Fighting breaks out close to Chernobyl nuclear waste facility, says Ukrainian president

Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukrainian troops fighting to ensure ‘tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated’

Missile appears to hit Odessa military base amid Russian-Ukraine invasion
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Russian soldiers have entered the area surrounding Chernobyl and are trying to seize the former nuclear power plant, the president of Ukraine has said.

Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed Ukrainian troops were fighting with the Russian army around the zone, after invading forces arrived from the direction of Belarus.

“Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” Mr Zelensky said, referring to the explosion of a nuclear reactor which led to radioactive waste spreading across the continent 36 years ago.

“This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” the president added.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster is the worst nuclear accident in history. The reactor, which 80 miles north of Ukranian capital Kiev, has since been covered by a protective shelter to prevent radiation leak and the entire plant has been decommissioned.

Fighting in the region comes hours after Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the start of the conflict, Russia targeted air bases and military infrastructure in at least 25 Ukrainian cities in a bid to neuter the capabilities of the Ukrainian air force. Meanwhile, Ukraine claimed to have shot down five Russian planes and one helicopter.

CCTV footage showed a huge explosion after a missile appeared to strike the Odessa military base, with other blasts reported in cities including Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Dnipro and Mariupol.

The Ukrainian authorities reported that 40 of its soldiers died in more than 30 Russian bombardments before 11am GMT. Victims also include Ukrainian border force guards and a boy who was killed by a shell in the eastern region of Kharkiv.

Moscow has already launched 203 attacks against its neighbour, the Ukrainian national police said, with fighting taking place across the country. The regional administration of Kherson, a region in the south of Ukraine, said parts of its territory are now controlled by Russia.

The day after Mr Zelensky introduced a nationwide state of emergency, airports are closed and long queues of cars were seen on motorways as Ukrainians attempted to flee their homes.

World leaders have condemned Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and have promised to bring tougher sanctions against the Kremlin, following the first tranche of western measures announced earlier this week, following Moscow’s recognition of the independence of the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

British prime minister Boris Johnson was among those who spoke out vehemently against the invasion on Thursday.

“I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to president Zelensky to discuss next steps,” he said.

“President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively.”

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