Russian forces have left the Chernobyl nuclear plant and turned the site back over to Ukraine, the Ukrainian government said on Friday.
Russian forces abandoned the inactive nuclear plant, the site of the most fatal nuclear meltdown in history, after stirring up radioactive dust in the plant’s exclusion zone, workers at the plant said. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense attributed the Russian exodus to battlefield defeats to the Ukraine military, as well.
“[R]ussian occupiers left Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Two key reasons: losses caused by [Ukraine] army and radiation exposure. [R]ussian mutants lost this round of @stalker_thegame,” the ministry tweeted Friday, referencing the video game franchise STALKER that takes place in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
“[R]ussian occupiers looted Chornobyl nuclear power plant before retreating. They could not conquer [Ukraine], so they took kettles, lab equipment, and radiation. This only applies to those who survived, though,” the ministry added.
Russian forces left Chernobyl after driving through and digging ditches in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, stirring up radioactive dust left over from the plant’s 1986 meltdown, plant employees told Reuters.
“A big convoy of military vehicles drove along a road right behind our facility and this road goes past the Red Forest,” one employee said, referencing a forest area near the plant named because of the red color its trees took on due to radiation exposure after the meltdown. “The convoy kicked up a big column of dust. Many radiation safety sensors showed exceeded levels.”
As Russian forces left Chernobyl, they took prisoner Ukrainian national guardsmen who were stationed there when Russian forces originally took control of the dormant plant on February 24.
The Russian withdrawal comes after the Kremlin announced it would begin drawing down troops in the areas surrounding Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Kremlin officials said that the pullback is a show of good faith as negotiations continue between Russia and Ukraine toward an ending of the war that began after Russia invaded its neighbor in late February.
U.S. officials have contested the Kremlin’s claims, saying that the Russian military is using the withdrawal as cover to resupply and reorganize its military that has so far failed to topple Ukraine’s government or take Kyiv.
“There’s been a lot of reporting today on withdraws and, you know Russian decisions, and I think it’s really important that we put a little bit of into context,” Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby said during a Tuesday press conference. “Nobody should be fooling ourselves, by the Kremlin’s now-recent claim that it will suddenly just reduce military attacks near Kyiv, or any reports that it’s going to withdraw all its forces.”
“We all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine,” he added.
“The rapid advance to Kyiv in the initial days of the war showed very clearly for all of us that Kyiv and the capital city was a key objective for the Russians,” Kirby said. “Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv, it’s failed in its objective of subjugating Ukraine, but they can still inflict massive brutality on the country, including in Kyiv.”