Fighting breaks out near Chernobyl, leading to fears of nuclear contamination over Europe

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Ukrainian troops train near Chernobyl

Ukrainian troops train near Chernobyl SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Russian troops have pushed into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone — “one of the most radioactive places on Earth” — with shelling reportedly threatening buried nuclear waste storage sites, The Kyiv Independent reports based on comments by Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the breach, tweeting that “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.” A radiation safety expert who previously spoke with i explained that if “sensitive facilities” in Ukraine are hit, “radiation could contaminate air, soil, and waterways, affecting not only Ukraine but also Russia and much of Europe.”

Chernobyl strategically “lies on the shortest path between Russia and Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv,” writes The New York Times. The 1,000 square-mile exclusion zone is so-called because of the health risk that lingers even more than three decades after the famous 1986 explosion and ensuing disaster.

Last month, as tensions escalated between the two nations, Ukraine sent troops to the “eerie and still radioactive forest” near the former reactors, “where they carry both weapons and equipment to detect radiation exposure.”

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