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State power company Energoatom on Thursday said that Vladimir Putin’s troops had withdrawn from the territory of the defunct plant after “panicking at the first sign of illness”.
The firm said that Russian soldiers had dug trenches in the highly toxic “Red Forest” – which contains the area’s highest radiation levels. Chernobyl was the site of what is believed to be the world’s civil nuclear disaster in 1986.
Mr Putin’s troops became unwell “very quickly” and immediately prepared to leave, Energoatom said.
“The information is confirmed that the occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the exclusion zone, have set off in two columns towards the Ukrainian border with the Republic of Belarus,” they added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IEA) said it would seek an independent assessment in the coming days and would send its first “assistance and support mission” to the site. The Standard could not independently verify Energoatom’s claims.
Earlier this week, two Ukrainian employees at the site told Reuters that Russian soldiers had driven their armoured vehicles through the Red Forest without using anti-radiation gear.
One employee said the move was “suicidal” because the radioactive dust inhaled was likely to cause internal radiation in their bodies.
"The convoy kicked up a big column of dust. Many radiation safety sensors showed exceeded levels," he said.
A vast area around Chernobyl is off limits to anyone who does not work there or have special permission, but the Red Forest is considered so highly contaminated that even the nuclear plant workers are not allowed to go there.
Russian soldiers seized control of the Chernobyl plant shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Reports later emerged that staff maintaining facilities had been prevented from leaving and were being held hostage by Mr Putin’s troops.
The Kremlin has been criticised for repeatedly targeting nuclear facilities in the country and Russian troops sparked international concern after shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant last month, causing multiple fires on the site.
Earlier on Thursday, the head of Energoatom urged the IAEA to help ensure Russian nuclear officials do not interfere in the operation of Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest, which is also occupied by Russian soldiers.