More than a month after occupying the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Russian troops have left the site after facing the first signs of radiation exposure, Reuters reported.
Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, was one of the first territories to fall into Russian control when the invasion began. Back then, we had reported that the workers at the site had been detained and forced to work continuously, without the mandated breaks. It was also feared that more nuclear leaks could occur after the power supply to the site was cut, the Ukrainian nuclear regulator had said.
While the worst-case scenarios never came to pass, the Russian troops were not spared either.
The radioactive Red Forest
Reuters reported that the Russian soldiers at the site were most probably not aware of the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl, and roamed around without any protective gear. The nearby area of Red Forest was named after the pine trees that absorbed the radiation from the explosion, changed color, and remains one of the most contaminated sites around Chernobyl.
Ukrainian authorities maintaining the site banned anyone, even the nuclear plant workers, from visiting the site. However, after the Russian troops arrived, the Red Forest became a pathway to move convoys of tanks and armored vehicles, which also kicked up a lot of dust in the area.
Ukrainian regulatory authorities had flagged the increased levels of radiation in the area following the Russian capture of the site. While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had acknowledged the rise in levels, they declared that the levels were not alarming or causing risk to the general population in the area.
Although Russian troops were aware of the strategic importance of the site, it seemed that they didn't know about its history. Even nuclear specialists who arrived from Russia a week after the troops were not seen wearing safety gear, Reuters reported.
Contrary to its earlier stance, Russia has now confirmed that it has sent conscripted men for its "specialized military operation" in Ukraine and not just professional units.
Ukrainian nuclear energy operator, Energoatom, said in a social media post that Russian troops were likely building trenches and fortifications around the site when they could have also been exposed to radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness, Vice reported. Two columns of troops have reportedly left the site.
The U.S. Department of Defense, though, has a skeptical eye on the move and thinks that Russia is repositioning its troops on the eastern front and expects new attacks there, Business Insider reported.