Chernobyl, Ukraine CNN  — 

It’s a frigid Friday in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and dozens of journalists in fluorescent yellow vests are frantically elbowing each other as they vie for camera position in a town where no one has lived since 1986.

Chernobyl has been abandoned since the world’s worst nuclear disaster here three decades ago. But with tens of thousands of Russian troops amassing on Ukraine’s border with Belarus just a few miles away, the ghost town is now playing host to security forces training for war. Ukraine is using Chernobyl to prepare for another potential cataclysm.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently denied that the Kremlin is planning an incursion into Ukraine. Russia’s deployments in Belarus are ostensibly linked to joint exercises due to begin on Thursday. However, satellite photographs show Russian camps being established close to the border with Ukraine, hundreds of miles from where the exercises are taking place.

If Russia were to invade Ukraine, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a possible conduit to Kyiv. American and NATO officials say President Putin is steadily increasing his military presence in Belarus from 5,000 troops in January to an estimated 30,000 sometime this month.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the deployment into Belarus is Russia’s biggest since the Cold War, and many of those forces are just a two-hour drive from Kyiv.

Journalists film Ukrainian live fire exercises in the abandoned town of Pripyat, in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, on February 4.

Propaganda battle

The air is thick with sulfur as national guard troops clear the town of imagined enemy soldiers, firing hundreds of rounds of live ammunition into plywood cutouts in the windows of surrounding buildings.

A sniper fires into an orange target high in an apartment block. A mortar is launched into a snowy clearing. An armored vehicle trundles past roadblocks to confront assailants held up in the second story of a building.

More than 35 years ago, an explosion at the Vladimir Lenin Nuclear Power Plant forced a region-wide evacuation, sending radioactive fallout billowing across Europe. Thirty-one people died in the blast, while millions were exposed to dangerous radiation levels. Estimates of the final death toll from long-term health problems are as high as 200,000.

Now, in training for war, Ukraine has brought the world’s media along to see.