Multiple parties within the Ukrainian government have claimed that Russian troops abandoned the Chernobyl nuclear power plant this week partly because of radiation poisoning.
“Russian troops who had occupied the nuclear power station at Chernobyl may have been exposed to ‘significant doses’ of radiation, Ukraine’s state energy company Energoatom said Friday,” according to a CBS News report.
“The company said it could not determine the degree of radiation exposure the troops may have had, but there were unconfirmed reports that some had been sickened.”
In a separate statement, Chernobyl director Valerіy Seyda suggested the same.
“The invaders did not dig anything on the territory of the plant itself, but the thick dust raised by equipment in transit, and the radiation particles in it, may very well have entered the bodies of Russian occupiers through the lungs,” he reportedly said.
“Furthermore, no one knows what the invaders were doing in the Red Forest, and it is also possible that they could have received significant doses of radiation when they dug trenches in this forest.”
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense made a similar claim in a tweet posted early Friday morning Eastern Standard Time:
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) April 1, 2022
russian occupiers looted Chornobyl nuclear power plant before retreating. They could not conquer 🇺🇦, so they took kettles, lab equipment, and radiation. This only applies to those who survived, though.#stoprussia
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) April 1, 2022
These claims must be taken with a grain of salt because of concerns about wartime propaganda. And indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency released a statement Friday admitting that it hadn’t yet “been able to confirm reports of Russian forces receiving high doses of radiation while being in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.”
The IAEA did obtain confirmation from the Russians that their troops have exited the Chernobyl area: “Ukraine has informed the IAEA that all Russian forces have left the Chornobyl NPP, and this was confirmed by the Russian officials at today’s meeting in Kaliningrad,” according to the agency.
IAEA chair Rafael Mariano Grossi meanwhile released a Twitter statement vowing to travel to Chernobyl to personally ensure that everything’s OK now.
I will head an @IAEAorg assistance and support mission to the #Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible. It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to #Ukraine.
— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) April 1, 2022
Director General @RafaelMGrossi intends to head an IAEA assistance and support mission to the #Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant as soon as possible. It will be the first in a series of such nuclear safety and security missions to #Ukraine. https://t.co/tRGkiQ3XCp pic.twitter.com/nleXGrBuMy
— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) April 1, 2022
All this comes as Ukraine appears to be getting the upper hand, or at least to some degree.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a video statement Saturday claiming Russian troops are making a “slow but noticeable” withdrawal, albeit only from certain parts of his country.
“The occupiers are withdrawing forces in the north of our country. The withdrawal is slow but noticeable. Somewhere they are expelled with battles. Somewhere they leave positions on their own. After them a complete disaster and many dangers are left. It’s true,” he said.
North is where the thus-far uncapturable capital of Kyiv lies.
Zelensky warned, however, that the Russians are leaving booby traps in their wake: “[T]hey are mining all this territory. Mining houses, equipment, even the bodies of killed people. Too many tripwire mines, too many other dangers. We are moving forward. Moving carefully. And everyone who returns to this area must also be very careful!”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned his people that retreating Russian forces are creating “a complete disaster” outside the capital as they leave mines across “the whole territory”. pic.twitter.com/ybhJK40UF4
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) April 2, 2022
The Ukrainian president further warned that the troops withdrawing from Northern Ukraine are likely headed to Eastern Ukraine.
“In the east of our country, the situation remains extremely difficult. The Russian militaries are being accumulated in Donbas, in the Kharkiv direction. They are preparing for new powerful blows. We are preparing for even more active defense. We use all opportunities – both internal and external. Necessarily,” he said.
“I emphasize once again: hard battles lie ahead. Now we cannot think that we have already passed all the tests. We all strive for victory. But when it comes everyone will see it. Everyone will feel that peace is coming,” the Ukraine leader added.
It appears, for all intents and purposes, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has given up trying to take Kyiv and is now focused on simply fully conquering and taking over the Donbas region.
But this isn’t necessarily a positive sign.
“Russia’s refocusing of its military efforts on the Donbas could herald a ‘longer, more prolonged conflict’ as Ukrainian forces put up fierce resistance in the eastern region, a senior US defense official said Thursday,” according to AFP.
“It’s been fought over now for eight years. The Ukrainians know the territory very, very well. They have a lot of forces still there and they’re absolutely fighting very hard for that area,” the official said.
“So just because (the Russians) are going to prioritize it and put more forces there or more energy there doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for them.”
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