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Live updates: Ukraine loses control of Chernobyl plant

Feb 24, 2022, 8:40 AM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:39 pm
FILE: A view inside the 'New Safe Confinement' of the old sarcophagus entombing the destroyed react...
FILE: A view inside the 'New Safe Confinement' of the old sarcophagus entombing the destroyed reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on July 2, 2019 in Pripyat, Ukraine. In November 2016, the 'New Safe Confinement' structure was shifted into place to prevent the decaying reactor from further contaminating the environment and eventually allow its dismantling; the Ukrainian government will soon be taking control of the new confinement structure. The power station's reactor number four exploded in April 1986, showering radiation over the local area, nearby regions of Belarus, and other portions of Europe. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:

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KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensnkyy says that Ukraine has lost control over the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant after a fierce battle.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the condition of the plant’s facilities, a confinement shelter and storage of nuclear waste is unknown.

A nuclear reactor in then-Soviet Ukraine exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe in the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The exploded reactor has been covered by a protective shelter to prevent radiation leak and the entire plant has been decommissioned.

Podolyak said that after “absolutely senseless attack of the Russians in this direction, it is impossible to say that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe.”

He charged that Russia may mount provocations there and described the situation as “one of the most serious threats to Europe today.”

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NEW DELHI, India — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday night and appealed for an “immediate cessation of violence,” his office said in a statement.

Modi called for efforts to return to diplomatic discussions, saying the “differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue.”

Modi also expressed concern over Indian citizens in Ukraine – officials earlier in the day said some 4,000 out of the 20,000 Indian nationals had been evacuated with efforts on to bring the rest back home.

The conversation between the two leaders comes hours after the Ukraine envoy in New Delhi urged Modi to contact Putin, saying the country “has a special relationship with Russia and New Delhi can play a more active role in controlling the situation.”

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WARSAW — Some of the first refugees from Ukraine have arrived in European Union member Poland by road and rail.

A scheduled train from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine arrived Thursday afternoon in the Polish town of Przemysl, near Ukraine’s western border, carrying a few hundred passengers.

The passengers of various ages, arriving with bags and backpacks, told The Associated Press they were fleeing war. Some live in Poland and were returning urgently from visits to their homeland.

The chief of Poland’s border guards, Gen. Tomasz Praga, said there was a visible increase in the number of people wanting to cross into Poland.

Officials said Poland has prepared at least eight centers with food, medical care and places to rest.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that “innocent people are being killed” in Ukraine and appealed to the Poles to extend every possible assistance to the Ukrainians who have found themselves in need of help.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The African Union chair is urging an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine “to preserve the world from the consequences of planetary conflict.”

The statement by Senegal President Macky Sall and AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat also calls on Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and international law, expressing “extreme concern at the very serious and dangerous situation.”

Few among Africa’s 54 countries have publicly reacted to the invasion.

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PRISTINA, Kosovo – Kosovo leaders on Thursday rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim of similarities with Ukraine’s eastern rebel provinces.

Kosovo’s president, prime minister and other senior ministers issued a joint statement denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The massive and unprovoked attack against Ukraine’s cities and villages is one of the most dangerous hits made to the architecture of the international security built after World War II,” said the statement.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after a bloody conflict with Serbia years earlier left more than 10,000 people dead and triggered a NATO intervention. Pristina’s government is recognized by the United States and most EU nations, but Belgrade has refused to recognize its independence and relies on support from Russia and China in its bid to retain claims on the territory.

“Dictator Putin’s effort to refer to the Kosovo case and draw parallel are totally unstable, abusive and an attempt to camouflage the lack of any base or reason for the barbarous attack of its forces against a sovereign state,” said the statement.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would aim to cut Russia off from the U.K.’s financial markets as he announced a new set of sanctions in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The sanctions include freezing the assets of all major Russian banks, including VTB Bank, the nation’s second-biggest bank, Johnson said Thursday. Britain also plans to bar Russian companies and the Russian government from raising money on U.K. markets.

Britain will also ban the export of a wide range of high-tech products, including semiconductors, to Russia and bar the nation’s flagship airline, Aeroflot, from landing at U.K. airports.

The slate of sanctions comes days after Johnson was criticized for acting too cautiously in response to Russian aggression earlier this week.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.K., Vadym Prystaiko, earlier called on world leaders to ban trade in Russian oil and gas and block foreign investment in the country.

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MOSCOW — The Russian Defense Ministry has formally confirmed that its forces have moved into Ukraine from Crimea.

Until Thursday’s statement Russia had said only that it unleashed a barrage of air and missile strikes on Ukrainian air bases, air defense batteries and other military facilities.

The ministry said it has destroyed a total of 83 Ukrainian military facilities. Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov confirmed that Russian ground troops advanced toward the city of Kherson northwest of the Crimea peninsula.

Kherson sits on water reservoir used in the past to provide the bulk of fresh water for Crimea until Ukraine cut it with a dam in 2017 in response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Konashenkov said Thursday’s move allows the resumption of the water supply to Crimea.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made a televised address to the nation condemning the Russian attack on Ukraine sharply and vowed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will not win.”

