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.”

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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:

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.

 

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