Russians allow dozens of Chernobyl workers to leave after 600 hours as hostages

Dozens of employees of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant who were forced by Russian troops to stay at the facility for 600 hours were finally allowed to leave on Sunday.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, welcomed the move but warned it was long overdue.

“[The plant employees] deserve all our respect and admiration for working under these extremely difficult circumstances,” said Grossi. “They’ve been there way too long. I sincerely hope that the remaining staff on this shift can also tour soon.”

A Facebook post from the factory said 64 people had been sent home after “heroically performing their job duties and maintaining the appropriate level of security”. The workers included guards, technicians and others.

The employees who rotated made up about half of the site’s staff, according to the IAEA. They were replaced on Sunday by 46 Ukrainian “volunteer employees”, the Facebook post said.

The workers had been held hostage at the facility since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. For weeks, the IAEA had called for factory workers to be allowed to shoot, pointing to serious safety concerns posed by exhausted staff operating under stress.

Chernobyl was the site of the largest nuclear power plant accident in history in 1986. While radioactive waste management facilities are located at the plant, its last reactor shut down in 2000.

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