Scholz said Thursday evening that “we will not accept this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia” and vowed to imply severe sanction together with Germany’s allies.

Regarding the military attack on Ukraine, Scholz stressed that Putin “is on his own. It was not the Russian people who decided to go to war. He alone bears full responsibility for it. This war is Putin’s war.”

The chancellor said that “Putin should not underestimate NATO’s determination to defend all its members. That applies explicitly to our NATO partners in the Baltic States, in Poland and in Romania, in Bulgaria and in Slovakia. Without ifs and buts. Germany and its allies know how to protect themselves.”

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UNITED NATIONS — A senior U.S. official says the U.N. Security Council is expected to vote Friday on a resolution condemning Russia in the strongest terms possible for attacking Ukraine and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all its forces — knowing that Russia will veto the legally binding measure.

The United States believes it is very important to put the resolution to a vote to underscore Russia’s international isolation, and emphasizes that the veto will be followed quickly by a resolution in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly where there are no vetoes, the official said Thursday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

“This is a first step in how the U.N. responds to this premeditated war of choice that Russia has chosen to take, and we will see action in the General Assembly in the coming days,” he said, adding that it is part of a much broader, coordinated response that includes steps the Biden administration and its allies are taking.

The resolution is drafted under Article 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced militarily, according to the official.

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By Edith M. Lederer

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says he was “forced” to order a military action in Ukraine because of the Western refusal to heed Russian security demands.

Speaking at a Kremlin meeting with businesspeople Thursday, Putin said the military action was a “forced measure” that stemmed from rising security risks for Russia.

He said that he was surprised by the West’s “intransigence” regarding Moscow’s security demands. “I was surprised that didn’t move a millimeter on any issue,” he said. “They have left us no chance to act differently.”

Turning to Western sanctions, he said “Russia remains part of the global economy and isn’t going to hurt the system that it is part of as long as it remains there.”

“Our partners should realize that and not set a goal to push us out of the system,” he said in an apparent warning to the West.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensnkyy has urged Moscow to end hostilities, adding that Russian airborne troops have been checked outside Kyiv.

“It wasn’t Ukraine that chose the path of war, but Ukraine is offering to go back to the path of peace,” he said Thursday.

He said a Russian airborne force in Hostomel airport outside Kyiv, which has a big runway, has been stopped and is being destroyed.

The Ukrainian leader said many Russian warplanes and armored vehicles were destroyed but didn’t give numbers. He also said an unspecified number of Russian troops was captured.

He said a difficult situation is developing in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city just over 20 kilometers from the Russian border. In the north the Russians are slowly advancing toward Chernihiv, Zelenskyy said.

He appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer strong assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”

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BERLIN — Group of Seven leaders have strongly condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The German government, which currently heads the G7, put out a joint statement after a virtual leaders’ meeting Thursday, vowing to bring “forward severe and coordinated economic and financial sanctions.”

It called “on all partners and members of the international community to condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, and raise their voice against this blatant violation of the fundamental principles of international peace and security.”

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HELSINKI — Baltic NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have received the first batches of U.S. military troops and equipment promised this week by U.S. President Joe Biden in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

An undisclosed number of U.S. F-35 fighters landed Thursday afternoon at NATO’s air base in Amari, near Estonia’s capital Tallinn, Estonian media reported. F-35 fighters were reported to have arrived also at NATO’s air base in Lithuania.

On Wednesday evening, the first 40 American soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in Latvia, Latvian media reported.

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A senior U.S. defense official says Thursday’s attack by Russia appears to be the first phase in what will likely be a multiple phased, large-scale invasion.

The official said it began around 9:30 p.m. U.S. eastern time, with land- and sea-based missile launches. The official said that roughly more than 100 missiles, primarily short-range ballistic missiles, but also medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles and sea-launched missiles, were launched in the first few hours of the attack.

The official said the Russians are moving on three axes: From Crimea to Kherson, from Belarus toward Kyiv, and from the northeast to Kharkiv.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it’s not clear how many Russian troops are in Ukraine now, and the main targets of the air assault have been barracks, ammunition warehouses, and 10 airfields. The official said Russian ground forces began to move in to Ukraine from Belarus around 5 a.m. Eastern time.

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By Lolita C. Baldor in Washington D.C.

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LONDON — Hundreds of protesters have gathered in London to urge Britain and other democracies to step up action against Russia.

Ukrainians living in the U.K. and activists gathered outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office Thursday, singing the Ukrainian national anthem and holding placards that read: “Putin! Get out of Ukraine.”

Natalia Ravlyuk, a volunteer who helped organize the protest, said they wanted the “toughest sanctions and total isolation of Russia now.”

“We feel very angry, we feel very anxious and we feel betrayed by democratic states because we have been talking about this war for eight years,” she said. “They just need to wake up and stop Putin now.”

