What could have happened at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant during the occupation, but did not



What could have happened at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant during the occupation, but did not

Author: Dmytro Fionik, exclusively for Liga.net

Illustrations: Anastasia Ivanova

Layout: Yuliia Vynohradska


Around 3 p.m. on February 24, 2022, in the forest near the abandoned village of Zalissya, a fox named Semen heard a distant hum. Semen is a local celebrity. On the section of the road between Chornobyl and the abandoned village of Zalissya, he usually stopped cars to take pictures with the workers of the nuclear station in exchange for food. He inherited this business from his father. Also Semen.

Semen Semenovych the Fox. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/fox.Semion

Semen Semenovych stepped out onto the road, stood for a few seconds with pricked ears, sniffed the air, and slipped into the thicket. Half an hour later, a column of tanks passed along the track, raising radioactive dust. Another one followed soon. And more. Russian military equipment continuously crawled from the side of Belarus towards Kyiv. Semen Semenovych disappeared. Maybe forever.

On that day, all living things were hiding from the Russians in the exclusion zone of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The threat was real. During the 24 days of the occupation, there was a danger of an accident that could cause irreparable damage to people and nature for dozens of kilometers around.


It was most difficult for people to hide. Around 5 a.m., alarming sounds from the side of the Belarusian border woke up four young hikers, who had illegally crossed into the Exclusion Zone and stayed in one of the abandoned houses in Pripyat. Missiles were flying from Belarus. The guys decided to run to the place where there were definitely bomb shelters – to the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. They made it.

Around the same time, the lights were turned off at the station – the facility went into emergency mode. There was to be a rotation in the morning. But at 8 a.m. it became known that the train from the dormitory town of Slavutych was canceled – the railway bridge was already damaged at that time. At 9 a.m., the head of the station shift, Valentyn Heiko, announced that there would be no shift today.

The Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was guarded by 168 National Guardsmen armed with light weapons. But how could they use them? Combat operations near the nuclear power plant could lead to radiation contamination of huge areas. Military resistance seemed futile:

the Russian army was pouring through Chornobyl – hundreds of vehicles, thousands of soldiers. The National Guardsmen laid down their weapons.

The invaders seeped into every crevice. Lyudmyla Kozak, an engineer of the physical protection service, remembers how the monitors showed soldiers climbing over fences, breaking into gates, and squeezing through passageways. At 2 p.m., a vehicle pulled up at the central entrance. A delegation of Russian officers entered the office of the person in charge of shift number three Valentyn Heiko.

Thus began the longest, 600-hour shift in the history of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. More than 100 energy workers and the hikers became hostages of Russian terrorists, 168 National Guardsmen were captured. Dozens (according to other sources – hundreds) of permanent and temporary residents of the exclusion zone were also in the occupation: “samosely”, workers of the laboratory, dormitory, and boiler house.

One of the command posts was located at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, where the offensive on Kyiv was coordinated

The occupiers obviously counted on the fact that the Ukrainian army would not risk attacking the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Therefore, the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone turned into an ideal corridor for transferring manpower and equipment deep into Ukraine.

One of the offices at the plant itself was converted into the officers’ dormitory. According to our data, during the 24 days of occupation, at least five Russian generals of various branches of the military lived there. This gives reason to believe that the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was one of the command posts where the attack on Kyiv was coordinated.

Several hundred soldiers were scattered throughout the area. Some of them lived in the Red Forest, dug trenches, and settled down there. Red Forest is a mysterious place overgrown with gnarled trees and bushes. It is more dangerous here than at the plant itself. Radioactive trees are buried in the forest. Breathing local dust is deadly. But Russian soldiers were oblivious to this.

Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant is a disabled power station. There are no operating reactors there. A classic nuclear explosion is impossible here. But a radioactive one is possible: here are located some of the world’s largest repositories of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.

Terrorists put not only themselves at risk. And not only those who happened to be next to them. Any unexpected occurrence at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, such as a power outage or loss of control over equipment, threatens dire consequences. Unfortunately, such situations did occur during the occupation.


The main secret of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant is concealed by a silver dome 110 meters high. Inside, this structure called the New Safe Confinement resembles a space temple, in the middle of which rises a metal cage-altar. Inside the cage is a concrete sarcophagus. It contains melted fuel and fragments of the fourth power unit.

It is believed that the consequences of the disaster of 1986 have been eliminated. But the plant employees know that there is a dragon in the sarcophagus. The fact that the dragon breathes is indicated by the level of radiation, which in the space underneath the arch exceeds the natural background by ten times. The dragon has many names.

One of them is Americium. The monster is over 30 years old. The average lifespan is 400 years. Where did such profile data come from?

