Capture of Chernobyl

battle in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

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Capture of Chernobyl
Part of the Kyiv offensive, the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine of the Russo-Ukrainian War
Battle of Chernobyl (2022).png
A map of the Russian-occupied territory in northern Ukraine following the Battle of Chernobyl
Date24 February 2022
Location51°16′N 30°13′E / 51.267°N 30.217°E / 51.267; 30.217Coordinates: 51°16′N 30°13′E / 51.267°N 30.217°E / 51.267; 30.217
Result Russian victory
Territorial
changes
Russian capture of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (eventually withdraw)
Belligerents
 Russia
Supported by:
Belarus Belarus[1]
 Ukraine
Units involved
 Russian Armed Forces
National Guard of Russia
National Guard of Ukraine
Casualties and losses
Unknown 169 captured[2]

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was captured by[3] Russian Armed Forces on 24 February 2022, during the first day of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.[4] Russian forces invaded from Belarus and seized the area of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant by the end of that day.[1][5][6] By 7 March, around 300 people (100 workers and 200 Ukrainian guards) were trapped at the power plant since its capture.[7] On 31 March, it was reported that most of the Russian troops had withdrawn as part of a regrouping of Russian forces in the area.

Background

A security checkpoint in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 2010

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 released large quantities of radioactive material from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant into the surrounding environment.[8] The area in a 30 kilometres (19 mi) radius surrounding the exploded reactor was evacuated and sealed off by Soviet authorities.[9]: 27[10] This area was formalised as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; its boundaries have changed over time.[11] Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this area became part of newly independent Ukraine[12]: p.4–5 : p.49f.3  and was managed by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.[13]

Chernobyl is 130 kilometres (81 mi) north of Kyiv and the regional road PO2 connecting Chernobyl and Kyiv is in relatively good condition, thus creating a direct strategic corridor to Kyiv, which Russian forces could exploit to capture the capital.[1] The exclusion zone is located right on the border with Belarus, a Russian ally which allowed a military buildup in their territory.[1] On 16 February 2022, satellite imagery showed Russian troops building pontoon bridges over rivers on the Belarussian side of the exclusion zone, the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve.[14]

Attack and capture

In the afternoon of 24 February 2022, the first day of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government announced that Russian forces had launched an attack on the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.[15] By the end of the day, the Ukrainian government announced that Russian forces had captured Chernobyl and Pripyat.[4] Following the Russian capture of the exclusion zone, the American government announced "credible reports that Russian soldiers are currently holding the staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage".[16]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said "there had been no casualties nor destruction at the industrial site".[17] Russia later reported that it was "working with Ukrainians to secure" the site.[18] From mid to late March, intense fighting took place in and around Slavutych, the town constructed to house workers at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant following the disaster. Russian forces briefly captured the town before withdrawing after several days.

Reactions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the Russian capture of the zone a "declaration of war against the whole of Europe".[19]

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, was quoted as saying that it was a "totally pointless attack",[6] and "the condition of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, confinement, and nuclear waste storage facilities is unknown".[20] However, the International Atomic Energy Agency stated that there were "no casualties nor destruction at the industrial site" but that it was "of vital importance that the safe and secure operations of the nuclear facilities in that zone should not be affected or disrupted in any way".[17][21]

Analysis

The approach from Belarus via Chernobyl to Kyiv

In the greater picture of the Kyiv offensive, the capture of Chernobyl could be considered a waypoint for Russian troops advancing towards Kyiv. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the United States Army Europe, stated that the exclusion zone was "important because of where it sits... If Russian forces were attacking Kyiv from the north, Chernobyl is right there on the way." Former American Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia Evelyn Farkas said that the Russian forces "want to surround the capital" and that they "certainly don't want loose nuclear material floating around" in case of a Ukrainian insurgency.[22][23]

The exclusion zone is important for containing fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986; as such, Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs adviser Anton Herashchenko said that "if the occupiers' artillery strikes hit the nuclear waste storage facility, radioactive dust may cover the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and the EU countries".[19] According to BBC News, monitoring stations in the area reported a 20-fold increase in radiation levels, up to 65 μSv/h.[24] For comparison, the average person is exposed to 0.41 μSv/h from background radiation. At 65 μSv/h it would require more than a month of continuous exposure to meet the conservative yearly exposure limit for US radiation workers.[25] This does not account for inhaled or ingested radioactive particles, which increase exposure rates. Claire Corkhill of the University of Sheffield stated that the increase was localised and was due in part to "increased movement of people and vehicles in and around the Chernobyl zone [that] will have kicked up radioactive dust that's on the ground".[24]

Russian administration

Ukrainian soldier raises flag in Pripyat following the withdrawal, 3 April 2022

On 9 March 2022, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said that the power supply of the Chernobyl NPP was damaged, it had lost power, and the diesel generator backup systems only had enough fuel to support cooling operations for 48 hours, so there was a danger of radiation leaks.[26] The risk was uncertain, but Russian military operations had already caused nuclear risks when they caused a fire in the takeover of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.[27][28] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that the National Guard of Russia was running a "joint operation" with local workers and surrendered Ukrainian soldiers to maintain the containment operations of the Chernobyl NPP.[29]

The IAEA released a statement expressing concern about the situation, but considered that the disconnection did not pose an immediate critical risk to operations, considering that the large volumes of water allowed sufficient cooling without electricity. Nevertheless, the agency recognised that lack of electricity was likely to deteriorate radiation safety, specifically through the increased workload and stress on the 210 personnel working without shift changesat the site. The IAEA has also expressed concern about the interruption of communications and the capacity of personnel to make decisions without undue pressure.[30] On 10 March 2022, it was reported that all contact was lost.[31]

On 29 March, Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Alexander Fomin announced a withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv area,[32] and on 1 April the State Agency on Exclusion Zone Management announced that Russian troops had completely withdrawn from the Chernobyl NPP.[33]

Potential radiation exposure

Reuters reported that the Russian forces used the Red Forest as a route for their convoys, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust. Local workers said the Russian soldiers moving in those convoys were not using protective suits and could have potentially endangered themselves.[34] On 31 March 2022, a Ukrainian council member of the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management claimed on his Facebook page that Russian troops were regularly removed from the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl and taken to the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Radiation Medicine and Human Ecology in Gomel, Belarus. This rumor led to further speculation in the press that the soldiers were suffering from acute radiation syndrome.[35] One Russian trooper was reported to have died due to radiation.[36] On 6 April, images and videos of trenches, foxholes and other defensive structures at the Red Forest surfaced on the internet and news outlets.[37][38]

Local workers and scientists also said Russian troops looted radioactive material from the laboratories.[39]

See also

References

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Further reading

Original content from Wikipedia, shared with licence Creative Commons By-Sa - Capture of Chernobyl