After more than a month of occupying the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, a number of Russian troops have left the exclusion zone, Ukrainian officials are reporting.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy operator, reported Thursday that two columns of Russian troops had left the site and were heading toward the Belarusian border.
“This morning, the invaders announced their intentions to leave the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to Ukrainian station personnel,” a statement posted to the Energoatom Telegram channel reads.
Their departure marks a milestone in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Troops first entered the 1,000-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion, immediately igniting concerns about the risk of a second similar disaster and the broader environmental consequences of dredged-up nuclear waste. The Ukraine government reported throughout Russia’s invasion that staff at the plant were being held hostage, unable to rotate positions and follow typical safety protocol. At one point, the power plant was brought entirely offline; at another, officials reported that they had lost all contact with staff there.
Though the plant is no longer operating, it requires a team of staff to manage the maintenance of nuclear waste. Still, nuclear experts cautioned that the risk of a second Chernobyl disaster on the same scale as the first was essentially nil.
However, Ukraine claims that Russian forces suffered a dose of radiation due to building fortifications in the highly contaminated Red Forest area of the Exclusion Zone.
“It should be noted that the information about fortifications and trenches that the racists built right in the Red Forest, the most polluted in the entire Exclusion Zone, was also confirmed,” the agency stated on Telegram. “So it is not surprising that the occupiers received significant doses of radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness. And it manifested itself very quickly. As a result, almost a riot broke out among the military, and they began to gather from there.”