Send Letter eng

How Russia seized the ChNPP: the reconstruction of events and names of responsible

Russian forces seized the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in February, 24 2022, in the first day of the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Earlier, the strategic object was left without external protection — the remaining defense forces left the exclusion zone without external protection to strengthen the protection of Kyiv. The National Guardsmen and civilian employees remained at the station. On the eve of the invasion, personnel were not evacuated. Despite the absence of an evacuation plan for personnel on the eve of the invasion, there was a lingering hope that the Russians would adhere to international law and refrain from occupying the ChNPP. However, Russian equipment and soldiers not only entered the territory of the object, but also threatened to use weapons there, which could have catastrophic consequences.

After defeats at the front in March 2022 Russian troops retreated from northern Ukraine. During more than a month of occupation they ransacked the ChNPP, took expensive equipment away and captured 169 Ukrainian Guardsmen. In March 31, they were taken to Russia in Briansk Region through territory of Belarus.

In this investigative material the Media Initiative of Human Rights researches chronology of seizer of the station, names of involved Russian soldiers, reproduces the route of movement of prisoners of war captured in the exclusion zone, and conditions of their detention to the Russian Federation. And also tries to answer the question: how did it happen that the nuclear facility suddenly ended up in the hands of the enemy.

During the first hours after the invasion

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (The ChNPP) — is dangerous facility known to the world after the explosion during the night of April 26, 1986. Then there was the significant emission of radiation to the outside. Currently, its fourth power unit, where the accident occurred, is hidden under the “Shelter” facility. Work of the other three reactors has been stopped. At the same time, there are several other dangerous facilities for the storage of spent fuel and radioactive waste on the territory of the ChNPPР. Despite the fact that more than 35 years have passed since the accident, access to all of them is very limited. To get into the exclusion zone, and too close to the station, you have to go through more than one control. After de-occupation of this territory, the checks were significantly strengthened.

Our journey along the well-maintained asphalt road north of Kyiv paints a surreal picture of desolation and reminders of past turmoil. Amidst the serene forest, the eerie silence is punctuated by the haunting signs of conflict—damaged bridges, fallen trees, and overgrown trenches—a testament to the relentless movement of Russian equipment within the 30-kilometer exclusion zone in February 2022, Russian equipment was constantly mowing.

“In the first days of war, since 24 February the Russians flew over this road. There were many of them. Column after column. The equipment was moving non-stop and in two rows,” — is telling Aliona Tiukhai, engineer of the Department of Providing Visits to the Exclusion Zone, who accompanies us.

Near the ChNPP, the road diverges. To the north lies Prypiat’ and onward toward the Belarusian border, a mere 20 kilometers away—a proximity that highlights the proximity to neighboring lands. To the west stretches the route leading to the Red Forest, notorious for being one of the most radiation-contaminated areas in the vicinity.

We reach the observation deck. From here you can see a huge silver sarcophagus – the “Shelter” facility, a blue ribbon of the ChNPP cooling channel and other blocks.

The ChNPP from the observation deck. Photo: Viktor Kovalchuk

“Earlier, station employees who lived in Slavutych used to go to work through “Semykhody” checkpoint. It is on the other side of the station, where people used to come by suburban train. This way is now closed. It was from that checkpoint that Russian equipment entered the ChNPP”, — Aliona points out.

Outside the station, four stalkers — illegal tourists in the exclusion zone — heard hum of machinery in the morning of February 24. Despite need to pass control, such people penetrated the zone to engage in extreme sports – highlining.

“That time in Prypiat we planned to pull ropes between two buildings and walk and shoot video about this , — 34-year-old Konstantin Kornoza tells the MIHR. — But when they woke up on the morning of February 24, the war had begun.

From the balcony of the abandoned multi-storied building where we spent the night, we saw planes and rockets fly overhead, and saw explosions in the distance. The day before, there was no indication of danger, the day before, on February 23, we walked all over Prypiat — from the border of the exclusion zone to the abandoned city, and we didn’t see anyone.”

Kornoza says that in order to save himself, he and his friends went to the ChNPP. They hoped to be evacuated together with the staff. They reached the station earlier than the Russian military. At first they did not want to accept the stalkers, as they do not have the right to be at the regime facility, but after checks they did let them in and put them in the basement. It was difficult to understand what was happening at the station from there.

The MIHR learned about the events unfolding at the ChNPP from several National Guardsmen from Military Unit 3041, who were guarding the station at the time. This Unit is not a combat unit, it performed and performs the functions of guarding strategic objects.

One of them is Yehor (name changed at the request of the witness). He recalls that on February 24, 2022, at approximately 5 a.m., the soldiers of Military Unit 3041 were raised by alarm. Everyone was sent to their facility.

“We were waiting, we didn’t know what exactly. Then we were told that a full-scale invasion had begun.

Fighters and bombers flew very low overhead, as well as Ka-52 and Mi-8 helicopters. With personnel, as we understood later to Gostomel. Right above the station. There were too many to count. We also did not count tanks. Tanks, armored personnel carriers— everything was going to Kyiv,” he says.

During a day, Liudmyla Kozak, an engineer of the Physical Protection Department of the ChNPP, worked at her workplace in front of the monitors. Her shift was supposed to end that morning, but due to the Russian offensive, the new shift did not arrive at the ChNPP. People who had already worked 12 hours remained at work.

Liudmyla Kozak. Photo: Viktor Kovalchuk

“It was noisy, when the planes flew. There was especially a lot of noise from rotorcraft – they flew very low, – recalls Kozak. — But it got really loud when heavy equipment started. The walls, although they are 4 meters thick, were shaking. Then they (the Russians, the MIHR) drove up here to the administrative and household building, stood around, and the equipment kept coming and coming. At the beginning, we managed to take photos and pass on information.”

Around 12.00 the ChNPP was in the circle.

