For the first time, Russia has confirmed that radioactive areas contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster have been hit by wildfires.
The environmental group Greenpeace had accused authorities of downplaying the dangers. But forestry officials have now acknowledged that hundreds of hectares of contaminated land have been affected.
For now, many are still engaged in urgent efforts to protect their homes from the seemingly never-ending flames.
“We patrol the outskirts and put out what we can see. But in the forest there are several fires. It is impossible to extinguish them,” said Artyom Mikhatkin, of Sidelnikovo, some 860 kilometres east of Moscow.
The Emergencies Ministry said the areas of burning forests in Russia had been almost halved in 24 hours. But as soldiers continue to battle those fires still raging, anger is mounting as many people accuse authorities of being ill-prepared for this disaster.
In Petrushino, around 50 kilometres east of Moscow, villagers said that they had had to fight the flames with shovels, axes and buckets of water.
“We don’t have enough fire engines. We sent requests out everywhere but we did not get any,” said community leader Yelena Ryabova.
Muscovites meanwhile were greeted with a welcome glimpse of clear skies after strong winds cleared the toxic smoke choking the city – for now at least.