Mayor Of Town Where Chernobyl Workers Live Says Three Died In Protests Against Russian Occupation

Russian forces took control of the Ukrainian town where workers at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant live and briefly detained the mayor, sparking protests in which three people died, the mayor of the town has said.

Russian forces took control of Slavutych and took Mayor Yuriy Fomichev hostage on March 26. Fomichev later told AFP by phone that he had been released.

The military administration of the Kyiv region, which covers Slavutych, announced earlier that Russian troops had entered the town and occupied the municipal hospital.

Residents took to the streets carrying a large blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag and headed toward the hospital, the administration said. Russian forces fired into the air and threw stun grenades into the crowd, it added.

The administration shared on its Telegram account images in which dozens of people gathered around the Ukrainian flag and chanted "Glory to Ukraine."

Fomichev posted a video on Facebook later on March 26 saying that at least three people had died, without elaborating.

"We haven't yet identified all of them," he added, but said that civilians were among the dead. While they had defended their town, they were up against a larger force, he said.

There was no immediate comment from Russia about Slavutych.

The town sits just outside a safety exclusion zone around Chernobyl, site of one of the world's worst nuclear power plant accidents in 1986. Ukrainian staff have continued to manage the site even after Russian forces took control of the plant on February 24, the day that Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.

The Chernobyl plant is located north of Kyiv and close to the Belarusian border. Its nuclear reactors are enclosed in a giant steel and concrete sarcophagus and are not operating.

Although the plant is decommissioned it needs electricity to power cooling systems for the spent nuclear-fuel-storage facility and other systems. Tons of waste at the plant must be constantly cooled to keep radiation from leaking.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed "concern" earlier this week after Ukraine informed the organization of Russia's bombardment of Slavutych.

The IAEA said in a statement on March 26 that it was monitoring the situation and expressed concern about the ability of staff to rotate in and out of the plant.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP