The sudden, piercing beep of a radiometer fills the room as a Ukrainian soldier enters. This is where Russian soldiers lived at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and radiation levels are now higher than normal.
There is no visible presence of the source of the radioactive material in the room, but Ukrainian officials say it came from small particles and dust that soldiers brought into the building.
“They went to the Red Forest and brought radioactive material with them on their shoes,” says soldier Ihor Ugolkov. “Other places are fine, but the radiation went up here, because they lived here.”
CNN has gained exclusive access to the power plant for the first time since it returned to Ukrainian control.
Plant officials say levels inside the room used by Russian soldiers are only slightly above what the World Nuclear Association describes as background radiation. A one-time contact would not be dangerous, but continued exposure would pose a health risk.
“They went everywhere, and they also took radioactive dust on them [when they left]“, adds Ugolkov.
It is an example of what Ukrainian officials say was the lax and negligent behavior of Russian soldiers while controlling the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. The area around Chernobyl, namely the Red Forest, is still the most nuclear contaminated area on the planet, with most of the radioactive particles present on the ground.
Ukrainian officials have released drone footage of what they say are trenches dug by Russian soldiers in this area, which is particularly radioactive. In a safe place on the edges of this area, CNN saw a Russian military ration box that showed radiation levels 50 times higher than natural values.
Russian soldiers held Chernobyl for a month and reportedly operated mostly in contaminated areas.