White House ‘outraged by credible reports’ Russian forces have taken hostages inside Chernobyl power plant

Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale assault against Ukraine earlier on Thursday

Ukraine-Russia invasion: Video appears to show military vehicles at Chernobyl
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The White House has reviewed “credible reports” that Russian troops are holding staff inside Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant hostage, after Russian forces captured the facilities as Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale assault inside the country.

“We’re outraged by credible reports that Russian soldiers are currently holding the staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on 24 February.

“This unlawful and dangerous hostage-taking which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facility is obviously incredibly alarming and incredibly concerning, and we request their release,” she said.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Thursday: “It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians.”

“This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today,” Podolyak said.

Mr Zelenskyy said earlier today that troops were “giving their lives” so that the “tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated.”

He added on Twitter that “this is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

The plant was the site of a devastating nuclear accident when a reactor exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe. The plant lies 80 miles north of the capital of Kyiv.

The exploded reactor has been covered by a protective shelter to prevent radiation leak and the entire plant has been decommissioned.

The protective dome built over the sarcophagus covering the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Ukrainian ambassador warns about Russia capturing Chernobyl nuclear power plant

A woman holds her baby inside a bus as they leave Kyiv, Ukraine

A Ukrainian official told Associated Press that Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

It was not immediately possible for experts to access the repository to assess damage before Russian forces overtook the site.

Fighting in the region came hours after Mr Putin launched a wide-ranging assault on Ukraine on Thursday.

Russian forces have hit cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as Ukrainians piled into trains and cars to flee the country.

Ukraine’s government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a “full-scale war” whose fallout already reverberated around the world.

Ukrainian people shelter in Pushkinskaya underground station in Kharkiv

(PA Graphics)

The chief of the Nato alliance said the “brutal act of war” shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who decried the attack.

British prime minister Boris Johnson was among those who spoke out 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.”

Mr Johnson also announced the “largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen”.

They will block Aeroflot from landing flights in the UK, and hit more than 100 business and individuals as Britain seeks to cripple Russian banks’ access to London’s financial institutions and curtail oligarchs luxury lifestyles in the capital.

“They come to Harrods to shop, they stay in our best hotels when they like, they send their children to our best public schools, and that is what’s being stopped,” a diplomatic source said.

“So that these people are essentially persona non grata in every major western European capital in the world. That really bites.”

Queues at the Ukraine-Poland border crossing on Thursday

A man looks at the debris of an unidentified object in the aftermath of an explosion in Kiev, Ukraine

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden also unveiled a package of new sanctions against Russia and its ability to do business in the world’s major currencies.

He told reporters at the White House: “This is a premeditated attack. Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

Mr Biden said the sanctions would limit Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen.

He added that Nato would meet on Friday to map out further measures and did not rule out targeting Mr Putin personally over the invasion.

Mr Zelenskyy has cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law in the country.

“As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history,” Mr Zelensky tweeted.

“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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