Ukrainian officials called on the United Nations to push Russian forces away from the Chernobyl nuclear site to prevent a catastrophe, coming more than a month after the start of the invasion.
“Is the world ready for a nuclear catastrophe because of Russia’s bungling?” asked Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk on Telegram.
“The occupiers set up an ammunition depot near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” she continued while adding that the “occupiers’ stupidity is worse than their villainy.”
In 1986, the Chernobyl plant’s reactor blew up and sent radioactive material across Europe and the former Soviet Union as Soviet officials sought to cover it up. Since then, workers have been stationed at the Chernobyl site to manage spent nuclear fuel and monitor radiation levels.\
Vereshchuk called on the U.N. to establish a mission in the region and prioritize demilitarizing the Chernobyl site. Russian troops have occupied the area since the first day of its invasion, which started on Feb. 24.
The Russian military said after capturing the plant that radiation was within normal levels and their actions prevented possible “nuclear provocations” by Ukrainian nationalists. Russia has previously denied that its forces have put nuclear facilities inside Ukraine at risk.
Valery Seida, acting general director of the Chernobyl plant, said he was told by witnesses that Russian military vehicles drove everywhere around the exclusion zone and could have passed the so-called Red Forest, a highly contaminated area.
A damaged administrative building of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Enerhodar, the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on March 4, 2022. (Press service of National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom/Handout via Reuters)
“Nobody goes there … for God’s sake. There is no one there,” Seida told Reuters in reference to the Red Forest.
Around a week after the start of the conflict, Russian forces took over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. Both Ukrainian and Russian officials accused one another of trying to stage a false flag attack around the plant earlier this month amid reports that buildings on the Zaporizhzhia site were shelled.
The head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, confirmed this week that he traveled to Ukraine to monitor the situation. Grossi will travel to one of Ukraine’s nuclear plants, the agency said, without elaborating.
A statement posted by the International Atomic Energy Agency said he’s in talks with officials for “planned delivery of urgent technical assistance to ensure the safety and security of the country’s nuclear facilities and help avert the risk of an accident that could endanger people and the environment.”
Last week, U.N. officials warned that Russian shelling near Chernobyl was preventing workers from rotating their shifts after weeks of continuous work.