When war comes to the nuclear wasteland, ghosts are crossed and roads cross paths.

A few kilometers away, the world’s worst nuclear disaster did not force 74-year-old Halina Voloshina to leave her home in Chernobyl in 1986.

So when marauding Russian soldiers came to her home a year ago, she didn’t let them intimidate her.

Instead, the month Russian forces occupied this contaminated patch of land Chernobyl exclusion zoneMs. Voloshina was a thorn in their side, and they started calling her “the angry Babushka at the end of the lane.”

“They said they were here to set me free,” she recalled. “Free me from what?” she asked them before cursing.

Ms. Voloshina is one of 99 long-term residents still living in the zone, an area that covers about 1,000 square miles of some of the most radioactive soil on the planet. The terrible meltdown at Chernobyl nuclear power plant He covered the region. A hundred times more radiation than those dropped by the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Chernobyl was one of the first areas Russian tanks swept out of Belarus with the intention of capturing Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, 75 miles to the south. And it was one of the first places to be evacuated at the end of last March.

Visiting the Zone a year later, past disasters and current disasters collide in strange and wonderful ways.

The destabilization of Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, exposed the dangers of a political culture built on lies that had soiled the land for centuries. It contributed to the demise of the communist system and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s invasion was right along with other Kremlin lies: Ukraine’s statehood is a myth, and Kiev is occupied by the Nazis.

Before the war, The spirited city of PripyatOnce home to tens of thousands of atomic workers before it was destroyed, it became a dark tourist attraction for post-apocalyptic people. A Soviet-era apartment is torn down as wolves roam the hallways. The Ferris wheel at the amusement park, scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, collects more rust each year.

Visiting the villages around Chernobyl offers the opportunity to step into the frozen in time so that everything remains where it was three decades ago. Children’s toys are placed in thick brush in yards. Ragged clothes were strewn in the bedrooms as the residents fled. A dusty crow through a broken window reminds us that there was once new life where it is now dead.

Now, with cities around Ukraine destroyed, the ruins of Chernobyl feel less than the rest of the world. The distant explosions caused by animals stepping on abandoned Russian mines are a reminder that this ancient land is part of the present.

The prison building built to bury the remains of Reactor No. 4 and the cascading sarcophagus – where two massive explosions went off 2,000 tons cap From the burning core – they have long served as an object of education What happens when politics is allowed to interfere with the scientific effort to split the atom to produce energy?

Now it’s happening again.

Russian forces in southern Ukraine seized control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, and the facility in Zaporizhia was seized. Repeated shots, raising fears An accident there.

And in Chernobyl itself, Russian soldiers were seen. Careless behavior At the beginning of the war.

In the year In the year over there.

“This is when more than 5,000 Russian military vehicles entered the zone, drove on the dirt roads, and then the soldiers started digging the trenches,” Mr. Kirejeev said. “They removed the radioactive dust in the upper part of the earth.”

The villagers warned the Russians about the danger.

“They were digging holes near the reactor,” said 82-year-old Halina Markovic. We told them to stop. Come, he said. What kind of radiation could there be?’

Even a quick look at the bunkers carved into the most contaminated parts of the zone made it clear how careless the Russians were. The soldiers set fire to the soil and cooked it, making it so radioactive that it sent a Geiger counter off the charts when it was tested on a recent visit. There are conflicting reports of Russian soldiers suffering from radiation poisoning.

For the few aging residents who remain in the zone, Russian invasion and nuclear disaster are life-limiting threats.

They remember both events in detail.

Visitors are rare these days, but Ms. Voloshina was energetic as she prepared a food stand for her visitors and carried a bottle of local herbal vodka. Three shots were common for visitors, she said.

Before the meltdown, Ms. Voloshina said, Chernobyl was a company town known for its great natural beauty. When the sky lit up before dawn on April 26, 1986, she was 36 years old and the director of a local daycare center. During the days of the meltdown, along with other residents, they dug up sand and were loaded into the reactor by helicopters. .

Two plant workers died within hours of the meltdown, and 28 more died of radiation poisoning in the following months. Estimates of total deaths so far vary widely, but thousands have died from cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.

The evacuation order came in May, and nearly 200,000 people were eventually relocated, he said. International Atomic Energy Agency – But Mrs. Voloshina was not among them. She hid inside her home after police ordered residents to evacuate, though authorities sealed off her home from the outside.

The next day, she saw the police shoot them all. The dogs. Then the power and water were cut off. But Mrs. Voloshina was determined to stay in the house built by her grandfather half a century ago on the banks of the Pripyat River.

Unlike when the meltdown occurred last winter, the threat from the Russians was immediately apparent. That night, one resident, 86-year-old Evgen Markevich, jotted down his thoughts in his diary.

“Sorrow came,” he wrote. “They are shooting. Putin is like Hitler. Russian troops occupy the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Mrs. Voloshina was determined to stay.

“It was crazy,” she said. “They were going on for days: tank floods, helicopters and all kinds of shooting all the time.”

One morning, she heard the Russians ransacking the house next door. She went out to meet them.

“15 of them were armed with machine guns,” she said. “I did not allow them to enter my house. I started yelling at them.

Two days later, a neighbor alerted Ms. Voloshina’s two grown children. were in danger. One of them previously served in the Ukrainian military and pays special attention to the Russians.

So the two men braved the darkness and crept down to the river bank behind their house, loaded two bicycles onto two small motorboats and set off. They have been hiding for more than a month.

“They were able to return home only when the area was liberated by Ukrainian forces,” she said.

The youngest of her children soon rejoined the army. He had been fighting in Bakhmut for the past months.

Mrs. Voloshina wiped a tear from her eye and said that one day she would like to see him at home again.

Anna Lukinova Contribution reporting.

Audio produced by Tali Abkhazia.

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