Inside the sarcophagus, the decay processes of radioactive elements continue. During the accident, there was a release of isotopes, in particular, plutonium-241. Its half-life is 14 years. Over the past decades, this element should, to put it unscientifically, evaporate. But the problem is that plutonium-241 forms the radionuclide americium-241. And the half-life of americium is 432 years.

The metaphor of the dragon, which hatched in 1986 and has been living in the sarcophagus since then, belongs not to a poet, but to an engineer. Oleksandr Kupnyi worked for most of his life in various divisions of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, including 10 years at the “Shelter” facility (the official name of the sarcophagus). After retiring, he wrote dozens of articles that can be used to compile an annals of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. He introduces himself as a journalist and video blogger.

Photo from the personal archive of Oleksandr Kupnyi

To release the dragon outside, one must have specific qualifications, which the Russian military could not have,



What will happen if the dragon is released? Oleksandr Kupnyi does not answer immediately, choosing his words carefully: “In this case, long-term negative consequences for the health of millions of people are possible…” Simply put, a radiation explosion can span half of Europe. But Kupnyi immediately adds: “Bear in mind that the probability of such a scenario is low.”

The expert explains: in order to release a dragon outside, one must have specific qualifications, which the Russian military could not have. Even if the occupiers had thrown a drunken party at the Shelter facility with gunfire left, right and center, the dragon would not have noticed.

Does this mean that the probability of any man-made disaster or large-scale terrorist attack was extremely low? No, not at all. It’s just that the most likely threats were related to other ChNPP facilities. For example, the repositories of spent nuclear fuel.


200 meters from the confinement, there is a building resembling a huge workshop several stories high — an interim spent nuclear fuel wet storage facility (ISF-1). There are several pools in this box. They contain the same fuel in the form of thousands of heat-separating assemblies. So that they are not red-hot, they must be constantly cooled.

What happens if the water stops circulating and the spent fuel stops cooling? In the history of nuclear energy, there has been a similar case — the Kyshtym accident. In 1957, a container with radioactive materials was left without cooling at the Soviet factory for the production of atomic bombs. There was an explosion.

Hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to radiation, the so-called East Ural radioactive trail 300 km long was formed. The world learned about the scale of the disaster several decades later.

Author: Anastasia Ivanova

What was the probability of repeating this scenario in the spring of 2022 at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant? We will try to answer this question later. For now, let’s return to the company’s warehouse stocks. There is so much radioactive waste (not to be confused with spent nuclear fuel) in the storage facilities of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant that one can fill nine Olympic swimming pools: more than 22,000 cubic meters. These are both solid materials and wastewater. Shops where such water is combined with cement are constantly operating. Concrete is poured into special barrels.

Spent fuel and radioactive waste can be used in different ways. As an option, you can make a homemade analogue of nuclear weapons – a radiological dispersal device. Or, as it is also called, “dirty bomb”.

Oleksandr Kupnyi explains: “It is enough to attach radioactive waste to an ordinary projectile. And use it as a radiation weapon. Or for provocation. Like, look what they found: a Ukrainian ‘dirty bomb’. There is a third option: to try to introduce the equipment for such a product on the black market.”


During the entire period of occupation, Valeriy Semenov, the chief engineer of the physical protection service of the ChNPP, was responsible for the preservation of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive materials.

Valeriy Semenov, head of security at ChNPP. Photo: LIGA.net

One of the conditions of our coexistence with them was that the entire internal transit regime would be carried out by our National Guardsmen,


Head of security at ChNPP

Most of the contacts between the staff and the invaders took place through the mediation of two people – the plant shift manager and the chief engineer. Semenov turned out to be the point man of three shift managers – unlike his colleagues, he did not go on rotation until the occupiers left the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. His personal stint stretched for 1,054 hours.

We met with Semenov in one of Slavutych’s cafes. The engineer is in his fifties, but looks younger. His parents are liquidators of the Chornobyl accident. Semenov’s whole life is also connected with the plant. At the age of 18, he got a job as a worker in the radioactive waste collection department. Later, he obtained two higher educations (physics and engineering) and continued his career at the station.

The slight weariness and nervousness in his manner of speaking is still evident. But at the same time, one feels the confidence of a person who is used to making decisions.

What can a “dirty bomb” consist of? How many of them can be made from the materials available at the plant? What can be the consequences of their use? After listening to these questions, Semenov looks for a lighter and goes out to smoke.

When he returns, he says:

– I regard your questions as provocative. Why do you need to know?

– To understand the degree of danger… Could tens of thousands of people die from “dirty bombs” that could be assembled from materials at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant?

– Hundreds of thousands.

