Several hundred Russian soldiers were forced to hastily withdraw from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine after suffering “acute radiation sickness” from contaminated soil, according to Ukrainian officials.
The troops, who dug trenches in a contaminated Red Forest near the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, are now reportedly being treated in a special medical facility in Gomel, Belarus. The forest is so named because thousands of pine trees turned red during the 1986 nuclear disaster. The area is considered so highly toxic that not even highly specialized Chernobyl workers are allowed to enter the zone.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian agency in charge of the country’s nuclear power stations, said the Russian soldiers had panicked and fled.
“It has been confirmed that the occupiers who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the Exclusion Zone set off in two columns towards Ukraine’s border with Belarus. The occupiers announced their intentions to leave the Chernobyl nuclear power plant this morning to the Ukrainian personnel of the station,” the agency said in a statement on Telegram, adding that a small number of Russians still remained at the facility.
The agency said it had also confirmed reports of Russian forces digging trenches in the Red Forest, “the most polluted in the entire exclusion zone.”
“Not surprisingly, the occupiers received significant doses of radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness. And it showed up very quickly.”
Local reports suggest that seven buses with the zapped troops arrived in Gomel early Thursday. Journalists on the ground have also reported “ghost buses” of dead soldiers being transported from Belarus to Russia under the cover of dark.
U.S. intelligence reported Wednesday that Russian forces began withdrawing from the defunct site. Russia said the withdrawal from Chernobyl was part of a pledge to scale back the invasion. But Ukrainian media says it is actually because the troops were “irradiated” from the contaminated soil.
“Another batch of Russian irradiated terrorists who seized the Chernobyl zone was brought to the Belarusian Radiation Medicine Center in Gomel today,” Yaroslav Yemelianenko, who works for the Public Council at the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management, posted on Facebook. “There are rules for dealing with this territory.”
The Chernobyl facility fell to Russian control on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion. Workers were on duty for more than 600 hours before being allowed a shift change. International concern grew immediately when Russian troops moved heavy military hardware through the area, kicking up radioactive dust without any protective equipment. Forest fires in the area also raised concern about environmental contamination.
Digging trenches in the forest—considered the most contaminated area of the site—drew widespread ridicule from Ukrainians who work at the site.
The debacle is the latest in a series of missteps by the Russian troops struggling to keep their footing in their increasingly failed war.
Putin’s Soldiers Caught on Tape Lamenting Losses and Blasting His Army of ‘Stupid Morons’
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is calling up another 134,500 conscripts even as more and more of his own soldiers appear to be turning on him over humiliating losses in Ukraine.
According to a decree published on a Russian government portal Thursday, the troops will be called to begin service on April 1 until July 15. The Defense Ministry promised earlier this week that they “will not be sent to any hot spots,” and that all those called up in last spring’s draft will be sent home.
But those assurances seem likely to be overshadowed by a multitude of reports that say Russia’s senseless war against Ukraine has been marred by lies from the top down, with Russian troops claiming they were misled into the war and Putin’s own advisers said to be shielding him from the extent of the devastating losses.
Even as Putin signed the decree on Thursday, Ukraine’s Security Service released an intercepted call said to capture a Russian soldier railing against the incompetence of his own army.
“Our brigade has totally shit themselves. There are losses, many wounded,” he tells his wife.
Asked if the losses are a result of someone screwing up, he offers a blunt response: “The whole army with us is stupid morons.”
“It’s unclear why we are even here,” he says.
Another recording shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, captures a man identified as a Russian soldier named Maksim asking his mother what is being shown on Russian television, and if there are reports “they’re saying they will change anything.”
“Everything’s bad, almost no one among us is left. They said we will keep going until the very end, until everyone is killed,” he tells his mother.
Asked if his senior officer was still with the unit, he replies: “No, he dumped us yesterday. We’re all dead in the water if he left.”
The new recordings come just hours after Western officials said there was growing evidence of disarray and disillusionment among Russian troops, with Britain’s spy chief citing reports of troops “refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.”
It was against this backdrop that Russian defense officials claimed they would cut down hostilities around the Ukrainian capital and shift their focus instead to the east of the country—an announcement met with mockery and skepticism among Ukrainian officials, who said the Kremlin was trying to spin their numerous setbacks into a “mission accomplished” scenario.
Perhaps as part of that long game, the Kremlin has now reportedly begun implementing plans to send psychologists from the FSB into Kherson, a city in the south of Ukraine where residents continue to resist the Russian forces who took over after the Feb. 24 invasion.
“To implement a scenario for the creation of another pseudo-republic in the territory of the Kherson region, there is work underway by employees of the FSB, 652 groups of information and psychological operations and officers of the 12th Main Directorate of the [Russian] General Staff,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement Thursday.
Ukrainian officials said the FSB effort is an attempt to brainwash residents into supporting their new Russian authorities.
Russian law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges are also said to be on their way to occupied territories in Ukraine, with reports of Russian police officers being asked to take “business trips” to parts of the Donbas in Ukraine’s east.