KYIV, Ukraine — On Friday, talks between Russia and Ukraine resumed via video link.
The head of the Russian delegation, Vladimir Medinsky, published a photo from the talks. The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed to The Associated Press that talks had resumed.
Friday’s talks will take place three days after the last meeting in Turkey of the Russian and Ukrainian delegations.
Mr. Medinsky said that “our position on Crimea and Donbass is unchanged.”
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine in 2014. Donbass is a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear facility early Friday after handing over control to the Ukrainians, authorities said, as residents in parts of eastern Ukraine prepared for further attacks and waited for blocked food and other humanitarian aid supplies.
The Ukrainian state-owned electricity company Energoatom said the withdrawal of troops from Chernobyl came after soldiers received “significant doses” of radiation while digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it could not independently verify the impact claim.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said he would lead a team at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine “as soon as possible”.
Rafael Mariano Grossi tweeted that the IAEA “assistance and support” mission in Chernobyl “will be the first in a series of nuclear security missions in Ukraine.”
Mr. Grossi’s comments follow his visits to Ukraine and then to Russia this week. He did not elaborate on his plans or give more specific dates. Later on Friday, he was scheduled to hold a press conference in Vienna.
Energoatom did not provide details on the condition of the soldiers it said were exposed to radiation, nor did it say how many were injured.
Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert for the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said it was “unlikely” that a large number of soldiers would develop serious radiation sickness, but that it was impossible to know for sure without more details.
Adding to concerns about Chernobyl, nine of Ukraine’s 15 operating reactors are currently in operation, including two at Russia’s Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the IAEA said.
Attack in Russia?
In the first such attack, if confirmed, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region accused Ukraine of attacking the oil depot with attack helicopters on Friday.
The base, run by Russian energy giant Rosneft, is located about 35 kilometers north of the Ukrainian-Russian border. According to Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, the object caught fire as a result of the attack, two people were injured.
“The fire at the oil depot occurred as a result of an air strike by two helicopters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which invaded the territory of Russia at low altitude,” the governor wrote in the Telegram messenger application.
It was not immediately possible to verify the statement or images of the alleged attack circulating on social media. Russia has previously reported bombing attacks from Ukraine, including an incident last week that killed a military chaplain, but not an incursion into its airspace.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have captured the villages of Sloboda and Lukashevka, located south of the besieged city of Chernihiv and along one of the main supply routes between the city and the Ukrainian capital Kiev, the British Defense Ministry said.
Ukraine also continued to launch successful but limited counterattacks east and northeast of Kyiv, the ministry said in a statement.
Russian troops have been subjecting Chernihiv and Kyiv to continuous air and ground strikes, although Moscow announced on Tuesday that it plans to reduce military activity in those areas.
Western officials have warned that there are growing signs that Russia is using its de-escalation rhetoric in Ukraine as cover to regroup, resupply its forces and redeploy them for an enhanced offensive in the country’s east.
President Zelensky has warned that the withdrawal of Russian troops from the north and center of the country is just a military tactic to reinforce them in preparation for further attacks in the southeast.
“We know their intentions,” Zelenskiy said in his late-night video address to the nation. We know that they are moving away from the areas where we hit them to focus on other very important areas where we might find it difficult.
“There will be fighting ahead,” he added.
Mr. Zelensky announced that he had demoted two generals. He stated that “something prevented them from determining where their homeland is” and that they “violated the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people.”
According to Mr. Zelensky, one of the generals headed the internal security of the SBU, the main intelligence agency. He said that another general was the head of the SBU in the Kherson region, the first major city captured by the Russians.
Mr. Zelensky has said nothing about the fate of the two generals other than that they have been demoted.
Following Zelenskiy’s call during his speech to the Australian Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his country would send mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to Ukraine.
On Friday, he said the Bushmaster 4×4 vehicles specifically requested by Mr. Zelenskiy would be delivered to Europe, but did not say how much or when they would be delivered.
“We are not just sending our prayers, we are sending our weapons, we are sending our ammunition, we are sending our humanitarian aid, we are sending all this, our body armor, all this stuff and we are going to send our armored personnel carriers, our Bushmasters too.” said Mr Morrison.
In the besieged strategic port city of Mariupol, Russian forces on Thursday blocked a convoy of 45 buses trying to evacuate people after the Russian military agreed to a limited ceasefire in the area. According to the Ukrainian government, only 631 people were able to leave the city by private car.
Russian forces also reportedly seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies from a dozen buses attempting to reach Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said.
The city was the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of residents have managed to flee the country through humanitarian corridors, reducing the population from 430,000 before the war to about 100,000 last week. But relentless Russian attacks have repeatedly disrupted humanitarian and evacuation convoys.
Earlier this week, the Russians announced they would drastically reduce fighting in areas around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv to build confidence between the two sides and facilitate negotiations.
But on the outskirts of Kyiv, Oblast Governor Oleksandr Palviuk said on social media Thursday that Russian troops had shelled Irpin and Makarov, with fighting going on around Gostomel. Mr. Pavliuk reported Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian retreat in the eastern outskirts of Brovary.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg clarified that intelligence indicates that Russia is not reducing its military operations in Ukraine, but is trying to regroup, replenish its forces and strengthen its offensive in the Donbass.
“Russia has repeatedly lied about its intentions,” Stoltenberg said. At the same time, he said, pressure remains on Kyiv and other cities, and “further offensive actions can be expected that will bring even more suffering.”
In recent days, the Kremlin, having apparently changed its military objectives, has stated that its “main objective” is now to take control of the Donbass, which includes the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, including Mariupol.