Russian troops have started to leave the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after soldiers received “significant doses” of radiation while digging trenches at the highly contaminated site, Ukraine’s state-owned electricity company said on Thursday as the fighting raged rage on the outskirts of kyiv and on other fronts.
Energoatom, the company, gave no immediate details on the condition of the troops or the number of people affected. But he said the Russians dug into the forest inside the exclusion zone around the now closed plant, site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
Troops “panicked at the first sign of illness”, which “manifested very quickly”, and began to prepare to leave, Energoatom said.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
His forces seized the Chernobyl site at the start of the Feb. 24 invasion, raising fears they could cause damage or disruption that could spread radiation. The workforce on site oversees the safe storage of spent fuel rods and concrete ruins of the blown reactor.
The withdrawal came amid continued fighting and indications that the Kremlin is using de-escalation talks as cover while regrouping and resupplying its forces and redeploying them for a strengthened offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was witnessing “a buildup of Russian forces for new strikes on Donbass, and we are preparing for that.”
Meanwhile, a bus convoy headed for Mariupol in another attempt to evacuate residents of the beleaguered port city after the Russian military agreed to a limited ceasefire in the area . And a new round of talks aimed at stopping the fighting was scheduled for Friday.
The Red Cross said its teams were heading to Mariupol with medical supplies and other relief and hoped to get civilians out of the beleaguered city.
Tens of thousands of people have managed to get out of Mariupol in recent weeks through humanitarian corridors, reducing the city’s population from a pre-war 430,000 to around 100,000 last week, but other efforts have been thwarted by continued Russian attacks.
At the same time, Russian forces shelled the outskirts of kyiv, two days after the Kremlin announced that it would drastically reduce operations near the capital and the northern city of Chernihiv, in order to “d ‘increase mutual trust and create the conditions for new negotiations’.
The UK Ministry of Defense also reported “heavy Russian bombing and missile fire” around Chernihiv. The region’s governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said Russian troops were on the move but might not withdraw.
The Russian military also reported new strikes against Ukrainian fuel stores on Wednesday evening, and Ukrainian officials said there were artillery barrages in and around the northeastern city of Kharkiv. , during the past day.
Despite the fighting raging in these areas, the Russian military said it was committed to a ceasefire along the road from Mariupol to the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 45 buses would be sent to pick up civilians who suffered some of the worst deprivation of the war.
Food, water and medical supplies ran out during a week of blockade and shelling of the city. Civilians who have managed to leave have generally done so using private cars, but the number of vehicles to drive remaining in the city has dwindled and fuel is low.
“It is extremely important that this operation takes place,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it.”
Talks between Ukraine and Russia were due to resume via video on Friday, according to the head of the Ukrainian delegation, David Arakhamia, six weeks after the start of a war that has claimed thousands of lives and a staggering 4 million. ‘Ukrainians flee the country.
But it seemed unlikely that the two sides would resolve the conflict anytime soon, especially after attacks by the Russian military in areas where it had offered to roll back.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said conditions are not yet “ripe” for a ceasefire in Ukraine and he is not ready for a meeting with Zelensky until negotiators do more work, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said while recounting a phone conversation he had with the Russian leader on Wednesday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said intelligence from the alliance indicates that Russia is not reducing its military operations in Ukraine, but rather trying to regroup, resupply its forces and strengthen its offensive in the Donbas.
“Russia repeatedly lied about its intentions,” Stoltenberg said. At the same time, he said, the pressure is kept on Kyiv and other cities, and “we can expect further offensive actions bringing even more suffering.”
Donbas is the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. In recent days, the Kremlin, in an apparent shift in its war aims, has said its “main objective” is now to take control of Donbass, which includes the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, including Mariupol.
Donetsk’s main rebel leader, Denis Pushilin, has given the order to set up a rival municipal government for Mariupol, according to Russian state news agencies, as a sign of Russian intent to hold and administer the town.
On the outskirts of kyiv, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media that Russian forces shelled Irpin and Makariv and there were battles around Hostomel. Pavliuk said there were Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian withdrawals around the eastern suburb of Brovary.
In addition, Ukraine’s emergency services said the death toll rose to 20 in a Russian missile strike Tuesday on a government administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
As Western officials search for clues as to what Russia’s next move might be, a senior British intelligence official says demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine refused to carry out orders and sabotaged their equipment and accidentally shot down their own plane.
In a speech in Australia, Jeremy Fleming, head of electronic spy agency GCHQ, said Putin had apparently “massively misjudged” the invasion. US intelligence officials have also concluded that Putin is misinformed by his advisers about the seriousness of the war because they are afraid to tell him the truth.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the United States was wrong and “neither the State Department nor the Pentagon have the real information about what’s going on in the Kremlin.”
In other developments, Putin authorized the recruitment of 134,500 new conscripts from April 1. The recruitment is a routine event but comes amid fears that some conscripts could be deployed to Ukraine.
Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have assured that the conscripts will not participate in the war in Ukraine. Earlier this month, however, the Russian military admitted that a number of conscripts ended up in Ukraine and were captured there.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine