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'Russian mutants lost this round,' Ukraine says after troops leave Chernobyl

VILCHA, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 13: An abandoned railway is seen in the Chernobyl zone close to the Ukraine-Belarus border crossing on February 13, 2022 in Vilcha, Ukraine. Russian forces are conducting large-scale military exercises in Belarus, across Ukraine's northern border, amid a tense diplomatic standoff between Russia and Ukraine's Western allies. Ukraine has warned that it is virtually encircled, with Russian troops massed on its northern, eastern and southern borders. The United States and other NATO countries have issued urgent alerts about a potential Russian invasion, hoping to deter Vladimir Putin by exposing his plans, while trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Energoatom, Ukraine's state power company, has warned that Russian soldiers likely received high radiation doses at Chernobyl. Here, an abandoned railway is seen in the Chernobyl zone close to the Ukraine-Belarus border, weeks before the Russian invasion.

Russia's force has fully withdrawn from the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine's defense ministry confirmed on Friday. It cited two reasons for the exit: military losses and radiation exposure.

"Russian mutants lost this round of @stalker_thegame," the ministry said via Twitter, referring to the Stalker video game franchise that is set in the notoriously radioactive zone.

When they left, Ukraine's ministry added, the Russian troops looted the power plant, taking "kettles, lab equipment, and radiation." They also took the captured Ukrainian national guard members who had been at the facility when Russia invaded in late February.

In an update on conditions at the Chernobyl plant, Energoatom, Ukraine's state power company, said on Friday that all control and monitoring systems were operating normally, despite the removal of several containers and spare parts. Ukrainian workers who remained at the plant throughout the occupation to monitor it had remained safe from radiation, it added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday that it's still working to determine the veracity of reports that Russian soldiers received high doses of radiation in the notoriously contaminated Chernobyl Exclusion Zone during more than a month of occupation.

Energoatom has said Russian troops left the site after digging trenches and building fortifications in the Red Forest — an area it says is the most heavily polluted in the entire zone. Without providing details, the company said a panic broke out when the first signs of radiation sickness emerged. On Friday, the company reiterated that the greatest threat to the occupiers was likely posed by inhaling radioactive dust disturbed by their actions.

The IAEA said Russian forces had sent two buses of troops out of the area to Belarus as they returned control of the Chernobyl site to Ukraine. A third bus also left a nearby city where many of the Chernobyl staff members live, it said. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.