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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with a speech condemning Russia’s “completely irresponsible actions” around nuclear power plants during its invasion and calling for “global control” of the Kremlin’s nuclear capabilities.
“Every year on April 26th, the world remembers the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear disaster in human history,” Zelenskyy began. “But this year it is not enough just to remember Chernobyl… because this year, Russia created new threats that could surpass even the worst accident.”
The president recalled the night of March 4, when a fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after Russian forces started shelling the plant amid the invasion. “They knew exactly which object they were firing at,” he said. “But they had an order to seize the object at any cost. They did not care about anything. They did not care that the Zaporizhzhia station was the largest in Europe. They didn’t think about how many power units there are and how the shelling could end.”
Zelenskyy recalled speaking with world leaders that night, including U.S. President Joe Biden.
“It is even surprising how quickly and completely Russia, the whole country, can forget about the worst catastrophe that its people have experienced as well,” the president added, noting that Russians suffered in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster on April 26, 1986.
Rather than commemorating the anniversary of the disaster – which killed less than 100 people directly but increased mortality over the following decades in the surrounding area – Russia has escalated the situation, Zelenskyy charged.
“Instead, today they launched three missiles against Ukraine so that they flew directly over the blocks of our nuclear power plants – over three nuclear power plants at once, over Zaporizhzhia, Khmelnytskyi, and South-Ukrainian NPPs,” the president said. “What is it? Are they threatening? There are no words.”
“It turns out they do not realize what Chernobyl is. At all,” Zelenskyy said. “Russian troops that were trying to attack Kyiv through the Chernobyl zone used the restricted area as a military base. They set up positions on land where it is forbidden to even stand.” He also noted that Russian forces looted the Cernobyl radiation monitoring system – “they looted a nuclear analytical laboratory.”
“Only thanks to the professionalism and conscientiousness of our specialists working at the Chernobyl station… we managed to save Ukraine, save Europe from another catastrophe,” he said.
Zelenskyy noted that International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met with him in Kyiv to commemorate the Chernobyl disaster and pledge his support.
“We discussed all the dangers created by Russia and ways to possibly influence the situation to protect Europe and the world from completely irresponsible actions of the Russian Federation,” the president said. He then called for a global takeover of Russia’s nuclear capabilities.
“I believe that after all that the Russian military has done in the Chernobyl zone and at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, no one in the world can feel safe knowing how many nuclear facilities, nuclear weapons and related technologies the Russian state has,” Zelenskyy said. “If Russia has forgotten what Chernobyl is, it means that global control over Russia’s nuclear facilities, and nuclear technology is needed.”
Grossi also visited Chernobyl and delivered IAEA resources to the plant, which Russian forces held for five weeks until they withdrew on March 31. He thanked staff for their resilience and courage amid the conflict.
“We do not only have respect for you we have admiration for you because you did exactly what you were expected to do,” Grossi told the workers. “You showed professionalism, courage, and of course, patriotism. But you did the right thing so don’t worry, we are here, the IAEA is going to stay.”
“The need for demilitarization is due to the fact that Ukraine, saturated with weapons, poses a threat to Russia, including from the point of view of the development and use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons,” Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, said according to state-owned news agencies.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv over the weekend, called the comments “very dangerous.”
“I think this any bluster about the use of nuclear possibility, of use of nuclear weapons, is very dangerous and unhelpful,” Austin told reporters Tuesday. “Nobody wants to see a nuclear war nobody can win it.”
Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons – which the Soviet Union had left in the country – in Dec. 1994 in exchange for security assurances from Russia, Britain, and the United States.