Russian soldiers' seizure of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine may have been "suicidal," according to Ukrainian workers at the site. Two workers on duty during the takeover tell Reuters that Russian vehicles kicked up clouds of radioactive dust as they drove through the Red Forest, a heavily contaminated area around the site that's off-limits even to workers. The dust is "likely to cause internal radiation in their bodies if they inhaled it," per the Telegraph. According to the workers, the soldiers weren't wearing protective gear, nor were the Russian radiation specialists who arrived a week later.
Upon seizing the plant on Feb. 24, Russian officials described radiation levels at Chernobyl as normal. However, Ukrainian officials described levels as seven times higher than normal on Feb. 27, the last time they had control of the monitoring system, per Reuters. One worker tells the outlet that "many radiation safety sensors showed exceeded levels" after the convoy of Russian military vehicles "kicked up a big column of dust" while driving along an abandoned road behind the facility, which also passes the Red Forest—named for the pine trees that turned red after absorbing radiation.
Valery Seida, acting general director of the plant, says he was told Russian vehicles drove all over the exclusion zone and may have passed the Red Forest. "Nobody goes there ... for God's sake," he tells Reuters. Rank-and-file Russian soldiers were apparently unaware of that. A worker who spent a month working with Russians at the site before replacement workers were brought in last week says some "did not have a clue" about the 1986 nuclear disaster, which left 1,000 square miles uninhabitable. In fact, "they had no idea what kind of a facility they were at." (Ukraine claims Russian forces have destroyed a laboratory.)