Russian troops have returned control of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl to the Ukrainians and left the heavily contaminated site early Friday. According to Ukrainian sources familiar with the matter, their retreat occurred approximately one month after taking it over.

However, heavy fighting continues in and around the capital of Kyiv and other fronts.

The Chernobyl reactor site. Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech/AFP/Getty Images

Radioactive Russians

They didn’t leave empty-handed, however. Several Russian troops became quite ill as a result of their occupation. In addition, journalists on the ground have reported “ghost buses” of dead soldiers being transported from Belarus to Russia under cover of darkness.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-owned power company, says that the pullout occurred when Russian soldiers received large amounts of radiation after digging trenches in the exclusion zone around the long-closed plant. “Not surprisingly, the occupiers received significant doses of radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness. And it showed up very quickly.”, they went on to say.

The United Nations is sending representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on a mission to the radioactive waste facilities at Chernobyl in northern Ukraine. They made this call immediately after learning that Russian control of the dangerous site had ended.

Apparently, managing the highly toxic environment of the Chernobyl reactor site proved too much for the Russians to handle. As a result, the IAEA stated Thursday that Russia had formally “transferred control of the [plant] to Ukrainian personnel and moved two convoys of troops to Belarus.”

Russian soldiers seized control of Chernobyl shortly after their February 24 invasion. Yet, the plant’s Ukrainian staff were allowed to oversee day-to-day operations of the site and supervise the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that exploded on April 26, 1986, causing the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Energoatom has stated in an online post that “According to the staff of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, there are now no outsiders on site.” Russian forces have also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where workers at Chernobyl live, the company said.