“It was confirmed that the occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the Exclusion Zone, marched in two columns towards the Ukrainian border with the Republic of Belarus,” said Energoatom in a statement published on Telegram.
On April 26, 1986, an explosion ripped through the No.4 reactor at Chernobyl, killing 30 people immediately. Countless others died from radiation symptoms in the years that followed.
In pictures: The Chernobyl disaster
In late February, during the first week of the war, the plant and its surrounding territory fell into the hands of Russian troops.
On Thursday Russian troops announced their intention to leave and hand over control to Ukrainian personnel, said Energoatom.
It also posted the copy of a formal letter purportedly signed by a representative of Russia’s National Guard, a representative of Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom and a Chernobyl plant shift manager, with the heading, “The act of acceptance and transfer of protection of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.”
The letter states that “the administration of the protected facility makes no claims in relation to the troops of the National Guard of the Russian Federation.”
The Telegram statement from Energoatom said that a small number of “rashists” – a Ukrainian slur for Russians that combines the words “fascist” and “racist” – remained at the station.
“It should be noted that the information about fortifications and trenches that the rashists built right in the Red Forest, the most polluted in the entire Exclusion Zone, was also confirmed,” Energoatom said.
“So it is not surprising that the occupiers received significant doses of radiation and panicked at the first sign of illness. And it manifested itself very quickly. As a result, almost a riot broke out among the military, and they began to gather from there,” continued the statement.
CNN was not immediately able to verify those claims.
Separately, Energoatom said there were reports that a column of Russian soldiers who had encircled the town of Slavutych, which was built to house workers at Chernobyl, was also forming up to withdraw toward Belarus.
The US is also seeing Russian forces “drawing down” from Chernobyl and from the north and northwest of Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday.
The US believes Russian forces have likely “abandoned Hostomel airport,” also known as Antonov International Airport, northwest of Kyiv, the official said.
The Russian occupation of Chernobyl triggered fears that safety standards inside the exclusion zone could be compromised.
One week ago, Ukraine’s government said that Russian forces had looted and destroyed a lab close to the abandoned nuclear plant, which was used to monitor radioactive waste.
Russia has been targeting civilian infrastructure such as power stations during its invasion of Ukraine, according to Mason Clark, lead Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
“This is coming through most clearly in Mariupol, where they’re very intentionally targeting water stations and power supplies and internet towers and cell phone towers and that sort of thing, and a very deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for the defenders to hold out and try and force them to capitulate,” Clark told CNN in mid-March.
CNN’s Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.