A few days after the occupation, the canteen workers began to pass out from exhaustion

Over a cup of coffee, Semenov recalls the first days of the occupation. The operation to seize the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was led by Major General of the Russian Guard Sergei Burakov. During the first meeting, shift manager Valentyn Heiko and head of security Valeriy Semenov forced the general to study safety protocols, accompanying them with verbal explanations. The essence of the latter was that “unexpected occurrences” can cause irreparable consequences for the life and health of everyone who is on the territory of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

“One of the conditions of our coexistence with them was that the entire internal transit regime would be carried out by our National Guardsmen,” recalls Semenov.

“And this condition was observed until the last day. We got our way. Our guys went on guard duty, even without weapons. Thanks to this, the invaders did not infiltrate particularly important facilities.”

Heiko and Semenov issued 170 passes for Russians, determining which person can move, where and according to what needs. But the occupiers also put forward their own conditions.

In particular, ChNPP employees were restricted in their movement. On average, they left the production premises three times a day and went to certain places: the dining room, the shower room, and the first aid station. Contacts between Russian soldiers and personnel were kept to a minimum, but it was impossible to avoid them.

A little later, a Rosatom delegation arrived at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Russian engineers took a tour of the production facilities and said that they had no experience with such equipment. Work processes were not interfered with.

Shift number three workers, captured National Guardsmen and four trespassers lived and worked at the plant for about a month. They slept on the floor, on chairs, on tables, covering themselves with whatever they had to. But that was not the most difficult. Someone suffered from a lack of usual medicines or hygiene items. Smokers suffered from a lack of cigarettes.

“They smoked everything. First, everything that people had in their pockets, then everything that was found in lockers, then tea,” sighs Valeriy Semenov.

– Do you smoke a lot?

– Up to two packs a day…

Author: Anastasia Ivanova

The story of one employee of the radioactive waste processing plant: “We have one place there, where there used to be a smoking room. And just imagine, you break off a board and see a huge number of butts. This is bliss!”

Humor helped to survive. Oleksandr Cherepanov, an employee of the workshop dealing with radioactive waste, recalls that they made fun of themselves and even the invaders:

– My partner and I are walking past the soldiers, and I ask him loudly so that the orcs can hear: “Have you taken the radiation pills yet?” And he also answers clamorously: “But we’ve run out. We’re screwed.”

Most of the shift number three are people well over 40. There are employees of pre-retirement age. Many have health problems. And almost everyone fears for the children left in Slavutych. And all this amid constant, round-the-clock work.

“A few days after the occupation, the canteen workers began to faint from fatigue,” continues Semenov.

“There were three cooks in the shift, whose task was to heat and distribute food, not to cook. And here they had to cook for almost 300 people.”

The illegal hikers who had been sitting in the basement until that moment came to the rescue. They spent 20 days of their imprisonment in the kitchen, mastering the art of cooking.

From 30% to 50% of all garbage generated by the Russian army comprised empty bottles

Russians ate separately. And they cooked for themselves separately. General observation: according to Valeriy Semenov, from 30% to 50% of all the garbage generated by the Russian army was empty bottles.

One of the workers tells how a drunk Russian officer once pointed a gun at Semenov. But the engineer himself does not go into details:

“Were there any drunken antics on the part of the Russians? Mass ones on the territory of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant – no. But there was one scumbag. But he was restrained… In general, every day was a quest.”

The main quest was, apparently, de-energizing the station. Electricity at the Chornobyl NPP is served by three power transmission lines. As a result of the battles near Kyiv, wires were broken in one place, then in another. Employees of the operator of the country’s high-voltage transmission lines, NPC Ukrenergo, were literally restoring the transmission line under fire.

On March 9, at 11:22 a.m., all three lines were turned off. On the same day, the ChNPP electricians started the backup diesel generators made in the 1970s. Made in Yugoslavia. The staff had less than a day’s supply of diesel fuel for diesel generators.


The accident at the Japanese nuclear power plant Fukushima-1 occurred due to the shutdown of the cooling systems of the reactors. The first wave of the tsunami cut power lines. The diesel generators were switched on. The second wave disabled the diesel generators. The nuclear fuel melted.

As for the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, it can be said that the “first wave of war” cut off power lines. The “second wave” could be the absence of diesel fuel. But still, the analogy with Fukushima is not entirely correct. Unlike Fukushima, there are no operating reactors at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

But there is, as already mentioned, a huge amount of spent nuclear fuel. Therefore, it is more appropriate to compare the potential disaster with the previously mentioned Kyshtym accident. A concrete container with radioactive waste exploded near Kyshtym.

As previously mentioned, the water in the ISF-1 pool must circulate at a certain speed and constantly cool the red-hot assemblies. Could it have happened that the water boiled, evaporated, leading to an explosion? What could have been the scale of the disaster?

