The abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, March 23, 2016. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)
Russian forces captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after battles in the nuclear exclusion zone on Thursday evening local time, Ukrainian officials said.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s office of the president, confirmed that the reactor was in Russian hands, according to Reuters.
Ukrainian officials warned earlier that damage to nuclear storage facilities could send “radioactive dust” across Europe.
“Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the” Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Twitter post. “Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated….This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”
Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the #Chornobyl_NPP. Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated. Reported this to @SwedishPM. This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 24, 2022
The Chernobyl reactor was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, when the core of the reactor melted down. Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Ministry of the Interior, wrote on Facebook that Russian forces had moved to Chernobyl from Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor.
“National Guard troops responsible for protecting the storage unit for dangerous radioactive waste are putting up fierce resistance,” Herashchenko wrote, in an English translation posted by the New York Times. If an explosion punctures the encasement of the reactor, “radioactive dust could cover the territory of Ukraine, Belarus and the countries of the European Union.”
Later on Thursday, Polodyak also confirmed that Russian forces had captured the Antonov Airport in Hostomel, an international cargo airport several miles outside of Kyiv. Russian forces landed at the airport earlier on Thursday, with the intent of flying more troops in, according to CNN:
CNN’s Matthew Chance reports from an airbase outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where Russian airborne troops are engaged in a fire fight with the Ukrainian military https://t.co/TaPomIUP26 pic.twitter.com/rSye7nzmbi
— CNN (@CNN) February 24, 2022
The attack on Chernobyl came amid a Russian invasion of Ukraine from the north, east, and the southern Crimea peninsula.
Ground forces began to pour across the Russia-Ukraine border early Thursday morning local time, hours after an aggressive aerial bombardment targeting virtually every major Ukrainian city, including the capital city of Kyiv; Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, which sits just 20 miles from the Russian border; and Odessa, the strategically valuable southern port city.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said earlier on Thursday that there are hundreds of casualties, but it was not immediately clear how many of those were wounded or dead.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. Department of Defense official said Russia would likely attempt to install a puppet regime in Kyiv.
“Our assessment is they have every intention of decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance,” the official told reporters. “We haven’t seen a conventional move like this, nation-state to nation-state, since World War II, and if it unfolds the way that hereto we believe it will come to, it has every potential to be very bloody, very costly, and very impactful on European security writ large.”
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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is also a violist, and has served in the Israeli Defense Forces.