Russians leave Chernobyl as fighting rages elsewhere

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops have returned control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to the Ukrainians and have begun leaving the heavily contaminated site more than a month after taking it over, authorities said Thursday, as fighting raged on the outskirts of kyiv and other fronts.

Ukraine’s state-owned electricity company, Energoatom, said the Chernobyl pullout came after soldiers received ‘significant doses’ of radiation while digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed power plant . But there was no independent confirmation of this.

The pullout came amid growing indications that the Kremlin is using de-escalation talks in Ukraine as a cover while regrouping, resupplying its forces and redeploying them for a strengthened offensive in the east of the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was witnessing “a buildup of Russian forces for new strikes on Donbass, and we are preparing for that.”

Meanwhile, a bus convoy headed for Mariupol in another attempt to evacuate residents of the beleaguered port city after the Russian military agreed to a limited ceasefire in the area . And a new round of talks was scheduled for Friday, five weeks after the start of the war that left thousands dead and drove 4 million Ukrainians out of the country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said it was informed by Ukraine that Russian forces at the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster had handed over control of it in writing to the Ukrainians.

Ukraine reported that three convoys of Russian forces had left for Belarus, while the remaining troops apparently planned to leave as well, the agency said.

Energoatom gave no details on the condition of the soldiers it said were exposed to radiation and did not say how many were affected. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin and the IAEA said it was unable to confirm reports that Russian troops had received large doses. He said he was looking for more information.

Russian forces seized the Chernobyl site at the start of the Feb. 24 invasion, raising fears they could cause damage or disruption that could spread radiation. Workforce at the site oversee the safe storage of spent fuel rods and concrete ruins from the reactor that exploded in 1986.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said it “seems unlikely” that large numbers of soldiers would develop serious radiation sickness, but it was impossible to tell. know for sure without further details.

He said contaminated materials were likely buried or covered with new topsoil during the Chernobyl cleanup, and some soldiers may have been exposed to a “hot spot” of radiation while digging. Others may have assumed they were also at risk, he said.

Earlier this week, the Russians said they would drastically reduce military operations in areas around kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to build trust between the two sides and facilitate negotiations.

But on the outskirts of kyiv, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media on Thursday that Russian forces shelled Irpin and Makariv and there were battles around Hostomel. Pavliuk said there were Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian withdrawals around the eastern suburb of Brovary.

Chernihiv was also attacked. At least one person was killed and four were injured in the Russian bombardment of a humanitarian convoy of buses sent to Chernihiv to evacuate residents cut off from food, water and other supplies, the Ukrainian Commissioner for Foreign Affairs said. human rights Lyudmyla Denisova.

Ukraine also reported Russian artillery barrages in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said intelligence indicates that Russia is not reducing its military operations in Ukraine, but rather trying to regroup, resupply its forces and strengthen its offensive in Donbass.

“Russia repeatedly lied about its intentions,” Stoltenberg said. At the same time, he said, the pressure is kept on Kyiv and other cities, and “we can expect further offensive actions bringing even more suffering.”

Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. In recent days, the Kremlin, in an apparent shift in its war aims, has said its “main objective” is now to take control of Donbass, which includes the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, including Mariupol.

Donetsk’s main rebel leader, Denis Pushilin, has ordered the establishment of a rival municipal government for Mariupol, according to Russian state news agencies, as a sign of Russian intent to hold and administer the town.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, said its teams were heading to Mariupol with medical supplies and other relief and hoped to get civilians out of the beleaguered city, the site of some of the war’s worst suffering.

Tens of thousands of people have managed to get out of Mariupol in recent weeks through humanitarian corridors, reducing its population from a pre-war 430,000 to around 100,000 last week, but other efforts to relieving the city were thwarted by continued Russian attacks.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 45 buses would be sent to pick up civilians from the besieged and bombarded city, where food, water, medicine and fuel were running out.

“It is extremely important that this operation takes place,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it.”

With talks set to resume between Ukraine and Russia via video, it seemed unlikely the two sides would resolve the dispute anytime soon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said conditions are not yet “ripe” for a ceasefire and he is not ready for a meeting with Zelensky until negotiators do more work , Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said after a telephone conversation with the Russian leader. .

In other developments, Ukraine’s emergency services said the death toll rose to 20 in a Russian missile strike Tuesday on a government administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

As Western officials search for clues as to what Russia’s next move might be, a senior British intelligence official says demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine refused to carry out orders and sabotaged their equipment and accidentally shot down their own plane.

In a speech in Australia, Jeremy Fleming, head of electronic spy agency GCHQ, said Putin had apparently “massively misjudged” the invasion.

US intelligence officials concluded that Putin was misinformed by his advisers about the seriousness of the war because they were afraid to tell him the truth.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the United States was wrong and “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have the real information about what’s going on in the Kremlin.”


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