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Russian forces seized control of the shuttered Chernobyl nuclear facility on Thursday after a battle with Ukrainian soldiers, according to Ukrainian officials.
“It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians,” Podolyak told Reuters.
A Ukrainian official told The Associated Press that a Russian projectile struck a nuclear waste repository at the site and that a spike in radiation levels had been detected.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press conference Thursday that the administration is “outraged by credible reports that Russian soldiers are currently holding the staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage.”
“This unlawful and dangerous hostage taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and greatly concerning,” she said. “We condemn it and we request their release.”
Demchenkov Yaroslav, Ukraine’s deputy minister of energy, reported Chernobyl’s capture in a post to Twitter.
The takeover came just a few hours after fighting erupted inside the contaminated “exclusion zone” around Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history in 1986.
In a statement posted on Facebook earlier Thursday, Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko, said Ukrainian forces were “fighting hard” to protect the site and the radioactive waste stored there, and voiced concern about the risk of nuclear fallout.
“If the invaders artillery hits and ruins/damages the collectors of nuclear waste, radioactive nuclear dust can can be spread over the territory of Ukraine, Belarus and the country of the EU!” Gerashchenko wrote.
Chernobyl is just 10 miles south of the Ukraine-Belarus border.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the fighting at Chernobyl in his own post to Twitter.
“Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” Zelenskyy said in a post on his official Twitter account Thursday. “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
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.