“I understood that we were surrounded by a separate unit, approximately battalion tactical group in their understanding, reinforced bythe special forces of the Russian Guard and internal affairs bodies. There were also marines – mostly with narrow eye slits. It is difficult to name the total number, as the majority was outside the territory of the station,” says another National Guardsman Anatolii (name changed at the request of the witness).

At that moment, part of the National Guardsmen were preparing a bomb shelter: they moved medical supplies there – tourniquets, bandages, tourniquets, tourniquets, stretchers, medical drugs. Civilians descended into the bomb shelter – station staff, as well as female military personnel.

“I prepared beds in case the National Guardsmen were injured, handed out tourniquets and warned: “First of all, we stop bleeding. If you pass out, I won’t go near you. First, I work with the wounded,” recalls the National Guard nurse Daria.

The Russians took control of all roads around, as well as bridges over the Pryipiat River. At 1:00 p.m., one of the tanks was the first to try to enter the station, but got stuck in the fence.“

In a few hours, the assault began.

“In the late afternoon, around 3:45 p.m., I saw on my monitors that black men were climbing up to our facility. They climbed from everywhere around perimeter of the station,” Liudmyla Kozak says.

According to the National Guardsman Anatolii, about 200 Russian special forces of the Russian Guard entered the station from the “Semykhody” checkpoint and opened the gate for the equipment. Only 10 minutes passed and the territory of the ChNPP was overrun by the invaders. They aimed their weapons at warehouses with radioactive waste. The National Guardsmen did not open fire.

“We understood where we were, it was dangerous to use weapons. What happened in 1986 could happen on February 24, 2022, even with worse consequences and human losses,” Anatolii explains.

He believes that the Russians carefully prepared for the seizure of the station – they knew how the ChNPP was built, since it is a typical project. There were similar ones on the territory of the Russian Federation, so the Russians could train themselves. Later, the Russian military told the National Guard that they were guarding similar strategic facilities in the Russian Federation. Also among the military were civilians who worked at Russian nuclear power plants.

Requirement to lay down arms

A tank with the Russian commanders drove up under the administrative building of the station.

Screenshot from video of the station employees

Video of the station employees

Screenshot from Russian channel video

“The Russian colonel got out from it, then the general. They called our managers to negotiations,” says Anatolii.

The National Guard commander Yuri Pindak came out to talk to the Russians together with Vitalii Artamonov, the representative of the Main Department of the National Guard, who was at the station at that time. It is not known for sure what they were talking about. According to witnesses, the negotiations lasted several hours. After that, at the command of Pindak the National Guardsmen, they surrendered their weapons in the special room – the guard room.

“Everything happened quite quickly. The Russian commander announced: “Your command and you are hostages”, after which long negotiations began. Our boys had choice: either lay down their weapons or open fire. Then the Russian military said: “We agree to open fire, we will put you all to meat,” Liudmyla Kozak recalls.

“Surrendering weapons can be considered as the certain protection of the country against radiation disaster. If we didn’t surrender and start battle, we could damage the ChNPP facilities, dust would rise from the contaminated land and it would be much worse – we understood that. If the Russians hit only one spent nuclear fuel storage facility, it would be possible to stop fighting,” says the National Guardsman Anatolii.

Subsequently, the Russians ordered the military to remove their protective equipment.

In the evening of February 24, around 6:00 p.m., stalkers were released from the basement, they remained on the territory of the ChNPP along with personnel and were also held hostage by the Russians.

Under Russian control

Not only stalkers and the staff of the station ended up under the power of the Russian military. The National Guardsmen, the firemen of the Fire Department of the State Emergency Service, and the medical staff of the Health Care Center of the Slavutych Hospital were captured.

It was agreed with the Russians that the workers will continue to work and will be able to move freely around the territory of the station, part of the National Guardsmen continued to guard the storage of spent nuclear fuel and passages to the main building.

The National Guardsmen who were not guarding the station were forbidden to walk on the territory. They were kept in several premises. About hundred, including eight women, along with part of the civilian staff of the ChNPP took up residence in the bomb shelter, while the rest of the National Guardsmen took up residence in the sanitary checkpoint on the third floor of the administrative building.

Daria, nurse of the National Guard, the military who was in the bomb shelter, remembers these events like this: “We separated a small part of the room for ourselves. The first night I slept on the floor with boys. She made a bed for herself, climbed into sleeping bag. It was the scariest night for me, I was afraid that the Russians would throw grenade into the basement or that they would shoot us all. But then I thought: “Well, as it will be, then all together.”

The day before, the nurse had not slept for several days, she was exhausted, so she fell asleep.

“I open my eyes – it’s dark and quiet. I think: “That’s it, this is the end.” Then she felt her arms and legs – that means she is alive. I heard someone whisper: “Guys, are you sleeping?” They began to shine with flashlights, woke up, began to go upstairs. And there is the sun. Blinded. For some time we stood with our eyes closed to get used to it. Then I look — the Russian Guard is bringing all its weapons to the 4th floor. They are all wearing balaclavas so we can’t see their faces. We just stood and watched them, but we were told to turn away,” says Daria.

Object “1430”, in which the National Guardsmen lived before the full-scale invasion, was occupied by the Russian military. There was Russian equipment on the territory of the station. Most of the witnesses and participants of those events we interviewed are convinced that the Russians used the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as a shield, because they understood that the Armed Forces of Ukraine would not fire there. That is why the occupiers organized headquarters and a place of rest on the territory of the station. Russian units that were going on to Kyiv or returning from the direction of Kyiv constantly stopped here. In particular, there were Kadyrovtsy and Cossacks.

“Once a brigade came by – ten people. “We are Cossacks,” they say. Their form was different from the others, with some kind of red cloth or a scarf on their backs. They arrived in one car, stayed somewhere for a couple of hours and left,” says Liudmyla Kozak.

“For the Russians, the ChNPP was a redeployment point. Buriats and Kadyrovtsy were sent to Kyiv. And the Russian Guard stayed with us,” says the nurseof the National Guard.

