Russian forces have captured the now-defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the site of the infamous nuclear disaster in 1986, and detained the personnel working there as part of their invasion of Ukraine. This is just one area of Ukrainian territory now under the Kremlin’s control as the country enters its first full night of this new conflict launched by its eastern neighbor. You can get fully up to speed in terms of past developments in The War Zone’s previous rolling coverage of the invasion.
Author’s Note: We are continuing our rolling coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and you can find the latest news here.
Ukrainian officials had earlier warned that fighting around Chernobyl and elsewhere inside the radiation-contaminated Exclusion Zone that surrounds the site could have severe environmental impacts for the region and the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier termed Russia’s military action in this area in particular as a “declaration of war on the whole of Europe.”
It’s unclear what specifically drove Russia to capture the plant, but it lies in a potentially strategic area that presents the most convenient path of advance toward the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Earlier this month, a pontoon bridge had briefly appeared in satellite imagery spanning a section of the Pripyat River inside the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve, a companion exclusion zone in Belarus to the north, underscoring the possibility of using the area as a key vector of attack and potential of fighting there during any future Russian invasion.
Ukrainian officials had previously dismissed this potentiality, citing the complex, swampy nature of the terrain in the area. At the same time, the Soviet Union’s response to the 1986 disaster and its subsequent establishment of the Exclusion Zone may mean that Russia has access to particularly accurate maps and other locational information that could have helped mitigate these issues.
Regardless, Russian forces do appear to have opened up another vector for their continued advances into Ukraine. Following massive initial air, missile, and artillery strikes last night, the Kremlin launched a multi-pronged ground and airmobile assault that has included sending forces into Ukraine from the east and south, as well as the north. Belarusian forces have also reportedly been deployed to support their Russian allies.
Ukrainian officials have cited Russia’s push north out of the Crimea Peninsula, which the Kremlin first seized in 2014, as the most worrisome front. There are indications that this has been the area where Russian forces have made their greatest gain so far, with unconfirmed reports suggesting that a dam blocking a canal designed to provide fresh water to Crimea has been blown open. That dam was put in place in 2014 and has been highlighted as a likely key objective for Russia during any future incursion into Ukraine.
There is also fighting around the capital Kyiv and reports that Russian forces have captured a number of airports in Ukraine that they could try to use as bridgeheads. Earlier reports of amphibious landings along Ukraine’s Black Sea and Sea Azov coastlines appear to have turned out to be false, though the threat there remains.
Ukrainian and Russian authorities both claim to have inflicted significant damage against each other’s forces, including the shooting down of manned and unmanned aircraft and the destruction of armored vehicles. Both sides have sustained casualties and there are reports of personnel surrendering or otherwise being captured. It has, however, been difficult to independently verify the specific details of these reported losses, and some Ukrainian officials themselves have acknowledged that they do not have accurate, up-to-date casualty figures.
What is clear is that the Kremlin is proceeding ahead with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, despite initial indications that it would limit its “special military operation” to disputed areas of eastern Ukraine that the Kremlin recognized as independent countries earlier this week. There are accusations that Russia has attacked non-military targets, including hospitals, either deliberately or as a result of indiscriminate fire, despite statements that it would only engage Ukrainian military forces.
Many members of the international community, including the United States and its NATO allies, have decried Russia’s actions and moved to implement new sanctions and take other steps to punish the Kremlin. NATO members have also begun deploying additional forces to step up the alliance’s posture along its eastern borders.
It’s also worth noting that there has not been universal support for Putin’s launching of an invasion of Ukraine inside Russia. Not-insignificant anti-war protests have already broken out in various cities across the country, despite the very real threat of arrest and prosecution.
That being said, this is still very young with the first full night of fighting now underway.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: 3:20 PM EST—
Ukraine’s nuclear regulator has issued a statement saying that all of the country’s nuclear power plants are operating safely and securely. It also adds that there are no indications of any “destruction” at the Chernobyl site, as had been reported earlier.
Reports of air strikes and artillery fire along key fronts in Ukraine are continuing overnight. Video has also emerged reportedly showing Russian troops manning roadblocks in the vicinity of Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian military has said that Russia appears intent on creating an overland corridor from its western borders across southern Ukraine to the breakaway republic of Transnistria in Moldova.