Under certain meteorological conditions, the formed radioactive spot can go outside the zone. That is, in a strong wind

We addressed these questions to Valery Seida, Acting General Director of ChNPP. We had to ask several times. In the end, Mr. Seida asked for a written request. To be honest, we did not expect an answer. But we got it.

Here it is: “The scenario you presented is not possible for spent nuclear fuel storage #1. The previously conducted safety assessment of ISF-1 under normal operating conditions and under possible design accidents did not reveal any safety deficiencies in terms of the thermal conditions of spent nuclear fuel storage. As shown in the report on the assessment of the temperature control of the SNF storage, in the absence of forced circulation of cooling water, heating of the water in the holding pool to 45 degrees Celsius is achieved in 39 days, and then there is a tendency to stabilize the temperature at the level of 50 degrees. But, of course, there were a number of risks associated with power outages, hence the control of the equipment. And it was very real.”

According to Oleksandr Kupnyi, “a number of real risks” are a serious increase in radioactive aerosols or even a local radiation accident. The radius of damage is 5-10 kilometers. Under certain meteorological conditions, the formed radioactive spot can go outside the zone. That is, in a strong wind.


On March 9, Heiko asked Semenov to gather the most senior Russian officers. He obliged. Heiko made a speech before them. Of course, there is no transcript of this meeting. In Semenov’s presentation, it sounded something like this.

Heiko: “You are all so smart and pretty here. You say you can secure the facility. You say that everything is under your control. Here is your time to act: provide fuel. Or help restore power lines. We have enough fuel for 14 hours.”

General: “No problem. We have plenty of diesel, thank God. We will provide it. We will refuel you.

Five days had passed. The Chornobyl NPP consumed 27 tons of diesel fuel every day. The general came to the office of the shift manager at the station and declared that diesel generators were gobbling diesel like half the front near Kyiv. He cannot provide such resources. And he issued an ultimatum to the management of shift number three – to connect to the Belarusian grid.

Meanwhile, in Slavutych…

It should be noted that electricity is supplied to Slavutych by the same lines as to the Chornobyl NPP. There is no gas supply in the dormitory town. Therefore, the lack of electricity at the beginning of March could mean only one thing – a humanitarian catastrophe. There were not enough local diesel generators to heat thousands of people.

Firewood became the main source of energy in the city of nuclear workers. Food was prepared on grills

In the first days of the full-scale invasion, the city, located 10 km from the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, found itself in the Russian rear. Although it was not occupied. And lived under the conditions of the blockade. More precisely, a partial blockade – volunteers managed to deliver humanitarian aid there via the forest roads.

The stores were running out of food supplies. Pharmacies were running short on medicines. Local engineers demothballed the old gas station, but it was not enough to heat the entire city. Firewood became the main source of energy in the city of nuclear workers. Food was prepared on grills. By the way, barbecues are one of Slavutych’s hallmarks.

The satellite city of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was designed by builders from eight Soviet republics. Hence the names of the local quarters: Kyiv, Tallinn, Tbilisi… Each quarter has its own national flavor. According to the project, public barbecues were installed in the courtyards of the Yerevan quarter. There is even a barbecue near an Orthodox church.

Firewood and braziers saved the people of Slavutych. But it was life on the edge – the temperatures dropped below minus five at night.

Author: Anastasia Ivanova

Were they aware of this at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant? At the plant, the occupiers installed a radio-electronic warfare tower that jammed mobile communications. But plant employees were allowed to call families.

The townspeople were aware of everything that was happening at the facility, and the plant employees knew about the situation in the city. The city office of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant devised plans for personnel rotation on a daily basis, and those at the plant were pondering how to connect the city to electricity.

So, the general issued an ultimatum to the management of shift number three – to connect to the Belarusian grid. The staff put forward a counter-ultimatum – to provide electricity to Slavutych.

On the evening of March 14, the manager of the shift of the electrical shop, Oleksiy Shelestiy, received the voltage from the Belarusian city of Mozyr. And he submitted it to Slavutych’s line. Dozens of kilometers away, beyond the Dnipro, the light came on.


The occupiers did not object to the rotation of personnel, realizing that it was increasingly difficult for exhausted people to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities. But given the peculiarities of local logistics, such a rotation turned out to be too difficult a task.

The Chornobyl NPP is located on the right bank of the Dnipro, Slavutych is on the left. If you look at the map, you can see that a wedge of Belarusian territory seems to have been driven between Chornobyl and Slavutych. The train, which the employees of the plant used to commute, crossed the border twice.

On the first day of the war, the rails on the bridge were damaged. An attempt to cross the Dnipro on thin ice in early March could have ended tragically.