Russian soldiers on the territory of the ChNPP. Photo: Konstiantyn Kornoza

The premises on the third floor of the administrative building, where the National Guardsmen were stationed, were not suitable for living.

“It was the so-called “dirty zone”. Half of the floors is covered with linoleum, half is concrete. We looked for rags, covered all this so that the dust did not rise. Then they found chlorine, washed everything several times every day, because they understood where we were and what we were breathing,” says the National Guardsman Yehor.

In addition, there was only one toilet on this floor, there was a shower, a sink, but the toilet did not work.

“The Head of the Station Shift agreed with the Russians to use toilet on the second floor. Because of this, the Russians put their outfit on the stairs: two men with machine guns or automatic weapons,” he adds.

There was one canteen at the station. National Guardsmen went to get food twice a day for cards. Every day the food became less and less. Sometimes 12 hours passed between lunch and dinner. Before the capture of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the cook in the dining room worked in shifts, but after the occupation she had to cook without breaks. On the third day, she lost consciousness due to exhaustion. Several National Guardsmen and stalkers came to help in the kitchen.

“We were offered to help in the kitchen, we agreed. It was better than sitting in the basement. In addition, there was wi-fi in the kitchen and we were moved from the basement to a room on the first floor,” says stalker Kornoza. Since then, he and his companions could walk between the first and second floors.

Stalkers are helping in the kitchen. Photo: Konstantin Kornoza

In the kitchen, the stalkers communicated with the Russian military: from ordinary soldiers to the head in the kitchen, the riot police major. Konstantin Kornoza does not know his surname. He notes that everyone unanimously claimed that they ended up in the territory of Ukraine almost by accident – they were told that on February 24 they went to continue their studies.

However, Russia actually intended to occupy the station. This is evidenced at least by the fact that, from the first days of the occupation, the Russians filmed demonstrative videos about how they help the workers of the station and “protect the world from a new disaster.”

“It was a performance,” the National Guardsmen say. — Some of the occupiers wore the special uniforms of employees of the “Novarka” concern, which was once engaged in the construction of the shelter, and portrayed the employees of the station. None of us participated in these videos. They unloaded food products for themselves, then ate these products themselves. We did not take their food.”

Issuance of “humanitarian aid” by the Russians. Photo: Konstantin Kornoza

According to the witnesses interviewed by the MIHR, the Russians continued to fear the National Guardsmen, despite the fact that they were unarmed. Therefore, the National Guardsmen were ordered to sit in the assembly hall on the third floor from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Snipers stationed on nearby buildings were watching us all the time through the large windows. We had no right to go outside the building. It was necessary to make additional arrangements with their commander with the call sign “Ninety”, – recalls the National Guardsman.

The National Guardsmen on the third floor of the administrative building. Photo of the nurse Daria

Stalkers tried to determine the number of Russians present at the station by the number of dishes used in the dining room. “The largest number of them at the ChNPP at the same time was 420 people. This is during rotation. And usually – 120 soldiers. We didn’t see those who left at the station anymore,” says one of the stalkers.

According to the National Guards, among the Russian military there were many young men who looked like conscripts.

Exposure of radiation

Relatives of the National Guardsmen and civilians who were at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant knew little about what was happening at the station.

Few people understood what captivity is. Until the last moment, they thought that everything would be fine, that they would be released, says the wife of one of the National Guardsmen. — We communicated with my husband until March 8, 2022. He was with his phone. And on March 9, the connection disappeared.”

On that day, the occupiers shut down the Chornobyl NPP: they damaged the last of the three high-voltage lines that supplied the plant with shelling. Two other lines were destroyed by the Russians in the first days of the full-scale invasion. This was stated by Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, Chairman of the Board of “Ukrenergo”. According to him, due to the de-energization of the station, the spent nuclear fuel could remain without cooling, which would lead to an increase in the radiation background. In order for the Chernobyl NPP to work, emergency diesel generators were started.

At the same time, for several days people remained without mobile communication and the Internet, they could only use landline phones.

“When the connection disappeared, it was terrifying, because we were left without information. The Russians told us that Kyiv had been taken, and Chernihivv no longer existed.Many of us have relatives living there, so the panic started. Then the guys found old landline phones in the bunker and connected them to the network,” the National Guard nurse Daria recalls.

This is how they contacted their relatives, spoke briefly and exclusively on everyday topics.

In March 9, the occupiers completely suspended the Ukrainian military from work, they wanted to do the same with the civilian employees of the station, but changed their minds. People from Rosatom came to the station and studied how to manage it.

“They talked with the head of the station, with the head of the shift of the radiation safety shop, with the head of the shift of the electrical shop. But they decided that they don’t understand how to operate the ChNPP during its decommissioning,” explains the National Guardsman Anatolii.

Witnesses say that two weeks after the beginning of the occupation, National Guardsmen and civilians began to complain of feeling unwell. Among the main reasons are constant stay indoors, poor nutrition and fatigue. Also specialists also noted an increase in the radiation background — heavy equipment was constantly moving through the exclusion zone around the station, which was removing radioactive dust.

“When the Russians rode in tanks, the level of pollution exceeded the norm by several times. Our station dosimeters measured the radiation and told us to wear masks, because there were a lot of radionuclides in the air, – recalls nurse Daria. — I saw that the boys had frequent headaches. Many people’s ears and eyes hurt, their noses were blocked because it was cold in the bunker.”

Daria agreed with representatives of the Russian Guard to examine the National Guardsmen at the medical center. To get to it, you had to go outside.It was the only opportunity to breathe the fresh air.

“I was allowed to take not more than ten people with me every day. I was gathering a group,” she recalls.

In order to reduce the effect of radiation on the body, the National Guardmen constantly cleaned the floor.“

“We knew where we could not go, how it was processed, we constantly disinfected it with chlorine. We had a cleaning schedule to keep things organized. They had a change of shoes and clothes, – says Daria and notes that the occupiers did not understand the danger of radiation. — Some did not even hear that there was an accident at the ChNPP, that the surrounding area is contaminated. We scared them that we have mutants here, that we glow in the dark like flashlights, that our relatives died from radiation,” she says.

