Russian troops are leaving Chernobyl and heading for the border with Belarus, Ukrainian officials say.
The country’s nuclear operator announced the retreat on Thursday, amid reports of Russian soldiers digging trenches and getting ill ‘very quickly’.
But it added that a ‘small number’ were remaining at the defunct plant.
The operator, Energoatom, said that the Russian military are also preparing to leave Slavutych, a nearby city where power plant workers live.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Vladimir Putin’s troops were leaving Chernobyl, which was seized on February 24, the first day of the invasion.
But it comes after claims that dozens of Russians had fallen ill with ‘acute radiation sickness’ at the site.
An employee at the Ukrainian state agency overseeing the exclusion zone said ‘irradiated’ Russian soldiers were being taken away by the bus load to a clinic in Belarus for treatment.
Yaroslav Yemelianenko wrote on Facebook: ‘Another batch of Russian irradiated terrorists who seized the Chernobyl zone was brought to the Belarusian Radiation Medicine Center in Gomel today.
‘Have you dug trenches in the Red Forest, bitches? Now live with it for the rest of your short life.’
Energoatom confirmed reports that the Russians dug trenches in the Red Forest, a 10-square-kilometer (nearly four-square-mile) area surrounding the plant within the Exclusion Zone, and received ‘significant doses of radiation.’
The Russian troops ‘panicked at the first sign of illness,’ which ‘showed up very quickly,’ and began to prepare to leave, the operator said.
The claim could not be verified, though US defence officials also claimed a retreat was in progress.
The Russian authorities, who have denied that its forces have put nuclear facilities in Ukraine at risk, did not immediately comment.
Ukraine has repeatedly expressed safety concerns about Chernobyl and demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops, whose presence prevented the rotation of the plant’s personnel for a time.
The presence of Russian troops prevented the rotation of the plant’s personnel for a time.
Energoatom said the Russians have signed a document confirming the handover of the plant and stating that the plant’s administration doesn’t have any complaints about the Russian troops who were ‘guarding’ the facility.
‘It turns out that the occupiers “guarded” the station for more than five weeks, and even so well that there are no complaints,’ Energoatom said in a statement on Telegram.
The area was the site of the worst nuclear accident in history after a meltdown at the power plant in 1986.
Radioactive waste is still stored there, with much of it in the ground.
The plant’s Ukrainian staff have continued to oversee the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and supervise the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that exploded more than three decades ago.
Russia-Ukraine war: Everything you need to know
During the course of the war, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has remained in Kyiv, despite the Ukrainian capital being subjected to a barrage of bombing.
Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been widely condemned for his attack on Ukraine.
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