The Russian military has already seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, officials in Ukraine say. The “totally pointless attack” aggregated to “one of the most serious threats in Europe today,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak Thursday.
The 1986 explosion at Chernobyl has been called the worst nuclear catastrophe in history. President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that if Russia pushes through with its invasion, it could be as devastating as before.
Zelensky wrote on Twitter: “Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated.” But, he added, “This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”
Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine has alerted a potential “ecological disaster” at the site.
The exclusion zone around Chernobyl remains empty of any residence 36 years following a major explosion at the plant caused by a faulty reactor. By 2000, three other reactors stopped operating and have been inactivated.
After the 1986 leak, the radiation levels in the area have continued to be dangerously high. In 2019, the incident was documented in a famed HBO mini-series that led to the site becoming a tourist attraction.
The situation is tense as Russian troops enter the area. The White House has revealed that someone informed them that Russian forces are holding staff members hostage at this site. The forces are part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in their bordering country.
Chernobyl is situated approximately 130 km (80 miles) north of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and could provide a passage for invading forces into the city.
The dominance of the area doesn’t have “battle-determining significance.” Still, it provides Russian troops a path to the Dnipro River, says Samantha Turner, a Truman National Security Project security member.
The river extends north into Belarus, whose commander-in-chief has been closely associated with Putin, and south to Kyiv.
“It’s an important part of them opening up different corridors for troop movement and controlling key terrain,” said Turner.