Another witness adds: “The Russian military threatened to use weapons, realizing that they dominate in terms of numbers and means. Some of them said that they were told that the ChNPP was some kind of warehouse. They did not realize the level of danger in the event of the start of active hostilities.”

In the first days, the Russians were dispersed throughout the territory of the station. Wherever they were, they ate there, preparing kebabs from wild animals that were killed in the Chernobyl zone, or fish that was caught in the local cooling pond.

“They were drying their T-shirts and underpants on the barbed wire stretched around the perimeter. They didn’t think it was harmful. That is, they had no idea that this is radiation, that it is harmful. They believed that if nothing happened during this time, then everything was fine, they did not think about the consequences in the future, – says National Guardsman Anatoliy. — Once a dosimeter from the Russian Federation came and told that his mother-in-law is from the Briansk Forest, that the radiation there is much higher than we have at the ChNPP.And I say to him: “Tell your relatives about alpha and beta particles, how much they will harm the body at the cellular level.” And he says: “Everything is normal, everything is fine, there is no radiation.”

Later, the Russian command sent part of the occupiers to the Red Forest, the most polluted area of the exclusion zone. Rosatom representatives who came to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant did not see this as a problem. Although you can stay in the Red Forest for only 2-3 hours without significant harm to the body.

In two weeks, some of the Russians were sent to Belarus for treatment. They heard the version about poisoning by a moose that was caught and eaten in the exclusion zone. At the end of March 2022, information leaked to the media that the Russian military, who dug in in the Red Forest, were hospitalized in the Republican Scientific and Practical Center of Radiation Medicine and Human Ecology, which is located in Gomel. All of them have signs of radiation sickness.

Trenches in the Red Forest. Photo: Aliona Tiukhai

This is how this place looks like now. Photo: the MIHR

The MIHL managed to find out that seven buses with Russian soldiers were brought to the hospital in Gomel, approximately 20 soldiers were left in the hospital, one person died.

In April 9, 2022, the State Agency of Ukraine of the Management of the Exclusion Zone informed, that Russian invaders penetrated the storage of ionizing radiation sources, where samples of radioactive solutions were stored: “Even a small part of it is fatal in case of unprofessional and uncontrolled handling of it.”

“Russians could receive a high dose of radiation when they stole sources of ionizing radiation, which they could put in their pockets as “souvenirs,'” Serhii Kireev, the General Director of the State-Owned Specialized Enterprise “Ekocentr”, said in a conversation with the MIHL. – Probably, they received not only external, but also internal irradiation, since sanitary rules were hardly observed in the Red Forest.

They ate there, burned wood. Exactly what dose they received depends on how long they were there. I do not even rule out the possibility that some Russian institute conducted experiments on them in order to study how radiation affects a person 30 years after the accident.“

Partial evacuation

Since the Russians did not capture Kyiv in three days, those of them who were at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant became stricter. “At first there were talks that we would be released in 2-3 days. Later, we began to feel aggression. They tried to provoke a conflict,” the National Guardsman Anatolii recalls.

On the 25th day of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the Russian commander changed at the ChNPP — another general arrived. At the same time, part of the workers of the ChNPP was sent on rotation.

64 people were evacuated from the territory of the station, including 50 shift personnel, one employee of the State Emergency Service, four stalkers, as well as nine employees of the National Guard of Ukraine. Of them, eight are women and one is a man suffering from cancer. 46 volunteers came to replace the civilians.

“The Russian general came down to us, and said: “They took the bags and left!” We said goodbye to the boys, got on the bus, where we were sent according to the list,” recalls the National Guardwoman Daria. – It was forbidden to take military IDs and badges with me, but I hid them. Some men gave me gold jewelry, bank cards, notes for their wives and phone numbers of relatives so that I could call them from Slavutych.”

A bus with evacuated people under a white flag went to Belarus, accompanied by two armored personnel carriers and under the sights of grenade launchers. On the way, witnesses saw many tanks, armored personnel carriers, a mobile military hospital near the Belarusian village of Gden. Witnesses believe that the wounded were brought there from Kyiv. Evacuees from Belarus were already being sent to Ukrainian Slavutych. To do this, they had to cross the Dnieper, and the bridge over it was blown up, so people were transported by boat.

Boat crossing. Photo: Kostiantyn Kornoza

“When I set foot on Ukrainian land, I just burst into tears – I was so happy that I was home,” recalls nurse Daria.

On the Ukrainian territory, the director of the Chernobyl NPP, the station’s employees, were waiting for them, they were all brought to Slavutych.

To the territory of the Russian Federation through Belarus

On March 31, the Russians left the ChNPP. They took all the National Guardsmen captive with them, including Colonel Yurii Pindak and Lieutenant Colonel Vitalii Artamonov/

“Around 8 o’clock in the morning, we were woken up and told that we have half an hour for the meeting. They said to bring documents, warm things – a jacket and a hat. They said not to take anything extra,” says the National Guardsman Yehor.

Having gathered in the assembly hall on the third floor of the administrative building, the National Guardsmen saw lists with their names. Ten people followed the Russian team. Most were handcuffed, and when they ran out, their hands were tied with plastic ties. The eyes were wrapped with tape. The National Guardsmen were loaded into the cars. The process lasted from morning to lunch.

Then the column moved in the direction of Belarus to the city of Narovlia, Gomel Region, which is located 70 kilometers from the ChNPP.

Approximate route of removal of the National Guardsmen

“We didn’t know where we were being taken. One comrade hid the phone in his berets, so with his help it was possible to establish that we were in Narovlia,” says the witness.

This route was used to transport everyone who was detained in the territory of the Kyiv Region during the occupation — both civilians and military — to the Colonies and Pre-Trial Detention Centers of the Russian Federation.

