation from the affected zone.

Depending on the wind direction and the spread of radiation, people would be taken to safer areas within Ukraine.

“There are different scenarios, but we are preparing for the most critical one,” Yurii Vlasenko, the Ukranian deputy minister of energy said.


Associated Press writers Dmytro Zhyhinas and Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this story.


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