News
June 3, 2022

Russia Endangers Chornobyl's Safety + Unwelcome & Inappropriate Suggestions to Compromise

Russia Endangers Chornobyl's Safety + Unwelcome & Inappropriate Suggestions to Compromise

As Russian forces appear to be closing in on their intermediate goal of seizing the entire Luhansk region there are numerous news items we should note and consider.

In 1986 Gorbachev’s Kremlin had a demonic reaction to the Chornobyl disaster – totally devoid of concern for human life, the Stalin-like underbelly of the happy talk about Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost.

One might have thought 36 years later even Putin might have wanted to avoid any type a threat to Chornobyl’s potential danger.

But in a front-page article in todays The Washington Post we learn that was not the case as the barbarians of the Russian Federation crossed into Ukraine last February.


Since many – probably most – on our mailing list do not receive the Post I set out the article here.

Another on-going disappointment and threat is the more-and-more discussed notion raised by people who should know better that Ukraine should end Putin’s war with compromise.

In The Guardian our friend and Ukraine’s former Minister of Defense, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, addresses well the unwelcome and inappropriate suggestions of compromise.

His op-ed follows the Chornobyl article.


The Washington Post

In Chernobyl’s delicate nuclear labs, Russians looted safety systems

By Max Bearak and Serhiy Morgunov

June 2, 2022 at 2:00 a.m. EDT

The Central Analytical Laboratory at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant site, where expensive equipment was stolen or destroyed by Russians during their one-month occupation. (Kasia Strek/Panos Pictures for The Washington Post)

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine — Six hundred ninety-eight computers. 344 vehicles. 1,500 radiation dosimeters. Irreplaceable software. Almost every piece of firefighting equipment.

The list of what Russia’s occupying forces stole, blew up or riddled with bullets in and around Chernobyl’s laboratories is still being compiled.

While the catastrophe that many feared has been avoided — war unleashing radiation across the region from the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 — officials at the defunct Chernobyl plant are taking stock of Russia’s capricious and chaotic month here, in which nine of their colleagues were killed and five were kidnapped.

“I cannot say that they have caused damage to mankind, but certainly great economic damage to Ukraine,” said Mykola Bespaly, 58, director of the site’s Central Analytical Laboratory, sitting in a lecture hall defaced by Russian graffiti.

The enormous nuclear station in Chernobyl no longer produces power, but before the invasion nearly 6,000 workers still monitored the lasting effects of the disastrous meltdown more than three decades ago, as well as processing spent nuclear fuel from other plants in Ukraine and Europe.

Located just a few miles from the Belarusian border, Chernobyl was one of the first places occupied by Russian troops. Yevhen Kramarenko, the director of the “exclusion zone” — a thousand-square-mile area where radiation levels remain high and public access is limited — said that on the first day of the invasion, a Russian general presented himself as the new leader of the station, and introduced employees from Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency.

“I believe that at the time when they came,” Kramarenko said, “they planned to be there permanently, they planned to take control for a long time.”

In the days before the invasion, all but a few hundred employees were evacuated. Those who stayed worked shifts lasting hundreds of hours under Russian supervision, often not resting for days while trying to keep the station safe and systems running. [Right – perfect work conditions for people responsible for nuclear safety – deranged KGB mentality on display. RAM]

Meanwhile, the station’s equipment and information were being systematically stolen or destroyed, said Kramarenko. Now that he’s back in charge, he’s been checking on some of the stolen equipment that had been fitted with GPS trackers. Some are still transmitting location data.

“We see that part of it is located on the territory of Belarus, along the border. And part moves around the territory of Belarus — Gomel, Minsk, other places,” he said.

All in all, he estimates the cost of replacing what was lost at more than $135 million. The software, however, was custom-made for the station and is irreplaceable. Bespaly said some of his laboratory’s most important work — monitoring radiation levels across the exclusion zone for signs of spikes — is nearly impossible without it. [What or who would win a competition for the deadliest – nuclear radiation or Putin’s thugs? RAM]

“Now it is not possible to provide reliable information, whether the equipment is in working condition or not, because there is no software,” he said. “The Russians will not be able to use it because the software is unique, made specially for our devices.”

Even before the occupation, the station had a post-apocalyptic air. It is situated in a dense forest, swarming with mosquitoes and gnats. Pripyat, the city where employees lived before the disaster, is now being reconquered by nature.

