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Ukrainian couple evacuated from Chernobyl in 80s are now trapped by war

Ukrainian couple evacuated from Chernobyl in 80s are now trapped by war
Valeriy and Halyna, a Ukrainian couple in their 60s, former Chernobyl nuclear plant workers, listen during an interview with Reuters via Zoom while trapped as Russian troops shell towns and bridges around their home near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, on March 5, 2022.
PHOTO: Reuters

Halyna and Valeriy, a Ukrainian couple in their 60s, were evacuated from their home near the Chernobyl plant where they worked as engineers when a reactor exploded in 1986, triggering the world's worst nuclear accident.

Now they are trapped, as Russian troops shell towns and bridges around their home near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine and concerns rise in the West over the security of nuclear sites seized by advancing forces.

"God forbid if we had to be evacuated again," Halyna told Reuters during a Zoom interview from their home.

The couple declined to give their surname or exact location, fearing it might put them at risk. The couple, who have been married for 40 years, hide in their basement when air-raid sirens blare several times a day.

They have covered their kitchen windows in blankets so there is no light that might attract air strikes. In the basement, they have mats on the floor for beds, a supply of water, a gas cooker and a room full of preserved foods.

"It's mostly mushrooms, homemade jam, pickles," Valeriy said during a tour of the makeshift bomb shelter he filmed on his phone.

Without a connection to other cities, there are no new deliveries to shops or pharmacies, and shelves are empty, they said.

The couple ask their friends in Kharkiv, Kherson and Sumy - all of which have been under heavy bombardment since the Russian invasion began on Feb 24 - to write a text message simply saying "alive" each morning.

"That is how we live," Halyna said.

Moscow launched what it calls a "special operation" in Ukraine to destroy its neighbour's military capabilities and remove what it says are dangerous nationalists in Kyiv. It denies targeting civilians. Ukraine and its allies call Russia's actions an unprovoked invasion that has killed hundreds of civilians and forced millions to flee abroad.

Cut off

Valeriy said installations at nuclear facilities including the now-defunct Chernobyl plant, around 50 miles (80km) west of Chernihiv, were well protected, but if Russian troops struck there could be a "huge catastrophe."

"Then the radiation would spread all over Europe." The couple are trying to remain calm despite fighting raging around them.

Bridges and roads surrounding their town have been destroyed or occupied by Russians, they said, so they are cut off from the rest of the country and the outside world.

"We have no hope for any (humanitarian) corridors. We have no road to anywhere. On one side of us is Belarus, and the only way to Kyiv is Chernihiv which is constantly being bombed."


Local people have been trying to survive by sharing what they have.

Halyna bakes around eight-10 loaves of bread each day and Valeriy helps to deliver it to those who need it.

She presses the Ukrainian trident symbol into each loaf before putting them in the oven.

Baking, as well as painting, helps her to keep calm.

"Doing nothing is very hard," Halyna said.

For Valeriy, his main solace is the belief that Ukrainians will win the war and they will have a normal life again.

"We will be visiting our friends in Chernihiv again, we will go to Kyiv, and supplies will resume and everything will be fine."

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