Nevertheless, the leadership of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which was in Slavutych, formed a squad of 50 volunteers ready to replace their colleagues. No one knew when the rotation would take place. And no one knew how long the new stint would last.

One of the volunteers was Yevhen Kosakovskyi, a special water treatment operator at shop No. 40.

“Of course, I was afraid to leave my family,” he recalls.

“We have two children… But my wife said: ‘We will pull through’. We were still wondering: how many days will we have to do? Someone from the superiors said: ‘For a week’. But we understood that, most likely, it’d be two. It turned out to be three.”

Author: Anastasia Ivanova

In the second half of March, there was not much ice on the river. Representatives of the Chornobyl NPP administration tried to negotiate with local fishermen about ferrying them by boat. The negotiations were difficult and broke down several times. Some of the fishermen did not want to risk their lives and their boats, while others believed that transporting employees to an occupied plant would make them collaborators.

In the end, it was possible to persuade two watercraft owners. The crossing resembled an illustration from the fairy tale “Grandpa Mazai And The Hares”. On the morning of March 20, while breaking through the thin ice, the boatman wearing an ushanka hat provided transport – a wooden flatboat. They crossed back and forth in groups of eight people. The boat sailed across the Dnipro all day. The last trips had to be done when it got dark.

Yevhen Kosakovskyi recalls:

– There was a boat not far away… But they didn’t give it to us… We sat holding onto the sides. The distance from the sides to the water is five centimeters… The water is splashing… We traveled for 20 minutes.

On the other side, the boat was met by the Russian military. A convoy of three buses was moving under escort to the plant: two armored personnel carriers in front, followed by buses with employees. There were two soldiers on each bus. The convoy was closed by a minibus with Russian military personnel and another armored personnel carrier.

While the convoy was approaching the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, buses on the other side were taking home those who finally managed to escape from captivity. Russians released shift number three and allowed four hikers, eight Ukrainian military women, and one cancer-stricken National Guardsman to leave.

But shift number three did not go on rotation in its entirety. About 20 employees remained. Someone had nowhere to return. Some of the ChNPP workers live in Chernihiv, near which battles were fought in those days. Several Kyivans also had no chance to get home.

There was another reason to stay. Shift number three is about 100 workers. And about 50 replacements arrived. Among those who remained was engineer Valeriy Semenov.

“In total, there are seven chief engineers at the Chornobyl NPP,” he explains the reasons for his decision.

“Three had joined the Territorial Defense. Two are blocked in Chernihiv. One has twins less than a year old. And then, our shift at the console is six people, and four arrived. Also, we were given 15 minutes to change. It is impossible to transfer cases within this time. There was one more moment… Our National Guardsmen. Among them are my friends, my relatives. Given the psychological state they were in…”

– What state?

– In a very difficult situation. I couldn’t abandon them.

The National Guardsmen who protected the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant are also residents of Slavutych. And since the city is small (about 25,000 people lived in it before the war), many residents are connected by neighborly, family, and friendly ties.

The crossing resembled an illustration from the fairy tale “Grandpa Mazai and the Hares”

On the morning of March 31, 14 paddy wagons entered the territory of the plant. Semenov immediately guessed who this transport was intended for. The workers recall that on that day the management postponed lunch for four hours so that the employees would not see how the National Guardsmen were being taken away.

On March 31, Russians generally had a busy day as they were breaking camp. That is, they looted the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the surrounding areas. From the windows of the production buildings, the employees watched as the soldiers stuffed their belongings into the cars, including personal things: heaters, kettles, and table lamps. Total looting took place in the entire Chornobyl zone.

The central analytical laboratory with equipment worth a total of 6 million euros was completely “dismantled” and disabled. But there is an interesting exception. Everything was plundered in the laboratory, including the tea bags, but one book remained.

One of the favorite books of the head of the department of electrometry and radiometry, Leonid Bohdan. A collection of Soviet fiction entitled “Broom Flights”. “Young Guard”, 1991. Coming to his workplace a few days after the havoc, Leonid Mykhailovych saw a book in its place. “Nobody touched it,” he says with a smile.

“At first I could not grasp how this could be. And then I guessed: they probably don’t know how to read.”


End of March. Slavutych has been in isolation for almost a month – surrounded by Russian troops. At the same time, a police station and military commissariat operated in the city. All the assault rifles in the city were distributed among the Territorial Defense fighters, the number of which is limited by these very rifles (about 150 pieces). Most of the tiny militia is concentrated at two checkpoints outside the city.

Rumors are spreading through the city that Russian snipers are sitting on pine trees around the city. Through a messenger, the invaders gave Mayor Slavutych an ultimatum: to surrender his weapons by 3:00 p.m. Moscow time on March 24. The mayor and armed defenders stood firm. The outcome: the Russian occupiers pounded the first checkpoint with mortars.

