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Dark thoughts follow the Ukrainians in the shadow of the nuclear crisis

#Dark #thoughts #follow #Ukrainians #shadow #nuclear #crisis

A strong wind is blowing through the Ukrainian city of Marganets. It comes from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops, across the Dnipro River.

Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of shelling near the plant, with rockets hitting a radioactive material storage area and the global nuclear watchdog warning of a “major” crisis.

Marganets is only 13 kilometers away. The verdant hill town remains under Ukrainian control, but foreboding glimpses of the Soviet-era train station can be glimpsed through the thickets and across the shimmering river.

“You know, when we die, it happens in a second, we won’t suffer,” Anastasiia, 30, told AFP on Friday.

“It reassures me that my child and my family will not be in pain,” she said, continuing her daily shopping with morbid nonchalance.

– “Terrible Things Happen” –

The Zaporizhzhya power plant – Europe’s largest – has been on the front line since it was captured by Russia in early March, just days after the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in a full-scale invasion.

In Marganets, the military warns against visiting the banks of the Dnieper for fear that enemy troops could target from opposite banks six kilometers away.

The southern city — home to 50,000 pre-war residents — has a busy, bustling center that belies the gloomy thoughts and swirling rumors about the condition of the plant’s six reactors.

“I’m afraid for my parents, for myself. I want to live in this city and enjoy life,” said 18-year-old Ksenia, who was serving customers at a coffee kiosk along the main shopping street.

“There’s constant fear. And the news says the situation at the plant is very tense, so it’s getting more horrifying with every passing second.”

“You’re just afraid to go to bed because terrible things happen here at night.”

In Marganets and Nikopol – a short distance down the Dnipro bank – 17 people were killed in strikes this week, officials say.

On Friday night, the sound of air raid sirens drowned out the raging wind as the sun began to set again.

Ukraine claims Russia fired weapons across the river from the nuclear complex, with Ukrainian forces unable to return fire for fear of triggering a disaster.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the situation as “nuclear blackmail”.

“I think the Russians are using the system as a trump card for their own purposes,” speculates 37-year-old Anton, stirring his coffee.

“About two weeks ago, a missile landed near our house,” he said. “I myself am a quiet person, but you can quickly become a stutterer.”

– Memories of Fallout –

During Soviet times, Ukraine was the scene of the worst nuclear disaster in history at Chernobyl – 530 kilometers (330 miles) northwest of here.

In 1986, a nuclear reactor exploded, spewing massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. About 600,000 people were recruited as “liquidators” who worked to decontaminate vast areas of the surrounding country.

Debate over the long-term effects of radiation exposure on liquidators is one of the reasons the Chernobyl death toll is still hotly debated decades later.

The official number is only 31, but some estimates put the deaths in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

In Marganets there is a monument to the liquidators, which is printed with a few lines of verse.

It said: “It has been many years since then, but the pain is still great. We have rejected the Atom at the cost of a young life.”

54-year-old Sergey Volokitin stands on the edge of a rocket crater left in Marganets overnight, mulling over the past as a man hacks out the jagged remains of nearby windows with the back of a hatchet.

“After I graduated, I worked at the mine and there were two people on my team who were liquidators,” he recalls. “We knew everything that happened there.”

“We know the consequences of radiation and the consequences if something happens.”

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#Dark #thoughts #follow #Ukrainians #shadow #nuclear #crisis

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