Some Russian troops were still in the "exclusion zone" around the Chernobyl nuclear power station on Friday morning, a day after ending their occupation of the plant itself, a Ukrainian official said.
Ukraine's state nuclear company Energoatom said on Thursday that most of the Russian forces that occupied the Chernobyl nuclear power station after invading Ukraine had left the defunct plant, and only a "small number" remained.
Though Russian troops seized control of Chernobyl soon after the Feb. 24 invasion, the plant's Ukrainian staff continued to oversee the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and supervise the concrete-encased remains of the reactor that exploded in 1986.
Energoatom said these workers had flagged earlier on Thursday that Russian forces were planning to leave the territory.
"The information is confirmed that the occupiers, who seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and other facilities in the exclusion zone, have set off in two columns towards the Ukrainian border with the Republic of Belarus," it said in a statement.
It said a small number of Russian troops remained at Chernobyl, but did not specify how many or share further details. Russian forces have also retreated from the nearby town of Slavutych, where workers at Chernobyl live, it said.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian authorities, who have denied that its forces have put nuclear facilities in Ukraine at risk.
Ukraine has repeatedly expressed safety concerns about Chernobyl and demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops, whose presence prevented the rotation of the plant's personnel for a time.
Earlier on Thursday, the head of Energoatom urged the UN nuclear watchdog to help ensure Russian nuclear officials do not interfere in the operation of Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, which is also occupied by Russian soldiers.
Russia is moving its troops
Ukrainian forces are preparing for new Russian attacks in the southeast, where Moscow's guns are now trained after its assault on the capital Kyiv was repelled, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday.
Five weeks into an invasion that has blasted cities into wastelands and created more than 4 million refugees, US and European officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin was misled by his generals about the dire performance of Russia's military.
In an early morning video address, Zelensky said Russian troop movements away from Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv were "the consequence of our defenders' work."
But Ukraine was seeing "a build-up of Russian forces for new strikes on the Donbas and we are preparing for that," he said, referring to the southeastern region Russia demands Ukraine cede to separatists, where Mariupol is the main port.
Russia is considering the formation of governing authority over occupied Ukrainian territories, the Ukrainian military claimed on Thursday morning.
Employees of law enforcement agencies, the legal system and courts are being screened in Russia, and will be sent at a later date to Ukraine, the Ukrainian military asserted. Russian forces are also gathering information on the occupied Black Sea port city of Kherson to assess how to administer the population.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was bringing a convoy of aid to reach the besieged Black Sea port of Mariupol, where tens of thousands of people have been trapped for weeks under bombardment without food, water or heat.
Russia is also allegedly attempting to secure its position in the rebel territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Ukrainian military also claimed that Russia is continuing to regroup and transfer forces and equipment to Eastern Ukraine.
"Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units," the UK Defense Ministry said in a Thursday intelligence update. "Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days."
The Ukrainian military claimed that mines were being laid in areas near Kyiv that Russian forces had withdrawn from to reinforce operations in the East. While Russia has also indicated that it will withdraw from the area around Chernihiv, shelling and missile strikes have continued, the ministry said on Thursday.
Artillery and missile strikes continued against Kharkiv and other encircled cities. Russian rockets struck a military unit and a fuel depot in the Dnipro region of eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing two people, the regional governor said. Russian forces and pro-Russian militias continue to fight to take the southern port city of Mariupol, which according to the UK Defense Ministry is "a key objective of Russian forces."
Fighting while Negotiating
"While negotiations continue, Russia has not ceased hostilities," said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kubela. "It is crucial that partners continue to provide Ukraine with more arms and apply more sanctions on Russia. The stronger Ukraine is, the better agreement we can achieve for the sake of Ukraine’s and Europe’s security."
Russia has destroyed almost all of Ukraine's defense industry, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Thursday in a video address where he welcomed the terms of a proposed peace deal as a win for Ukraine.
"They have practically destroyed our defense industry," Arestovych said.
He said under a peace agreement discussed with Russia on Tuesday, Ukraine would be protected from future threats by international security guarantees that Moscow would not be able to veto.
"This is an ideal agreement that improves our position several times over in a fundamental way," he said.
The Ukrainian military claimed on Thursday that Russia has lost about 17,500 soldiers since the beginning of the war, though Western intelligence services have put the number of Russian KIA at about half that.
Ukrainian forces also claimed to have destroyed 614 tanks, 1745 armored vehicles, 311 artillery systems, 96 multiple launch rocket systems, 54 anti-air systems, 135 warplanes, 131 helicopters, 1201 other ground vehicles, 7 ships, 75 fuel tankers and 83 UAVs. Open-source intelligence groups monitoring the destruction of vehicles through visual verification have much lower estimates than the Ukrainian military's claims.
According to TASS, the Russian military claims to have destroyed 341 drones, 1,815 tanks and armored vehicles, 195 MLTS, 124 warplanes, 77 helicopters, 216 anti-air systems, 762 artillery pieces, and 1689 other ground vehicles since the beginning of the war.
132 Ukrainian children have been killed and 232 injured as of Thursday, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Thursday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross told Ukraine that Russia had agreed to open a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol, Melitopol and Enerhodar, Ukrainian Deputy Minister Iryna Vereshchuks said on Thursday.