A huge steel and concrete “sarcophagus” covers the site of the meltdown. Under its dome, 200 tons of lava-like nuclear fuel, 30 tons of highly contaminated dust and 16 tons of uranium and plutonium continue to release high levels of radiation.

In the nearby labs, sites once sterile and filled with fluorescent lights and the sound of mechanical whirring, there are now stains, burn marks and debris strewn about. Some buildings were entirely destroyed.

A few technicians have returned to work. They showed visiting reporters videos on their phones taken as they reentered their workplaces and found them in complete shambles, narrating with shock and grief each newly discovered piece of destroyed equipment.

“I’ve been working here since May 1, 1986, and everything that I was working on for 30 years was spoiled and plundered,” said Leonid Bohdan, 59, head of the lab’s spectrometry and radiochemistry department. He had interacted with Rosatom officials in the past — even traveling to Moscow in 2013 for a conference. Now he feels an intense rage toward his Russian counterparts, whom he accuses of destroying Chernobyl out of jealousy.

“We will restore everything. It will all work again,” he said. “But this is as if someone came to your house, saw that everything is well and beautiful, and therefore s---s on your white bed. They are jealous that we can do something.”

Bohdan, Bespaly and Kramarenko expressed skepticism that Rosatom officials took software or equipment from Chernobyl for their own purposes. The Russians would know they couldn’t use it anyway, they said, and so the most likely explanation was that the destruction was punitive.

Another possibility, they said, was that Russian nuclear officials had begun to believe the Kremlin’s propaganda in the lead-up to the invasion, which claimed falsely that Ukraine was working with Western powers to develop a nuclear weapon. While the officials at Chernobyl found it hard to believe that their Rosatom counterparts would ignore all they knew about the Chernobyl plant — which their Soviet predecessors built — they acknowledged propaganda’s immense power, especially in wartime.

“When I saw [the propaganda], I laughed — although the situation is not funny,” said Bespaly. “My wife also works in the laboratory. We both looked at each other — there were no words.” [Another word for “propaganda” is the blunter “lies” – the cornerstone of Putin’s “rationale” for making war on Ukraine in the first place. RAM]

Over the coming months, Bespaly expects work to slowly gather steam again, though a full restoration won’t happen until martial law is lifted. For now, officials are working on better evacuation plans in case of another invasion. Russian troops have begun building up a presence again along the border near Chernobyl, and Belarusian troops have bolstered their positions, too.

The Ukrainians have decided not to refill trenches dug throughout the exclusion zone by Russian soldiers for the time being. They believe radiation emissions to be low there, and the worst damage would be to the lungs of the soldiers who inhaled radioactive dust for those weeks of occupation.

The real risk, Kramarenko said, is from forest fires as summer approaches. All the equipment they would have used to fight them is now gone or unusable.

“There is a danger here, and we are negotiating with donors, and appealing to the government to purchase equipment,” he said.

Perhaps the most lasting damage will be to the psyches of those employees who lived through the occupation. Their work was essential to preventing any catastrophic systems failures, and the Russians forced them to work past the point of exhaustion.

Paramedic Lyudmila Mikhailenko tended to sleep-deprived employees who were given little to eat and drink during their marathon shifts. She remembers Russian jets swooping in close overhead, and the sound of constant artillery fire as Ukrainian and Russian troops traded shells in the forests dangerously close to the plant. She said she was dealing with post-traumatic stress, and was nagged by a persistent, unanswerable question about the “madness” of the situation.

“The Russians were under orders to occupy and destroy and bomb Chernobyl,” she said. “What kind of madman issues an order to hold this place of catastrophe and tragedy hostage?”

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The Guardian

Ukraine is desperate for peace, but we won’t sign up to a bogus Russian deal

Andriy Zagorodnyuk

Kissinger is wrong: surrendering territory to appease Russia would have terrible consequences for the whole world

  • Andriy Zagorodnyuk is a former Ukrainian defence minister

We Ukrainians want peace more than anyone in the world. For about 100 days, we have been fighting Russian forces on the ground, in the sky, on the sea, and in cyber and information spaces. Defence experts originally gave us little hope of success. They changed their position when we showed our ability to resist. Now we need to demonstrate the strength to hold our course and resist the temptations of a false resolution.