In Narovlia, the epaulettes, chevrons and other signs were torn from the National Guardsmen, and the passes and radiation storage devices that were owned by everyone who worked at the ChNPP were destroyed.

For the night, everyone was divided into two groups and placed in two rooms measuring approximately 5 by 15 meters. It was either an abandoned farm or a warehouse. “We were handcuffed, but some of our hands were already black,” recalls Yehor from the National Guardman.

The fighters were allowed to remove their caps from their eyes. They gave a five-liter canister of water per group. We had to spend the night on wooden pallets, there were not enough of them for everyone – most of the soldiers slept sitting up.

Interrogation of Ukrainian prisoners from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant began in Belarus, first of all officers. In April 1, they were sent to the Russian Federation. Others were interrogated for another day, and then they were taken further. According to the military, they were interrogated by Russians, whom they had already seen at the ChNPP and who at that time were kept separate. According to the National Guardmen, these were representatives of the Russian military police.

“They interrogated both colonels and sergeants. The interrogation took place like this: in front of you they put a captain with a loaded TT pistol with the fuse removed. “Several machine gunners are standing nearby with their muzzles aimed at you,” says Yehor.

He is admitting that at that moment it was impossible to invent anything, since no one understood what would happen next. Therefore, they answered the Russians’ questions. Only certain facts were not revealed, for example, real addresses of relatives.

“Then one of us saw in the documents that we were being taken to the Detention Centre.Another was told, they said, don’t worry, you will be exchanged in two months. The third mentioned that they mocked him, saying: “You will have three meals a day, you will go to a resort, the basic tour is free,” adds Yehor.

In the documents drawn up by the Russian military police, it was noted that the National Guardsmen were detained because of “counteraction to the special military operation.

“They opened the car doors, we heard the barking of dogs and the creaking of iron gates. We immediately understood where we were brought,” says the National Guardsman Anatolii. So he and the rest ended up in the Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 in Novozybkiv of Briansk Region.“

In captivity of the Russian Federation

The Pre-Trial Detention Center is located in the center of Novozybkiv. It has two buildings – an old three-story building and a new five-story building. The pre-trial detention center was designed for 300 people, but more than 600 Ukrainians were there – as the MIHL found out, both military and civilians. In addition to the National Guardsmen from the ChNPP, prisoners of war from the Armed Forces of Ukraine who were captured in Kyiv Region, defenders of Mariupol were brought. Several hundred civilian hostages were held here.

Novozybkiv. The Pre-Trial Detention Center №2

The captured National Guardsmen were taken out one by one from the cars. They were received by local special forces and riot police, all were wearing masks. Prisoners were constantly beaten.

Witnesses say that they were brutally beaten in Novozybkiv. The first thing was with rubber sticks on the legs, especially during camera checks, when everyone was taken to a nearby room where there was no video surveillance. If someone fell, he was beaten even harder. Membership in the National Guard was regarded by Russians as involvement in Azov, which is recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia. No one paid any attention to the condition of the prisoners, who lost up to 15 kilograms each during their stay at the ChNPP captured by the Russians. Chronic diseases have worsened in some prisoners.

“I only understood at that moment why prisoners are afraid of stages, what is the transportation from one colony to another and what is reception,” recalls Anatolii, one of the former prisoners of war. — During the reception, you are constantly and brutally beaten. You walk, they chase you, you can’t see anything around you – your eyes are blindfolded. The step went in the wrong place – you get hit with a stick.

Next, they are forced to stand against the wall in a swallow position – legs as wide as possible, bend over and raise their hands up. Then they demand to shout “Glory to Russia!” You say: “I won’t.” The certain colonel, as I understood it, the head of the pre-trial detention center, is standing nearby, filming everything and saying: “He didn’t understand where he got to, explain to him.” To explain means to beat.”

“They were hit on the legs and the head at the same time. And in mittens, and knuckles, and rubber sticks. Then they took them to a dark room, put them on their knees, and ripped off their clothes,” Yehor adds.

During each of the stages of registration in the Pre-Trial Detention Center, members of the Novozybkovina National Guardmen were beaten.

“Arranged — beaten. Everyone around me was shouting and I didn’t even understand what commands to follow. They were specially confused in order to beat. Then they took pictures for a personal case, while at the same time they beat him on the back with batons. They forced me to undress. They were led naked through the corridor, in some room they were given overalls. They took pictures again and beat them again. There was everyone to whom it was handed over. Everyone wanted to show their power. Dogs were let out. Then they forced us to say on a video camera that we undertake not to oppose the quasi-republics of the “LDPR”. During the video recording, 3-4 special forces with batons were standing nearby. After that, they took us to the cells,” says the National Guardsman Yehor.

Screenshot from the video about Novozybkiv Prison No. 2

It was unpleasant in the cells: metal beds, table, two benches. The toilet is a lavatory pan, metal sink for washing. Everything was moldy, fungus, the walls were wet all the time.

“At first they said that we are here for a short time, that now the “special operation” will end and you will go home.” But to the extent that our troops repelled the Russians, the local special forces took their anger out on us. What were they doing? They beat!” – recalls the National Guardsman.

There were also during interrogations. But not all. Those who came from Moscow from the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation mostly talked. They offered to take Russian citizenship.

The interrogators were usually masked.

“They were interested in biolaboratories, wild pigeons – as if our pigeons are infected in the laboratory and are infecting the territory, a dirty bomb is being dropped. They also asked about “Azov”, – the National Guardsman shares.

In the Pre-Ttrial Detention Center, the Russians beat the prisoners with electric shocks on their wet bodies. The captives say they had so much fun.

“We had to run, not walk, through the corridors.You run, a sentry stands and discharges a stun gun – into someone’s hand, someone’s leg, someone’s shoulder, says National Guardsman Yehor. — Sometimes a doctor saw it. Once the nurse made a remark to them: “Stop hitting with shockers, because the heart will stop again, what should I do next?” That is, they understood that someone had a cardiac arrest as a result of an electric shock. But in general, medical assistance was provided to us as a last resort. The worst was when special forces from Dagestan or Chechnia came to replace them. These are sexually concerned young people, in which jokes are only about one topic: “Who is the woman in your cell?” It was impossible to calculate some model of behavior so that you would not be touched.”

