Unexpected War Alert System: The Chernobyl Tour’s Camera

Kyiv, Ukraine — Months before Russia invaded Ukraine, Yaroslav Yemelianenko decided to install a battery-powered camera that shows his company’s tourist information center at a checkpoint near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Imagine his surprise as he sat in his apartment in Kiev on February 24, watching his live stream as dozens of Russian tanks drove from Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, to the Ukrainian capital.

“In two hours, we saw a huge amount of Russian equipment on the cameras,” Yemelianenko, the founder of Chernobyl Tour, said Tuesday.

Russian troops shut down all official government surveillance cameras, but failed to notice the small camera Yemelianenko had installed to monitor his stand where his workers sold souvenirs and postcards to tourists.

Chernobyl Tour had taken tourists through the “exclusion zone,” the radioactive area around the factory, and showed them the facility, a nearby town the Soviets had built to house workers and radioactive forests.

Yemelianenko immediately decided to provide his video to the Ukrainian government. For several days, while the battery lasted, Yemelianenko and colleagues monitored data every 10 to 15 minutes and sent it to the Ukrainian military.

“It was difficult psychologically. On the one hand, we read the news with reassurance that no one would enter Kiev. At the same time, we continued to count the number of (pieces) of Russian military equipment,” Yemelianenko said in an interview.

The flow of Russian military equipment kept coming, all visible on the video monitor. Tanks, along with trucks carrying troops and communications equipment, flow along the gray road, past Yemlianenko’s booth with a radiation symbol and the name of his company, in English. There was so much Russian equipment on the road that traffic jams started on the way to Kiev, 150 kilometers away.

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After a few days the signal went out. Russian troops had seized the power plant, the scene of the April 1986 nuclear disaster. But Yemelianenko and his team had already developed an alternative: a network of informers in villages near Chernobyl. Although Russian forces already occupied these villages, the locals risked their safety to provide Yemelianenko with details about the positions of military equipment.

Ukrainian troops then took back control of the Chernobyl factory. With the passage of time and military focus shifting elsewhere, the videos have made their way into the public domain.

The video offers a rare first-hand look into Russia’s earliest invasion moves, when the plan was to take Kiev. Russian troops withdrew from the capital at the end of March. Since then, Yemelianenko and his team have volunteered in liberated villages to provide food and medicine.

While the risk of additional radiation leaks at Chernobyl has decreased, it has increased due to fighting near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, including in Ukraine, Zaporizhzhya.


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