Armed resistance continued the next day. On March 25, tanks fired at the second checkpoint. Snipers were indeed working on the outskirts of the city – it was a sniper who shot the car with the local paramedic. Losses on the Ukrainian side: four dead soldiers of the Territorial Defense (including a paramedic) and two destroyed checkpoints.

Today, these battles left behind several charred skeletons of cars along the road a few kilometers from the city.

“This is where the first battle took place,” the mayor of Slavutych, Yuriy Fomichov, slows down his SUV and asks “Should I stop?”

Mayor of Slavutych, Yuriy Fomichov. Photo from personal archive

It was easy for me. On March 24, my family managed to leave for western Ukraine. That was it. The fear had passed,



It is getting late, the remnants of the blood red sunset are visible through the trees. I get the impression that this place makes the mayor feel uneasy, so I say:

– No need.

The mayor gasps with relief. A few minutes later, he points to the second roadblock. I ask:

– And whose cars were burnt?

– Guys from the Territorial Defense used to come for their shifts… But our city is small, there is no public transport. The last one stopped on the 25th. That day it became clear: we can stand to death. But what’s the point? We are not protecting any strategic road. Everything

around is captured. There were tanks around the city. There is no chance to fight back. We had to save the people. And we did. By the way, most of them are now fighting in the east.

In the evening of the same day, the Territorial Defense troops left Slavutych via forest tracks. And civilians started preparing for civil resistance. No one knew when the Russians would enter the city. Therefore, it was decided to gather the next day on the square as early as possible and unfurl a hundred-meter-long flag of Ukraine.

In March, news about the kidnapping of mayors and members of their families appeared almost every day. This was a standard tactic of the Russians during the capture of a Ukrainian settlement. In order not to fall into the hands of the occupiers earlier, Fomichov spent the night with a friend in one of the nearby villages. And in the morning he got behind the wheel and went to Slavutych, into the uncertainty.

In March, news about the kidnapping of mayors and members of their families appeared almost every day. This was a standard tactic of the Russians during the capture of a Ukrainian settlement

– It was easy for me. On March 24, my family managed to leave for western Ukraine. That was it. The fear had passed.

Russian soldiers blocked the road at the entrance to the city… I enquired:

– Did you drive this car?

– No, a [Daewoo] Lanos.

– So it was not possible to make out that the governor was behind the wheel?

– No, they had no idea who was in front of them. They took the phone and searched me. They tied my hands behind my back. They pulled the car over to the side themselves. And they took me to the forest. Not too deep. 30-50 meters from the road. There were already several people there with their hands tied, like mine. The soldiers say to us: “It’s your mayor’s fault, we told him that it was pointless to fight back…” Well, here I am: “Guys, you got the jackpot, I’m the mayor.” They were like: “Really, the mayor? ” – “Most certainly”.

Fomichov smiles and continues:

– And then one of them says: “Can we take a picture with you?” Well, I thought: my hands are tied, what can I do to you? If you want to take a picture, please do. But he asked. I answered: “Yeah, let me take a picture for you.” He goes: “Okay, okay, gotcha.” It seemed like a funny moment, but it is actually important: in order to keep the situation under control, it was necessary to make it clear who is in charge here. And they respect the superiors – it’s their mentality.

There were increasingly more such minor psychological games. The soldiers radioed that they had the mayor. They received an order to deliver him to the commander.

– I had to walk three kilometers under escort. And I had to throw away the phone. I remember I was worried that my wife would call… That’s why I told one of the soldiers: you will hear a call, see such a name, pick up the phone and say three words: “Everything is fine.” Then my wife tells me: “I’m calling you, and someone else’s voice says: “Everything is fine.” And she immediately understood that everything was not fine at all.

Fomichov recalls how a Russian officer looked at a drone footage of the square on a tablet. Shots were sounding from everywhere.

– I ask, why are you shooting? He says: don’t worry, [we’re not shooting] at people. I enquire: are there many people in the square? There are around 500, he says. From the conversation, I understood that their plan included a “clean-up”. Who, I ask, are you going to clean up? Everyone who had weapons, I explain to him, has left. He does not believe, says that there are people in the crowd with machine guns and they will shoot. We agreed on the following: I go with him, I walk in front of him. If shooting starts, I will be the first in line. We got into an armored car and drove off.

Along the way, Fomichov tried to count the enemy’s forces: at the approaches to the city and in the city itself. He counted a dozen units of equipment and several hundred soldiers.

– When we got out of the armored car, I saw people. It was not “five hundred”, there were thousands on the horizon… At that time there were less than 15,000 [people] in Slavutych, and most of them went to the square. When they saw me, they started chanting: mayor, mayor, mayor… The feeling is incredible. Impossible to convey.