Queue for release

In October 2022, Ukraine and Russia agreed on another exchange of prisoners. The first group of the National Guardsmen who guarded the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant returned to the controlled territory of Ukraine.

“Before that, they took us somewhere, put us on a plane. They beat again – during the flight. We couldn’t even dodge – our eyes were blindfolded, our hands were tied,” says the witness. After taking off in the Bryansk region, the plane made several stops – in Kursk, Rostov, and Taganrog. Ukrainian prisoners of war are also held in pre-trial detention centers and colonies in these cities. In the end, the plane landed in Crimea.

“Among the officers who managed the exchange, one of our officers recognized by his voice the colonel who led the seizure of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant,” says the former prisoner. The next day, the National Guardsmen were brought to the Zaporizhzhia Region. – We were allowed to take off the hats, which were pulled over our eyes, so we could look to the sides. I felt nervousness and fear. But soon I saw the Ukrainian flag.”

After that there were more exchanges. National Guardsmen from the ChNPP were caught in several of them, 23 of them were released on June 11, 2023.

Families of National Guardsmen who are still waiting for the return of their loved ones from captivity are uniting to jointly seek to speed up exchanges. They are convinced that their husbands could have received an excessive dose of radiation exposure in February-March 2022.

Training in Belarus and subversive groups in Ukraine

Currently, it remains unclear why Ukraine did not strengthen the protection of the ChNPP on the eve of a full-scale invasion and whether it was possible to prevent its occupation.

A few months before the full-scale invasion, the Western partners publicly warned the Ukrainian authorities about the Russian attack. In December 3, 2021, the American edition The Washington Post, citing US intelligence, reported that the Kremlin is planning an offensive in early 2022 involving about 175,000 troops. To confirm these words, the newspaper published a map obtained from American intelligence. In its other material, it was said that Russia will attack Kyiv from two northern directions – through Chernihiv and from Belarus between the exclusion zone, the Chernobyl NPP and swamps.

This is exactly what the Russian military has been preparing for since the end of January 2022 on the border with Ukraine in Belarus. The Ministry of Defense of Belarus reported about of practical actions within the framework of the Belarusian-Russian partnership on working out practical actions withing framework of Belarusian-Russian joint operational training “Union Resolve-2022”. In the “Rechytsia” area, the motorized rifle units of the Russian Armed Forces practiced “strikes by air attack means of a conditional enemy”, “issues of maintaining survivability, withdrawing and occupying defensive lines, crossing the water obstacle – the Prypiat River.”

The accumulation of equipment was also recorded on Planet satellite images. They testified: a bridge was built across the Prypiat River in the area of the exclusion zone in the area of the abandoned Belarusian village of Vepry, which which made it possible to transfer Russian equipment in the direction of the ChNPP and shorten the way to Ukraine from the Belarusian Yampil City. The 5th tank and 37th motorized rifle brigades were spotted there.

Instead, the command of the National Guard only changed the route of personnel arriving from Slavutych to the ChNPP. Before that, they spent about an hour on the road – by train Slavutych-Semyhody through Belarus. After the route was changed, they began to be taken by bus to bypass the Kyiv Sea, the travel time increased to eight hours. They began to take turns not for a day, as before, but for a week.

“My husband went to the station on February 7. On the 14th, he came for one day, asked me to pack things: underwear, cigarettes, coffee, tea. The next day he left again, he was supposed to return on February 21, but he never came, saying that he would stay with the commander,” the National Guardman’s wife Iryna (name changed for security reasons) told the MHPL.

At the ChNPP, the National Guardsmen lived in room “1430”. It was called so because it is designed for 1430 seats, another name is “bruise” because of the blue color of the walls. It is located near the fourth power unit. Previously, employees of the “Novarka” concern, who were building a new shelter – confinement, lived there.

“Despite the route change, there were no other innovations. Our task, as explained to us, is to control the territory of the object and the access regime. We shouldn’t be interested in anything else, everything is under control,” says the NGU military serviceman Anatolii.

That is, no one called the situation out of the ordinary, there was no strengthening of the border, as well as protection of the station itself.On the contrary, intelligence sources with whom the MHPL was able to communicate say that a few days before the full-scale invasion, the Defense Forces of Ukraine were withdrawn from the Ukrainian-Belarusian border — the border guards and the Armed Forces withdrew to strengthen the defense of Kyiv. The day before, intelligence groups, both Russian and Ukrainian, were operating in the uninhabited zone. The latter noticed the hidden video surveillance cameras installed on the trees, which were left by the Russians.

Photos of surveillance cameras that were found in the exclusion zone. Photo: social networks

“We heard our people on the phone until the last day, but on February 23 there was already silence,” says one of the National Guardsmen.

Already after the capture of the ChNPP, the Russian military stated in conversations with the National Guardsmen that until February 24, 2022, the ChNPP was under constant surveillance by their snipers, who monitored the process of changing the National Guardsmen and their movement.

Only a day before the invasion, on February 23, 2022, Yurii Pindak, the commander of the NGU battalion that guarded the ChNPP, gathered the heads of units in his office in the administrative building.“

“He said that the situation has escalated and, most likely, there will be a war, so we must be ready: stand to the last and protect from the enemy,” says nurse Daria.

Another witness interviewed by the MHPL claims that the command already knew the night before the invasion that the National Guardsmen at the station were the only ones left in the region.

“Sometime after 9 p.m., we all received cartridges. I had a submachine gun and PM, there were 120 cartridges for the submachine gun, 16 for the pistol. I lay down on the floor to rest in a bulletproof vest, a helmet and a machine gun. It was about three in the morning, – recalls Daria. – Two day laborers were standing guard. It was quiet, I fell asleep. At 4:30 a.m. they woke me up and told me that the war had started.”

