Russians Finally Pull Out of Chernobyl; Ukraine Defence Forces Brace for Renewed Assault

Residents in regions of eastern Ukraine prepared for more strikes and awaited delayed shipments of food and other humanitarian help as Russian forces departed the dangerously radioactive Chernobyl nuclear complex early Friday after restoring authority to the Ukrainians, authorities said.

The pullback at Chernobyl happened after soldiers absorbed “substantial doses” of radiation while excavating trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the shutdown plant, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s national power company. The International Atomic Energy Agency stated that it was unable to independently verify the allegation of exposure.

If true, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod area accused Ukraine of sending helicopter gunships across the border on Friday morning and bombing an oil facility, in what would be the first strike of its sort.

The Roseneft facility, which is managed by the Russian energy giant, lies about 35 kilometers (21 miles) north of the Ukraine-Russia border. According to Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov’s Telegram message, the helicopter strike set the facility on fire and wounded two persons.

“The fire at the oil storage was caused by an airstrike by two Ukrainian military helicopters that entered Russian territory at a low height,” the governor said on the messaging app.

It was not immediately feasible to verify the claim or the photographs of the purported incident that were circulating on social media.

According to the UK Defense Ministry, Ukrainian troops have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka, which are located south of the beleaguered northern city of Chernihiv and along one of the key supply lines between the city and Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Ukraine has also launched effective but limited counter-offensives to the east and northeast of Kyiv, according to the ministry.

Despite Moscow authorities announcing Tuesday that they wanted to decrease military operations in certain locations, Russian forces have continued to pound Chernihiv and Kyiv with air and ground-launched missiles.

According to Western sources, there are mounting suspicions that Russia is using its talk of de-escalation in Ukraine as cover to reorganize, replenish, and reposition its soldiers for a more aggressive invasion in the country’s east.

Russian retreats from Ukraine’s north and center, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are only a military ploy to build up strength for future operations in the southeast.

In his nightly video message to the country, Zelenskyy declared, “We know their aims.” “We know they’re shifting their attention away from the locations where we struck them in order to focus on other, more crucial areas where we could have a hard time.”

He went on to say, “There will be conflicts ahead.”

On Friday, five weeks into a war that has killed thousands of people and pushed more than 4 million people from Ukraine, Ukrainian and Russian negotiators prepared to restart discussions by video. There appeared to be little hope that the two parties would be able to reconcile their differences very soon.

After a phone discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, Italian Premier Mario Draghi said conditions weren’t “ripe” for a cease-fire and that he wasn’t ready for a meeting with Zelenskyy until the negotiators did more work.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his nation will send mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to Ukraine in response to Zelenskyy’s request in the Australian Parliament on Thursday.

He said the four-wheel-drive Bushmaster vehicles, which Zelenskyy had requested, would be flown to Europe on Friday, but he didn’t disclose how many or when they would arrive.

“We’re sending our weapons, our ammunition, our humanitarian supplies, we’re sending all of this, our body armor, all of these things, and we’re going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters, as well,” Morrison stated.

Russian soldiers barred a convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate residents in the surrounded key port city of Mariupol on Thursday after the Russian military agreed to a temporary cease-fire in the area. According to the Ukrainian administration, just 631 persons were permitted to leave the city in private automobiles.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, Russian soldiers also confiscated 14 tons of food and medical supplies in a dozen buses attempting to reach Mariupol.

The city has witnessed some of the war’s most heinous atrocities. Thousands of civilians have been able to flee through humanitarian corridors in recent weeks, bringing the population down from 430,000 before the war to an estimated 100,000 by last week. Russian assaults, on the other hand, have regularly impeded assistance and evacuation convoys.

Ukraine told the International Atomic Energy Agency that Russian personnel at Chernobyl had handed over authority of the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster to the Ukrainians in writing. According to the Ukrainian government organization in charge of the exclusion zone, the final Russian personnel left Chernobyl early Friday.

Energoatom provided no information on the troops who were allegedly exposed to radiation and did not specify how many were harmed. The Kremlin did not respond immediately, and the IAEA said it was gathering further information.

In the early phases of the Feb. 24 invasion, Russian soldiers captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, increasing worries that they might inflict damage or disruption that could spread radioactivity. The site’s staff is in charge of the secure storage of spent fuel rods as well as the concrete-encased wreckage of the 1986 reactor explosion.

A big number of troops developing serious radiation disease “seems implausible,” according to Edwin Lyman, a nuclear scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States, but it’s hard to tell for sure without further data.

On Friday, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi met with top officials in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to discuss nuclear concerns in Ukraine.

Aside from Chernobyl, nine of Ukraine’s 15 active reactors are currently in operation, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya site, according to the IAEA.

The Russians said earlier this week that they would drastically reduce military activities in the areas surrounding Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv in order to build confidence between the two parties and facilitate discussions.

However, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk reported on social media on Thursday that Russian soldiers bombarded Irpin and Makariv and that combat raged around Hostomel in the Kyiv suburbs. According to Pavliuk, there have been Ukrainian counterattacks and some Russian retreats in the Brovary suburb to the east.

Soldiers and commanders at a Ukrainian military checkpoint outside Kyiv said they don’t believe Russian forces have abandoned up on the city.

Brig. Gen. Valeriy Embakov enquired, “What does drastically scaling down combat activities in the Kyiv and Chernihiv districts mean?” “Does this indicate that instead of 200 missiles, 100 missiles will be launched on Kyiv or something else?”

Russia is not dialing up its military activities in Ukraine, according to intelligence, but is instead aiming to reorganize, restock its soldiers, and intensify its attack in the Donbas, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“Russia has misled about its intentions on several occasions,” Stoltenberg added. Meanwhile, he warned, pressure on Kyiv and other cities is being maintained, and “we may expect new aggressive acts bringing much more agony.”

Since 2014, rebels supported by Russia have been fighting Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbas, a primarily Russian-speaking industrial area. In recent days, the Kremlin has stated that its “primary goal” is now to regain control of the Donbas, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, as well as Mariupol.

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