A nuclear operator at Chernobyl power plant says Russian soldiers digging trenches in contaminated soil suffered radiation sickness.
The exodus of Russian infantry from the plant began after soldiers were affected by “significant doses” of radiation from digging in irradiated land, said Ukraine’s state power company, Energoatom, on Thursday.
Energoatom provided no immediate details on the numbers affected, and the severity of their condition. However, it did confirm that Russians had been digging in the forest that sits in the exclusion zone around the defunct plant.
The energy company says the troops “panicked at the first sign of illness,” which “showed up very quickly,” and rapidly began preparations to leave.
The Kremlin has provided no immediate comment on the situation.
The UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday that it is preparing to send a mission to Chernobyl after Ukraine had confirmed that the Russian soldiers were pulling out en masse.
“We are in close consultations with Ukrainian authorities on sending the Agency’s first assistance and support mission to [Chernobyl] in the next few days,” said the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Chernobyl’s Radiation Risk
February 25, early on in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s state nuclear inspectorate said that the activity of heavy military vehicles on Chernobyl’s contaminated soil increased radiation levels. Details concerning the incident remained hazy until now.
Last week, Reuters was told by two plant workers that they had witnessed Russian armored vehicles and tanks traversing the Red Forest, roughly 100 kilometers north of Kyiv and considered the most radioactive area around Chernobyl.
The workers said the Russian soldiers were not seen wearing any anti-radiation gear. The second source added that the convoy was “suicidal” due to the significant danger of inhaling radioactive dust stirred up from the vehicles.
These sources worked alongside Russian invaders at the plant for almost a month before being allowed to leave, to make room for replacements. They were interviewed via telephone on March 25, preferring to be kept anonymous out of fear for their safety.
The Red Forest was given its name after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 caused a massive ring of pine trees to turn red from radiation absorption. This forest is so hazardous that not even plant workers are permitted there.