The Russians went to Kyiv in columns, taking the shortest route to the capital, along the way they captured the ChNPP.

Individual responsibility

In September 2023, in an interview with Russian television, Colonel Andriy Frolenkov, who at the time of the seizure of the ChNPP was the Deputy Commander of the Riot Police “Arsenal” in the Briansk Department of the Russian Guard and who commanded the Russian special forces during the seizure of the station, said: “It was the evening of February 23. It was already dark. I arrive at the location of the detachment. I am attaching the combat order and the appeal of the commander of the troops. Its content is approximately as follows: “Comrade officers, soldiers and sergeants! The historical moment has come when it is impossible to delay. Be vigilant, trust your commanders. Our cause is right, the enemy will be defeated, victory will be ours.”

Andrii Frolenkov

That is, Frolenkov received the combat order and gave it to his subordinates even before the official announcement by the President of the Russian Federation Putin about the beginning of the so-called “special military operation”.

In the same video, it is said that several assault groups were supposed to capture the ChNPP. Frolenkov says that he was faced with the task of capturing the station on the very first day of a full-scale invasion. At the same time, the Russian colonel demonstrates on the map how his subordinates moved. “We immediately headed like this: to the detour, along the fence of the power plant, here – to the main building,” he explains.

Currently, Frolenkov has risen to the rank of Deputy Head of the Russian Guard administration in Briansk Region, and as a living legend, he is invited to meet with children in the local circus.

Screenshot from the article about Frolenkov’s meeting in the Briansk Circus

In April 4, 2022, that is, five days after the Russians left the ChNPP, the President of the Russian Federation awarded Frolenkov the title of Hero of the Russian Federation for “Courage and heroism shown during the performance of military duty.” The merit of the Russian commander is considered to be the military cunning that he showed, assuring the Ukrainian side of the futility of resistance, after which the Russians, with forces smaller than the forces of the Ukrainian National Guard, captured the territory of the ChNPP, forcing the National Guard to lay down their arms.

In fact, the number of Russian soldiers who invaded the ChNPP was several times greater than the number of Ukrainian National Guardsmen. According to witnesses, the column of military equipment of the enemy at the time of capturing the station stretched for ten kilometers. That is, the Russians obviously dominated.

Unlike Frolenkov, most of the soldiers who stormed the ChNPP hid their faces under masks. Also, in photos and videos of Russian soldiers, they mostly have white armbands covering their uniform patches. However, there are also videos by which it is possible to identify not only the units that were at the ChNPP, but also those who commanded the seizure of the station.

Russian military with chevron at the ChNPP. Photo from open sources

During the detailed study on this frame, we can see the elements of the patch, in particular the slogan “Better death than dishonor”, as well as the image of a tiger and parachute.

These details indicate the military’s affiliation with the amphibious assault battalion of the 155th Separate Brigade of Marines of the Pacific Fleet. We are talking about military unit No. 30926, which is stationed in Vladivostok Cityand the village of Slovianka in the Primorsky Krai.

The Commander of this unit is Ihor Tatarchenko. He was born in the city of Vyshhorod, Kyiv Region. He served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, was the Deputy Chief of the Intelligence Iepartment of the Command of the Headquarters of the Naval Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In 2014, after the capture of a military unit in Sevastopol by the Russians, Captain of the 2nd rank Tatarchenko betrayed his oath, remained in Crimea and went over to the side of the enemy. In July 2022, the State Bureau of Investigation notofied him by suspicion of treason.

Ihor Tatarchenko

The general who entered the territory of the station on the first day of the full-scale invasion was Police Major General Serhii Burakov.

In February 2022, he was the head of the special purpose center of operational response forces and aviation of the Federal Service of the National Guard of the Russian Federation. It was under his command that the territory of the ChNPP was captured and the National Guardsmen were captured. He also gave orders to set up firing positions on the territory of the station and outside its borders – in places with increased radiation danger. All this is mentioned in the materials of the investigation conducted by Ukrainian law enforcement officers.In addition, it was Burakov who gave orders to subordinates to move around the territory and premises of the station and steal property.

In April 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced in absentia that Burakov was suspected of encroaching on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine and waging an aggressive war (Part 3 of Article 110, Part 2 of Article 437 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). In Russia, he, like Frolenkov, received a “gold star”, and currently holds the position of Commander of the North-Western District of the Russian Guard.

Serhii Burakov

Another participant in the seizure of the ChNPP is Police Major General Oleh Yakushev. At that time, he was the Deputy Commander of Siberian District of the National Guard of the Russian Federation of the Organization of Extra-Departmental Security and License and Permit Work.

During the storming of the ChNPP, he was the chief of the operative group of the Federal Service of the National Guard of the Russian Federation “for protection and defense” of the station. On March 31, 2022, during the withdrawal of Russian troops, he signed the “Act of Acceptance and Transfer of Protection of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.”

Act of Acceptance and Transfer of Protection of the Chernobyl NPP with Yakushev’s signature

In November 2022, he was appointed to the position of the Head of the Russian Guard Administration for the Republic of Adygea. In May of the same year, the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office announced in absentia the suspision to Yakushev of encroaching on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine, waging an aggressive war, and violating the laws and customs of war (Part 3 of Article 110, Part 2 of Article 437, Part 1 of Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). The Securirty Service of Ukraine documents say that Yakushev had the call sign “Ninetieth”.

Oleh Yakushev

At the same time, another participant of those events had the same call sign. Witnesses interviewed by MIPL note that among the occupiers there were people with the call signs “Tenth”, “Twentieth”, “Fiftieth”.

“Dozens” were the names given to the lowest-ranking military personnel, these were postmen. The highest was the general – “Hundred”, – Liudmyla Kozak says.