Recounting the events of that day, Fomichov mentions the special role of the local priest, who tried to stop the tanks with a crucifix.


The rally in Slavutych on March 26 resembled a mass exorcism rite – the expulsion of the “Russian world” from the city. Thousands of unarmed citizens slowly advanced on the invaders. Shots rang out, stun grenades flew into the crowd. Someone fell. But people marched on.

A priest in white festive clothes rushed forward. He approached the invaders shouting: “Take off your crucifixes, you are not Christians! Remove the crosses!” The military equipment retreated…

Father Ioann, the abbot of the St. Elias Church, says:

– To be honest, I don’t remember what I screamed at that moment. It was such an emotional wave. When I heard gunshots and explosions, I thought a massacre had begun. It emerged later that those were stun grenades. First thought: I just took communion. For a Christian, this is the perfect moment to face death.

Father Ioann, abbot of the St. Elias Church, with his 9-year-old son Seraphim. Photo: LIGA.net

First thought: I just took communion. For a Christian, this is the perfect moment to face death,



In ordinary life, father Ioann is not a pugnacious person. When he walks to work without the inner cassock along the forest path, he can be mistaken for a local nuclear physicist on a walk: a slightly sad look, a trimmed beard with a light gray.

Rally in Slavutych on March 26, 2022. Source: Telegram channel of Slavutych City Council

The St. Elias Church is surrounded by a forest on three sides. The windows on the eastern side of the altar overlook the city. On the morning of March 26, looking out of one of these windows, the priest saw a rally. Today, there is no one in the church except for us, so every sound echoes and the quiet voice of the priest rises up the dome:

– It was Saturday. Parental Saturday is a day of commemoration of deceased parents. Since it was dangerous in the city, I asked the parishioners on social networks not to come to the service the day before. I was just given names to commemorate. My assistants and I officiated alone. Funeral service and liturgy. At about nine o’clock I looked out the window… I saw a crowd. I saw one guy fall… I thought the shooting had started. At the time, I was not afraid of death. In the attire I was in, I went out…

The townspeople were actually driving the occupiers out of the central part of the city. Enemy vehicles stopped at a major intersection. The mayor recalls the occupying commander saying: “Shall we shout or shall we negotiate?”

One of the protesters pulled the priest by the sleeve: “Father, we need to negotiate.”

Rally in Slavutych on March 26, 2022. Source: Telegram channel of Slavutych City Council

“I didn’t understand at first,” says Father Ioann.


“How can we negotiate? Whom to negotiate with? The mood suggested that they should be driven away. But common sense said we should negotiate. If you want to live on, you need to talk to people. My teacher once said: ‘I have nothing in common only with the devil…’

Author: Anastasia Ivanova

Father Ioann is a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which until recently had the suffix MP (Moscow Patriarchate) in its abbreviation. For this reason, his life and ministry for 25 years were at odds with local social sentiments.

– For the first 17 years, many parishioners considered me the main Banderite in town: I am originally from Zakarpattia, Ukrainian-speaking. And for the last eight years, thanks to this suffix, I turned into the main Muscovite.

In an emergency, the “suffix” played a constructive role: several Russian soldiers, having learned that a priest of the “correct” patriarchate was in front of them, expressed a desire to communicate. The conversation started with complaints:

– They told me: “Why, you are a priest and you are shouting at us. We are also Christians, we are also Orthodox.” I explained to them that they will not be met here with bread and salt. One of them brought up “God’s permission.” During the conversation, he revealed he was once a novice of some bishop… That’s the conversation. On the one hand, there were many annoying moments, things heated up, when I explained to them that they were the “permission” for us, that they were worse than Satanists. On the other hand, the very fact of this conversation meant that they might hear something…

Farewell to Slavutych's defender. Source: Telegram channel of Slavutych City Council

At some point, an elderly man in camouflage approached Father Ioann.

– I don’t know what his rank is. He was called Almaz. He asked: “Why are you shouting?” We told him that we had to bury the Territorial Defense fighters, that the whole city would bid final farewell to them, that they were heroes to us. He said: “I understand, bury them, I promise you that I will not hurt the city. If there are no provocations. If there are provocations, I will blast the city. Whatever he meant by this ‘blast’…

Meanwhile, at the Chornobyl NPP…

Volodymyr Falshovnyk, the station’s shift manager, bombarded the general’s dormitory with the question: “What is happening in Slavutych?”. Head of Security Valeriy Semenov explains: “We made it clear to the invaders that if they open fire in the city, we will cut off all contact with them, they will not be able to control the situation and the consequences will be unpredictable.” The Russian general, under the pressure of his staff, was calling somewhere, establishing something. Then he announced to the team representatives that everything would be fine with Slavutych.

