KYIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site early Friday after Ukrainians returned control, officials said, as residents in parts of eastern Ukraine prepared for new attacks and ordered food and other supplies. Waited for a blocked supply of humanitarian relief.
Ukraine’s state power company, Energotom, said troops in Chernobyl pulled out after receiving “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it could not independently verify the risk claim.
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region accused Ukraine of flying helicopter gunships across the border on Friday morning and attacking an oil depot, in what will be the first of its kind.
The depot, operated by Russian energy giant Rosneft, is located about 35 kilometers (21 mi) north of the Ukraine-Russia border. According to a Telegram post by Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, a helicopter attack set the facility on fire, and injured two people.
“The fire at the oil depot resulted from an airstrike from two helicopters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that entered Russian territory at a low altitude,” the governor wrote on the messaging app.
It was not immediately possible to verify the claim or images circulating on social media of the alleged attack.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka, which lie south of the northern city of Chernihiv and along one of the main supply routes between the city and Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, according to the UK Defense Ministry. are located together.
The ministry said Ukraine also continued to launch successful but limited counterattacks in the east and northeast of Kyiv.
Moscow officials said on Tuesday they planned to reduce military activity in those areas, despite Russian forces subjecting both Chernihiv and Kyiv to frequent air- and ground-launched missile attacks.
Western officials said there were growing signs that Russia would use its talk of de-escalation in Ukraine to regroup, redeploy its forces and intensify attacks in the country’s eastern side. to deploy from.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the Russian withdrawal from the country’s north and center was just a military tactic to build up strength for new attacks in the southeast.
“We know their intentions,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation. “We know they’re moving away from areas where we’ve hit them to focus on other, very important people where it might be difficult for us.”
“There will be a fight ahead,” he said.
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators plan to resume talks via video on Friday, sparking a five-week conflict that has killed thousands and expelled more than 4 million refugees from Ukraine. There was little confidence that the two sides would settle the conflict any time soon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said conditions for a ceasefire were not yet “ripe” and that he was not ready to meet with Zelensky until negotiators worked out more, Italian Premier Mario Draghi telephoned with the Russian leader on Thursday. But said after the conversation. ,
Following a plea from Zelensky when he addressed the Australian parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country would send mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to Ukraine.
He said on Friday the four-wheel-drive Bushmaster vehicles, specifically requested by Zelensky, would be flown in Europe but did not say how many would be delivered or when.
“We’re not just sending our prayers, we’re sending our guns, we’re sending our weapons, we’re sending our humanitarian aid, we’re sending all this, our body armor, all these things, and We’re also going to send ‘our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters,’ Morrison said.
In the besieged strategic port city of Mariupol, Russian forces on Thursday intercepted a convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate people after the Russian army agreed to a limited ceasefire in the region. According to the government of Ukraine, only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars.
Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said the Russian military also seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies in a dozen buses trying to make it to Mariupol.
The city has been the scene of some of the worst pains of the war. Tens of thousands of residents managed to escape through humanitarian corridors over the past few weeks, reducing the population from 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 by last week. But frequent Russian attacks have repeatedly thwarted aid and evacuation convoys.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had been informed by Ukraine that the Russian military in Chernobyl had transferred control of the world’s worst nuclear disaster site to Ukrainians in writing. The last Russian troops left Chernobyl early Friday, the Ukrainian government agency responsible for the exclusion zone said.
Energoatom did not provide any details about the condition of the soldiers exposed to radiation and did not say how many were affected. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin and the IAEA said it was seeking more information.
Russian forces seized the Chernobyl site in the early stages of the February 24 offensive, raising fears that they might cause damage or disruption that could spread radiation. The on-site workforce oversees the safe storage of spent fuel rods and the concrete-embedded ruins of a reactor that exploded in 1986.
Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said it was “unlikely” that large numbers of soldiers might have had severe radiation sickness, but it was impossible to know for sure without more details.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi was in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on Friday to hold talks with senior officials about the nuclear issues in Ukraine.
The IAEA said that in addition to concerns about Chernobyl, nine of Ukraine’s 15 operational reactors are currently in use, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya facility.
Earlier this week, the Russians said they would significantly reduce military operations in Kyiv and the areas around the northern city of Chernihiv in a bid to boost trust and aid in dialogue between the two sides.
But in the Kyiv suburbs, regional governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media on Thursday that Russian forces opened fire on Irpin and Makarev and fighting broke out around Hostomel. Pavliuk said Ukrainian counterattacks and some Russian withdrawals had taken place in the east around the suburb of Brovary.
At a Ukrainian military post outside Kyiv, soldiers and officers said they did not believe Russian forces had left the capital.
“What does this mean, significantly reducing combat actions in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions?” asked the Brigadier. General Valery Embakov. “Does this mean that instead of 200 missiles launched on Kyiv there will be 100 missiles or something?”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said intelligence indicates that Russia is not reducing its military operations in Ukraine, but instead is looking to regroup, redeploy and strengthen its offensive in the Donbass. is trying.
“Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions,” Stoltenberg said. At the same time, he said, pressure is being maintained on Kyiv and other cities, and “we can expect that additional aggressive action will bring even more suffering.”
The Donbass is a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014. Over the past few days, the Kremlin, in an apparent change in its war objective, said its “main goal” is now to gain control of the Donbass, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including Mariupol.
Karamanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
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