Earlier dozens of protesters also gathered outside the Russian embassy in London.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations migration agency says it’s ready to respond to emerging humanitarian needs in Ukraine.

Antonio Vitorino, director general of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, said: “IOM … is committed to staying and delivering vital assistance to the people of Ukraine and stands ready to respond to the emerging humanitarian needs in the country and the region, in close coordination with governments and partners.”

“Eight years of conflict in Ukraine have displaced over 1.4 million people who now rely on assistance to meet their daily needs,” he said in a statement. “This escalation will only deepen the humanitarian needs and compound the suffering of millions of families.”

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— Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

The plant was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident when a nuclear reactor exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe. The plant lies 130 kilometers (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.

Zelenskyy said on Twitter that “our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated.” He added that “this is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. Ukraine’s government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order and whose fallout already reverberated around the world.

In unleashing Moscow’s most aggressive action since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Vladimir Putin deflected global condemnation and cascading new sanctions — and chillingly referred to his country’s nuclear arsenal. He threatened any foreign country attempting to interfere with “consequences you have never seen.”

Sirens wailed in Ukraine’s capital, large explosions were heard there and in other cities, and people massed in train stations and took to roads, as the government said the former Soviet republic was seeing a long-anticipated invasion from the east, north and south. Within hours of the first word of the attack, Ukraine said it was fighting Russian troops just miles from the capital for control of a strategic airport.

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, which could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and upend the post-Cold War security order. The conflict was already shaking global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.

Condemnation rained down not only from the U.S. and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond — and many governments readied new sanctions. Even friendly leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law.

“As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

His adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said: “A full-scale war in Europe has begun. … Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.”

While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the U.S. and its NATO partners have so far shown no indication they would join in a war against Russia. They instead mobilized troops and equipment around Ukraine’s western flank — as Ukraine pleaded for defense assistance and help protecting its airspace.

In Washington, President Joe Biden convened a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday to discuss Ukraine as the U.S. prepares new sanctions. Biden administration officials have signaled that two of the measures they were considering most strongly include hitting Russia’s biggest banks and slapping on new export controls meant to starve Russia’s industries and military of U.S. semiconductors and other high-tech components.

The attacks came first from the air. Later Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in multiple regions, and border guards released footage showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine’s government-held territory. European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin launched the operation on a country the size of Texas that has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s sway. The autocratic leader made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy.

Ukrainians who had long braced for the prospect of an assault were urged to shelter in place and not to panic despite the dire warnings.

“We are facing a war and horror. What could be worse?” 64-year-old Liudmila Gireyeva said in Kyiv. She planned to flee the city and try to eventually get to Poland to join her daughter. Putin “will be damned by history, and Ukrainians are damning him.”

With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.

Ukraine’s military chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi said his troops were fighting Russian forces just 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the capital — in Hostomel, which is home to the Antonov aircraft maker and has a runway that is long enough to handle even the biggest cargo planes. Russian officials said separatist forces backed by Russia in the east have taken a new strip of territory from Ukrainian forces, but have not acknowledged ground troops elsewhere in the country.

Associated Press reporters saw or confirmed explosions in the capital, in Mariupol on the Azov Sea, Kharkiv in the east and beyond. AP confirmed video showing Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in the north from Belarus and from Russian-annexed Crimea in the south.

Russian and Ukrainian authorities made competing claims about damage they had inflicted. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed scores of Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones, and confirmed the loss of a Su-25 attack jet, blaming it on “pilot error.” It said it was not targeting cities, but using precision weapons and claimed that “there is no threat to civilian population.”

Ukraine’s armed forces said they shot down multiple Russian aircraft. They reported at least 40 soldiers dead, and said a military plane carrying 14 people crashed south of Kyiv.

Poland’s military increased its readiness level, and Lithuania and Moldova moved toward doing the same. Border crossings increased from Ukraine to Poland, which has prepared centers for refugees.

Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees.

The consequences of the conflict and resulting sanctions on Russia reverberated throughout the world.

World stock markets plunged and oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic surged toward or above $100 per barrel, on unease about possible disruption of Russian supplies. The ruble sank.

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle.

In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, he warned that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.”

Among Putin’s pledges was to “denazify” Ukraine. World War II looms large in Russia, after the Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any country while fighting Adolf Hitler’s forces.

Kremlin propaganda paints members of Ukrainian right-wing groups as neo-Nazis, exploiting their admiration for WWII-era Ukrainian nationalist leaders who sided with the Nazis. Ukraine is now led by a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust and angrily dismissed the Russian claims.

Putin’s announcement came just hours after the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate, last-minute plea for peace.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelenskyy said in an emotional overnight address, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens.

Zelenskyy said he asked to arrange a call with Putin late Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond.

The attack began even as the U.N. Security Council was meeting to hold off an invasion. Members still unaware of Putin’s announcement of the operation appealed to him to stand down. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the emergency meeting, telling Putin: “Give peace a chance.”

But hours later, NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg indicated it was too late: “Peace on our continent has been shattered.”

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Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Live updates: Ukraine loses control of Chernobyl plant