Witnesses remembered the already mentioned Frolenkov under the call sign “Ninetieth”. The fact that he had the call sign “Ninetieth” is evidenced by footage from Russian television film. Frolenkov was also charged in absentia with violating the laws and customs of war (Part 1 of Article 438 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

Frolenkov. Screenshot from the video

Another general involved in the seizure of the ChNPP, — Oleksii Rtyshchev. He was involved in the rotation of ChNPP personnel. According to witnesses, Rtyshchev arrived at the station in mid-March 2022. He, like Frolenkov, was present during the evacuation of captured Ukrainian National Guardsmen to the territory of the Russian Federation. In February 2022, Rtyshchev was the Head of the Department of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection of the Eastern Military District. Later – Deputy Commander of the troops of the Eastern Military District, which unites the military units of Transbaikalia and the Far East. The headquarters is located in Khabarovsk. The presence of troops from this military district may explain the large number of Russian soldiers with Mongoloid features.

Oleksii Rtyshchev

Another unit of the the Russian Federation that took part in the seizure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is the 5th Separate Tank Guards Tatsyn Red Banner of the Suvorov Brigade (the 5th Separate Tank Brigade, military unit 46108). Soldiers of the Motorized Rifle Battalion of this brigade also distinguished themselves in photos published on social networks.

5th Separate Guards Tank of the Tatsyn Red Banner of the Order of the Suvorov Brigade

The brigade is stationed in Ulan-Ude City (Buriatia). At the beginning of the invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine, this brigade was commanded by Colonel Serhii Goriachev with the call sign “Grot”. Later, he received the rank of major general and was appointed to the post of chief of staff of the 35th Combined Arms Army (Bilogorsk, Amur Region). On June 12, 2023, the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed Goryachev in the city of Primorsk, Zaporizhzhia Region, during an attack on the military base and headquarters

Serhii Goriachev

During the occupation, the Russians looted and destroyed the property and equipment of the station. A total of 135 million dollars. Yevhen Kramarenko, head of the state agency for management of the exclusion zone, stated this. Witnesses say that they took away furniture, televisions, computers, radio stations, gas masks, fire engines, devices from radiological laboratories, personal property of station employees and national guardsmen.

An attack on a nuclear facility as a war crime

When the idea to occupy the station appeared and for what purpose, it remains to be found out. This is how Andrii Yakovlev, an international lawyer, advocate and the MIHL expert, comments on the attacks on strategic objects, as a result of which significant damage was caused to the civilian population during armed conflicts.

“It’s about attacks on hydroelectric power stations and dams during World War II and the Korean War in the 1950s. It was after them that additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions were drawn up, which prohibited attacks on installations and structures containing dangerous forces: dams, dams, nuclear power plants. Even when they are military objects,” he says.

Special protection against attack on a nuclear plant is terminated only if it produces electricity to regularly, substantially and directly support military operations and if such an attack is the only possible way to terminate such support.

“If we talk about the Chernobyl station, then it has special protection, is not a military facility and does not produce electricity at all, it is in the process of decommissioning. In addition, at the time of the invasion, it was not a military fortification, on the contrary, it was and is currently under the special control of the international community after the extremely destructive accident of 1986,” adds Yakovlev.

That is, according to international law, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant should not under any circumstances be the object of an attack by the Russian Federation. In the conditions of the war, the Russian military had no right to take it under their control, and were obliged to leave the possibility for the personnel and security of the station to continue to perform their work.

“According to the norms of international humanitarian law, committing an attack on installations or structures containing dangerous forces, when it is known that such an attack will cause excessive loss of life, injuries among the civilian population, or damage to civilian objects, is considered a war crime. This is provided for by Subparagraph “c” of Part 3 of Article 85 of the Additional Protocol,” the lawyer adds.

It can be assumed that the Ukrainian defense forces, withdrawing troops from the border with Belarus, counted on the observance by the Russian army of the rules of handling the nuclear power plant as an object containing extremely dangerous forces, and will not occupy it. Perhaps that is why the security of the station was not strengthened on the eve of the invasion, and at the time of the assault, the National Guardsmen did not use their weapons.

In the first hours of the full-scale invasion, there was communication with the command of the National Guard of Ukraine outside the station. However, clear commands did not come from there. They simply witnessed the capture of the station. The fighters recall that they even wrote a letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which they noted that they did not betray their oath and remained to guard the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The letter was sent by fax. Whether it reached the addressee is not known for sure.

The MIHL turned to the command of the National Guard of Ukraine with a request, in which it asked to inform about the measures taken that would make it impossible for the enemy to capture the strategic object, how long the communication with the Main Directorate of the National University of Ukraine and the National Guardsmen who were at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant lasted, and how they should have acted servicemen in conditions of loss of communication with the command?

We received a formal answer: “These circumstances are the subject of research by the State Bureau of Investigation within the framework of the pre-trial investigation of the relevant criminal proceedings under Art. 427 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine regarding the possible fact of handing over to the enemy in February 24, 2022 military forces and means of warfare entrusted to the armed forces of the Russian Federation by officials of military unit 3041, who served at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Other information is not subject to disclosure.

The National Guard does not disclose information about the places of detention of prisoners of war. At the state of mid-November 2023, 108 defenders of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant remain in captivity. The Russians scattered them in the colonies of the Russian Federation, far from the Ukrainian border. In May 15, 2023, they were all taken from Novozybkiv, Briansk Region, where most of them had been for more than a year, to Volodymyr and Tula Regions. Relatives have no contact with the captured National Guardsmen. Only in May 19, 2023, some of them were allowed to make one phone call each. They only said what the Russians had ordered them to do: that they were not beaten, that they were kept in normal conditions, that they were all staged from the Briansk Region. Relatives know a little more about those that released. In particular concern is the fact that many of the prisoners have serious health problems, and some are in critical condition due to chronic diseases.

The material was prepared with the participation of Olena Beliachkova.

The material was prepared with the support of the European Union and the “Renaissance” International Fund within the framework of the joint initiative “European Renaissance of Ukraine”. The material represents the position of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union ore International “Renaissance” Foundation.


Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Mandatory fields are marked *