In this existential battle for our future, ostensibly friendly or consoling pundits and politicians persistently suggest we should surrender to achieve peace more quickly. Of course, we do not want a war to take longer than necessary, but we will not get trapped into a bogus deal which will only make things worse. [My friend Andriy is far too kind. Those suggesting to Ukraine and it surrender on any terms are not friends – period, full stop. It is Ukraine’s choice to decide how Putin’s war is to end and until Ukraine makes any decision “friends” must be committed to seeing that Ukraine has everything it needs to defeat Russia. RAM]

Among those who advised a quick fix was the former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who suggested we should cede territory in exchange for ending the war. His intervention was appalling and, for a well-known strategic thinker, he was amazingly non-strategic. Conceding territory will not end the war. It will reinforce it. Russia has not abandoned its primary objective of getting rid of Ukraine, wiping us off the map. Any concessions would reward and legitimise its strategy. Far from stopping Russia’s pursuit of its broader military goals, it would feel emboldened. [At best Kissinger’s time has long since passed. Enough said. RAM]

Responding to force with territorial concessions would also have tragic global consequences. It would open the door to similar cases around the world. We do not want to live in a world where brute force decides which country we live in and which regime we belong to. We do not want to live in a world where only large countries can be truly sovereign.

Receiving that suggestion from a renowned expert was very surprising. However, the idea was immediately picked up by the Russians, who cynically blamed Ukraine for a desire to continue an unnecessary war. Some media commentators also started to debate the need for a compromise to secure peace. This is manipulative and wrong.

Imagine the harrowing scenario of your home being invaded by a street gang which then occupied part of your house. What peaceful compromise is possible? None. You would expect the police to deal with it. Suggesting that compromising with a criminal act leads to peace is ridiculous. It is similarly absurd in the case of the Russian invasion.

Many armed conflicts do end with a compromise, but it would be illogical to assume all of them should. The only reason for this invasion was Putin’s obsession with subjugating Ukraine. What compromise is possible when your adversary’s goal is that you should not exist? The unspeakably brutal way in which Russians treat our occupied towns and villages is known throughout the world. True peace can only be secured when the invader leaves our country.

As the old saying has it, the night is darkest just before the dawn. Russia is now applying maximum available force, but the evidence of 1960s tanks being dusted off for battle, use of conscripts and the patching up of new military units without collective training demonstrate that it has exhausted its options. That is why Russia is pushing the idea of a compromise. It needs a pause to show gains to the Russian public and to give itself time to recover before moving on further with its attempt to subjugate Ukraine.

Ukraine’s forces are more efficient than Russia’s. With more equipment and ammunition, pushing Russia back and out of the country is a realistic prospect. The flow of western help is only beginning and will increase. [Important point – in terms of what is needed and what should be provided Andriy is right – the flow is just beginning and must increase. Headlines and press releases on assistance have not told the full reality – the weapons from the West need to arrive at the right place, at the right time, which is now. RAM]

Putin’s desperate attempts to intercept the supplies from the west by bombing rail lines and fuel depots are strikingly similar to Hitler’s attempts to attack allied convoys in the Atlantic. But they are failing to affect the overall situation, and equipment is successfully getting to the frontline. US weapons from the unprecedented $40bn aid package, [A sizable portion of which was for weapons. RAM] which we expect will include much-needed multiple rocket launch systems, will start arriving soon.

The free world has decided to stop accepting Russia’s bullying behaviour, but it must be consistent in its application of that approach. For many years, western leaders tolerated Russian aggression: invading Georgia; invading Ukraine; occupying Crimea; occupying the Black Sea; carrying out targeted assassinations in the UK; carrying out cyber-attacks; allegedly meddling with elections; abusing human rights. Every time it was said: “It is Russia. It has always been like that.”

It is time to stop accepting such injustices. How often have people been told to tolerate something because “it has always been like this”? Racial discrimination, sexual abuse, domestic violence, corruption, social inequality and organised crime have been endemic in societies. The only time things have changed is when people have challenged the old ways and refused to accept them any more.

We cannot allow past approaches to dominate the way we live now. Kissinger may have played a significant role in creating the world as it was – a less than perfect world, I must say. But no longer we will accept an unjust and unfair past defining our future.

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Here I set out a picture from the type of “negotiated” settlement I believe should be the end result of Putin’s war and genocide.


The Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri

The opening comments and parenthetical comments within the articles are Mr. McConnell's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation or the Friends of Ukraine Network.