Separately, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued notices to airmen (NOTAM) that prohibit US commercial aircraft from operating anywhere over Ukraine, as well as Belarus. Similar prohibitions have been placed over a significant portion of western Russia. FAA said it was issuing these NOTAMs on behalf of the Ukrainian civil aviation authority due to the current circumstances in the country.
Early indicators appear to have proven correct in assuming that Russia’s economy, at least for the time being, has taken a major hit as a result of the invasion. The country’s stock market lost approximately 40% of its value before trading was suspended indefinitely.
UPDATE: 4:00 PM EST—
A senior US defense official told reporters that Russian troops were observed passing through the Chernobyl site, but its unclear if they have actually occupied it. They also said that there is no indication of an assault on Odessa at present.
At the same time, that official said Russian forces are continuing to press toward Kharkhiv in the north, as well as Kyiv. They added that Russian forces have fired approximately 160 missiles of various types at targets in Ukraine, so far, and that the Kremlin has not yet committed the bulk of its available units to the invasion. Extensive electronic warfare capabilities are among the assets that appear to still be largely staying in reserve, according to that official.
Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service has issued a statement saying that Russian forces captured a Ukrainian-controlled island in the western Black Sea.
There are reports that the country’s Interior Ministry is beginning to issue rifles to volunteer forces in Kyiv, as well.
UPDATE: 4:40 PM EST—
Ukraine’s Defense Minister says Russian forces are preparing to launch a new wave of attacks, which could include more missile strikes and an airborne assault. This comes as fighting has already continued into the night.
A video has also emerged reportedly showing Ukrainian forces blowing up a bridge near Kharkiv to slow Russian advances along that front.
In Kyiv, many residents, including families with children, are spending the night in the cities subway stations, which have now turned into bomb shelters.
UPDATE: 6:20 PM EST—
By most accounts, only a fraction of Russia’s available forces have deployed into Ukraine as of yet. This is by no means surprising as logistics are a huge hurdle in sustaining a force over time deployed into a hostile area like this. The choice to commit more forces into certain areas is not a light one either and has major downstream impacts.
SA-11 Buk road-mobile surface-to-air missile systems — the same type that shot down MH17 — have been seen on the move in Kherson.
We are getting some imagery out of Maxar showing the results of Russian strikes. An area holding L-39 Albatross trainers was hit. This seems like an odd use of a precision-guided weapon at this time in the conflict, but these aircraft can be used as efficient close air support aircraft if need be. Still, the serviceability of these aircraft, in particular, is unknown. Images on the ground also show Su-25 Frogfoots badly damaged. Fuel and weapons storage areas were also hit.
Meanwhile, US fighters have been quite active over Poland and other countries they are forward deployed to in the region:
An interaction between the Russian Navy and Ukrainian Border Guards on Snake Island far to the west of Crimea in the Black Sea apparently turned deadly today adding to the toll on Ukraine’s armed forces. The island is very close to NATO waters.
This is unconfirmed, but there is a massive movement by Ukrainian citizens to join the defense of their country right now:
The UK MoD posted the following map of the situation in Ukraine just a few hours ago and there are ongoing conflicting reports of the status of Hostomel Airfield located northwest of Kyiv. It was widely reported and confirmed that Russia has seized the airfield and was setting up a forward operating base there. It is also the home of Antonov Airlines and the world’s largest cargo jet, the An-225, which is supposedly on the ground there now. But then various reports came out saying Ukraine’s special operations forces were fighting to retake it. Somewhere along the way, it appears Russia flew in a multi-ship helicopter force full of reinforcements to secure the objective once and for all. It seems that this went very poorly. There are claims of multiple helicopters shot down and a lot of casualties. At the same time, it is not clear if the airport is still contested or whose hands it is in. You can read more about the An-225 and the ongoing events there in this recent post of ours.
Imagery from Planet Labs shows impacts at Mykolaiv Air Base. The effectiveness of these strikes overall are a little puzzling:
You can continue to read the latest in our continuing rolling coverage of the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine here.
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