By Sergiy Karazy
PRIPYAT (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces fired at abandoned buildings and launched grenades and mortars on Friday during urban combat drills in the town of Pripyat, which has been deserted since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster caused thousands to flee.
Special forces, police and national guard held the exercises on snowy streets near abandoned Soviet hotels and buildings, some of which display the hammer and sickle. A special radiation control unit made checks before and during the exercises.
Ukraine has carried out drills while the country braces for a possible military offensive after Russia massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders in recent weeks.
“This was a battle with irregular militias in (an) urban environment,” said a soldier, dressed in white camouflage gear, who did not provide his name.
Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs separatists in the East of the country, denies planning to attack but is demanding security guarantees including a promise that the NATO military alliance will never admit Ukraine.
On April 26 last year, Ukraine marked the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, when a reactor at the plant some 108 km (67 miles) north of the capital Kyiv exploded during a botched safety test.
The result was the world’s worst nuclear accident and it sent clouds of radiation across much of Europe.
Thirty-one plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, mostly from acute radiation sickness.
Thousands more later succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of debate.
Most of the area around the abandoned nuclear plant is a wilderness of empty buildings, scrubland and rubble. Pripyat was once home to 50,000 people who mostly worked at the plant.
(Editing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)