Either under the impression of the conversation with the priest, or thanks to agreements with the mayor, or after the general’s calls, or for some other reasons, Almaz kept his word. The funeral of the Territorial Defense fighters went by peacefully. There were no more murders. There were no atrocities or looting. After searching the houses for weapons, the occupiers retreated into the forest.

Being in the rear of the Russian army, Slavutych lived on under the Ukrainian flag and with the Ukrainian anthem.


Speaking about Slavutych, this is how Father Ioann defines it: “This is a city where heroes walk the streets… Real heroes.” The priest smiles and thoughtfully continues: “But here it is important to understand that from a spiritual point of view, heroism is a spiritually complex state…”

Father Ioann means liquidators by heroes. Sculptural compositions, bas-reliefs, memorial plaques, and street names remind us of their exploits. Time will pass, and the names of new heroes will be inscribed in the toponymy of the city.

After the deoccupation, 37 employees of the station were awarded the Order of Courage of the third grade. The city remembers the four fallen Territorial Defense soldiers. 160 National Guardsmen have not yet returned from captivity. They are also heroes for the people of Slavutych. Almost every week, townspeople bury a new hero – a local who died at the front.

Expanding Father Ioann’s opinion, we can say that heroism is a complex state from all points of view, not only from a spiritual point of view. A feat by definition is a selfless act. It should be added here: socially recognized. In other words, it is not enough to do and experience something heroic. Recognition is needed too. And it may never come.

The main relic of the St.Elias Church: the original icon of the Chornobyl Savior. Photo: LIGA.net

If someone called Father Ioann himself a hero, he would probably be surprised. When the “official part” of the conversation ends, the priest conducts a short tour of the temple, details the main stages of the construction epic, which lasted 23 years, and shows a local relic – the original icon of the “Chornobyl Savior”. In the vestibule, the woman behind the counter reminds the father that there are two funerals tomorrow.

“There will be no soldiers?,” Father Ioann asks.

“Two old ladies,” she responds.

The priest nods. And he mentions that it was he who mourned the dead Territorial Defense fighters during the occupation. It is felt: he is burdened by the fact that recently several newly martyred soldiers were buried not in the St. Elias Church, but in a small Greek-Catholic church.

He suddenly declares that he does not mention Patriarch Kirill at liturgies and starts a conversation about what must be done to finally reunite the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In his youth, Father Ioann wanted to write a dissertation on canon law, so the conversation goes on. With an obvious implication: the canonical relationship with Patriarch Kirill turned into a personal martyrdom for the priest.

It turns out that some parishioners condemn him for not mentioning Kirill, others for not transferring to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. And in someone’s eyes, he has the stamp of “Russian peace” on him. What heroism are we on…

The new order-bearers of Chornobyl are reluctant to talk about their experiences. “I will give an interview only if my superiors tell me,” the manager of the third shift, Valentyn Heiko, said in a telephone conversation.

“I don’t know what to say, I don’t consider myself a hero. I was just doing what I had to do.”

One and the same act, performed in an extreme situation, can be interpreted in different ways. Sometimes, both as a feat and as a crime. Simultaneously

One and the same act, performed in an extreme situation, can be interpreted in different ways. Sometimes, both as a feat and as a crime. Simultaneously. In a half-whisper and off record, the station workers recall how one of the employees of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant left the workplace.

“When the Russians invaded, his circumstances were like this: he had two children at home, his wife was working in Poland. No one knew how it would all pan out. Well, he decided to go save the children,” says one of the workers.

The shortest route from the Chornobyl NPP to Slavutych is 60 km. But if you take into account that the Dnipro River, a dilapidated bridge, and two Ukrainian-Belarusian borders are all along the way, then the mileage does not play a role. Weather: rain and snow. Area: remote forests.

Any point moving along the road could be perceived by the Russians as a target. The Chornobyl Robinson had neither a supply of food nor tourist equipment. It was during these days that the ice began to break off on the Dnipro.

“He has come! It took him a few days!” the narrator switches from a whisper to almost shouting. At the end he adds: “But I don’t blame him.”

Author: Anastasia Ivanova

P.S. While we were preparing this piece, employees of the State Agency for Management of the Exclusion Zone reported that a fox was seen on the road between Chornobyl and the abandoned village of Zalissya. Semen Semenovych had lost a lot of weight, but overall, he looked healthy.


Author: Dmytro Fionik

Illustrations: Anastasia Ivanova
Layout: Yuliia Vynohradska


Publication date: 07/23/2022


2022 All rights reserved.
 Information agency ЛІГАБізнесІнформ