Russian soldiers “are being treated for radiation poisoning after leaving Chernobyl,” the official statement said

Russian troops have returned control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to Ukrainians, abandoning the heavily contaminated site more than a month after seizing control.

Ukraine’s state nuclear company said Thursday that all Russian forces garrisoning the power plant have withdrawn from the area around the decommissioned facility.

“There are now no outsiders on site, according to the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” Energoatom said in an online post. The state-owned company had previously said most of the troops had left, leaving only a small number behind.

Energoatom said the Chernobyl withdrawal came after soldiers received “significant doses of radiation” while digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed facility, although there was no independent confirmation of this.

The withdrawal came amid growing evidence that the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation in Ukraine as a cover while it regroups, resupplies and redeploys its forces for a stepped-up offensive in the east of the country.

Russian forces have also withdrawn from the nearby town of Slavutych, where Chernobyl workers live, the company said.

In a separate post, Energoatom said the Russian side had officially agreed to return responsibility for protecting Chernobyl to Ukraine. It shared a scan of a document signed by people it identified as senior Chernobyl officials, the Russian military official tasked with guarding Chernobyl.

Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the document.

Ukraine has repeatedly raised security concerns over Chernobyl and called for the withdrawal of Russian troops, whose presence at times prevented personnel rotation.

Earlier this week, workers at the site told Reuters that unprotected Russian soldiers drove through the Red Forest, the most radioactively contaminated part of the Chernobyl zone, kicking up radioactive dust.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the reports of Chernobyl workers.

Energoatom said that their concerns about the radiation “almost caused an uproar among the soldiers,” suggesting that this was the reason for their unexpected departure.

The contaminated Red Forest near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

(Jorge Franganillo/Creative Commons)

The IAEA said it could not confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation.

Reports in Belarus suggest minibusloads of Russian soldiers sought medical help at a clinic in the country after leaving Chernobyl for “acute radiation poisoning”.

According to a Belarusian news channel Telegram, at least seven minibuses with Russian soldiers arrived at the clinic this week.

Anton Motolko, a Belarusian photographer, shared a photo of an ambulance he said was transporting Russian troops in Belarus.

Russia occupied the plant hours after Putin launched his February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian employees at the facility continue to oversee the safe storage of nuclear waste and are reportedly working at gunpoint.

Plant workers also secured the reactor that exploded in 1986 in what is believed to be the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Ukraine has repeatedly raised security concerns over Chernobyl and the surrounding Red Forest, which has been hit by wildfires. Officials have warned that another blast or wildfire would cause radiation levels to spike.

Kyiv ordered the Russian troops, whose presence at times prevented the rotation of plant personnel, to withdraw from the plant.

Earlier Thursday, the head of Energoatom called on the United Nations nuclear regulator to help prevent Russian nuclear officials from interfering with the operations of Chernobyl and the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, also occupied by Putin’s forces.

Moscow has denied that its forces endangered Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.

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