In the exclusion zone at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (Chernobyl NPP), forests burn for the third week. Specialists from several regions of Ukraine, aviation and the military have been involved in the fight against fires. A special group has been created at the Ministry of the Interior to counter arsonists whose actions could cause fires. The fire was prevented from entering the Chernobyl territory. But for the first time in many years, the meeting of former station workers and residents of the Pripyat city built at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was canceled. These meetings were traditionally held on April 26, the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. With details – Kommersant correspondent Matvey Shimanov.
The first foci of fire in the Chernobyl zone were discovered on April 4. Forests were burned near the borders of the exclusion zone and about 28 km from Chernobyl.
Immediately after the discovery, they began to extinguish, including with the help of aircraft, but soon several more fires appeared near Chernobyl. All of them were either adjacent to the exclusion zone, or were not far from it.
By the 20th of April, fire covered over 11 thousand hectares of the territory of the exclusion zone and spread to forests beyond its borders, including in the neighboring Zhytomyr region. Firefighters who work in Chernobyl and its environs do not exclude that the cause was the burning of grass by residents of villages located near the border of the exclusion zone.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of small settlements, the inhabitants of which are mainly engaged in agriculture, along this border – from the Ukrainian and Belarusian sides.
They set fires to dry grass on the eve of spring sowing every year, despite government bans and huge fines (not so long ago, the Verkhovna Rada increased the fine for this offense to 61 thousand hryvnias, or about 170 thousand rubles).
This year, almost snowless winters and strong spring winds led to the fact that the fire began to spread quickly and uncontrollably. Fires spread not only to forests in the exclusion zone, but also to nearby villages.
However, the Ukrainian authorities do not exclude that the fires could have started for other reasons. So, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov said that saboteurs or provocateurs could organize arson in the exclusion zone or on the border with her.
“Forest, especially coniferous, litter is easily vulnerable to fire. Peatlands have dried up, and this is a special problem. And all this, of course, is an opportunity for villains and provocateurs. Someone wants to spoil life in the country, someone wants to hide their dirty deeds with fire. We understand this very clearly. We don’t intend to put up, and we’ll take measures, ”he wrote on Facebook, announcing the creation of a special group in the National Guard to combat saboteurs.
What kind of “dirty tricks”, the traces of which saboteurs want to hide in the fire, Mr. Avakov did not specify. However, in past years, information appeared on mass poaching in the Chernobyl zone.
A few kilometers from Chernobyl, huge bald spots in the forests are still visible, and dirt roads are broken by heavy machinery, with the help of which trees could be felled and transported. Felling traces are present even in the so-called Red Forest – in the territory that took the largest share of radioactive dust after the explosion of the reactor. The trees that then grew in the Red Forest, back in the 1980s, were tumbled down by bulldozers and buried, but new ones grew in their place, rooted in soil contaminated with tons of radioactive dust.
Environmental activists have warned that radioactive wood is sold for firewood to summer residents and residents of villages in northern Ukraine and southern Belarus, and is also used as raw material for furniture production in violation of all safety standards.
This year the leadership of the State Agency for Management of the Exclusion Zone was changed, and the composition of the public council monitoring the work of the agency was also updated. The new leaders secretly announced the start of an investigation into poaching and their readiness to completely stop illegal logging in the exclusion zone.
Fires destroyed not only the traces of possible criminal felling, but also the habitats of animals, including rare ones. The Chernobyl Radiation-Ecological Biosphere Reserve operates on the territory of the exclusion zone, whose specialists are engaged in the conservation and study of the flora and fauna of the region near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
“According to preliminary estimates, about 11.5 thousand hectares of the southwestern part of the reserve were affected, which is about 5% of the reserve. Large mammals and ungulates hid. At the local level, the food supply has been lost, but they will return there after some time. The largest losses are small mammals, small birds, reptiles, amphibians, ”said the director of the reserve, Alexander Galushchenko.
Rescue animals involved volunteers. So, their efforts saved a two-month-old foal of Przhevalsky’s horse from the area affected by the fire – an experiment has been conducted in the reserve for several years to return to the wild the representatives of this species that have been preserved only in zoos. The rescued female was transferred to one of the animal shelters in the Kiev region.
“We don’t know where the mare-mare of this little Przewalski’s horse went. Maybe the frightened herd did not notice how he had lost the baby. Shelter specialists found her burns from wandering around the conflagration, ”the reserve said.
Volunteers help not only animals, but also people working in the exclusion zone: the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was already quite difficult to reach, was almost in blockade due to quarantine. The population of the city of Chernobyl – and usually the shift workers live there, employees of enterprises serving the shelter over the exploding fourth power unit, radiologists and railway workers working on the Slavutich-Chernobyl line – due to quarantine, it decreased several times. Freight flights to Chernobyl also declined sharply.
Because of this, interruptions occurred in the centralized delivery of firefighters equipment and food.
“Volunteers at the first moment when it was necessary to extinguish the ground fire, and from the fire engine to the fire there were about 2.5 km and there were not enough shovels, 300 shovels were delivered. They brought in products, satchels, and other equipment. They showed civic consciousness, as at the front, ”said Mikhail Baytala, one of the leaders of the State Agency for the Management of the Exclusion Zone, at a briefing on the course of the fight against fire.
By April 26, the 34th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, most of the fires were extinguished. On the eve of the exclusion zone left hundreds of firefighters sent to Chernobyl from several regions of Ukraine to help their local colleagues.
Firefighters did not allow fire to the nuclear power plant, the ignition of which threatened to release radioactive substances into the atmosphere. However, several visiting cards of the area, such as the abandoned villages surrounding Chernobyl and the Emerald Camp, in which the first liquidators were stationed in 1986, were killed in the fire.
The victims of the fire include the tradition of memorial meetings of former residents of Pripyat on the night of April 25 to 26. In previous years, dozens and even hundreds of former Chernobyl workers and their families came there, who forever left Pripyat after the explosion of the fourth nuclear power unit. Due to fires, as well as due to quarantine, this meeting was first held not on the square near the long-abandoned DC Energetik, but on social networks. Its participants lit candles at the same time that the reactor exploded 34 years ago, at 1 23 a.m., and posted photos and videos of the lights on the pages of the rally on Facebook.
On the afternoon of April 26, according to official information, in the exclusion zone there remained two hotbeds of forest fires that did not pose a threat to Chernobyl, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and people working at the station.
Recall, from April 4, more than 1 thousand people and 250 pieces of equipment, including two fire helicopters, were involved in extinguishing fires in the exclusion zone. The radiation background did not exceed acceptable standards in either Kiev or Chernobyl.