In a drone video filmed by the Ukrainian military and released on Telegram by Energoatom, the state-owned operator of the country’s nuclear power plants, vacant pits and trenches of abandoned military fortifications can be seen. Energoatom said Russian soldiers may have received significant radiation exposure while in action there.
The footage, which was first shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense on Twitter on Wednesday, shows the apparently dug-up land before moving to a shot of the sarcophagus covering the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the distance.
The accident forced the evacuation of nearby communities and contaminated 150,000 square kilometres of land in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
It killed at least 30 people and spewed radioactive fallout over much of the Northern Hemisphere.
The effects continued to be felt until much later on.
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As per a report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation, more than 6,000 thyroid cancers were reported among children and teenagers in the affected area by 2005 – many of which were most likely caused by radiation.
According to plant workers, thick radioactive dust kicked up by large Russian vehicles could now have been inhaled by Putin’s troops, who were not wearing anti-radiation protective equipment.
Power station director Valery Sejda said: “It is impossible to quantify the extent of radioactive contamination of Russian soldiers.”
Energoatom chief Petro Kotin, meanwhile, said the soldiers were not physicists and had been sent to the radioactively contaminated region completely unaware.
Chernobyl, which fell into the hands of Russian troops in the first week of Moscow’s invasion, only came back under control of Kyiv last week, on March 31.
Energoatom said: “According to the staff of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, there are now no outsiders on site.”
Russian forces also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where workers at Chernobyl live, the company added.
Even while occupied by Putin’s troops, the plant’s Ukrainian staff continued to oversee the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and supervise the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that exploded in 1986.
Kyiv had repeatedly expressed safety concerns about Chernobyl and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces, whose presence prevented the rotation of personnel for a time.
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The danger of explosives damaging the plant’s nuclear reactors caused concern among members of the public to the point pharmacies in some Eastern European and Scandinavian countries reported a spike in demand for iodine tablets, which can be used to protect children from radiation exposure.
But even before Russian troops seized the site, the fact the nuclear reactors provide about 50 percent of Ukraine’s electricity worried those who watched the conflict unfold.
Energoatom claimed “almost a riot began to brew among the (Russian) soldiers” as a result of their concerns about radiation – suggesting this was the reason for their unexpected departure.
Some reports claim soldiers are being sent to a special medical facility in Belarus.
Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, wrote on Facebook the soldiers had received such a high dose of radiation that “doctors in protective suits will explain the consequences to them”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s atomic watchdog, said it is investigating the claims.
Separately, Energoatom said Moscow had formally agreed to hand back to Kyiv the responsibility for protecting Chernobyl.
It shared the scan of a document signed by people it identified as a senior staff member at Chernobyl and the Russian military official assigned to guarding Chernobyl.