Ukrainian officials say that Russian forces have captured Chernobyl, the region in the northern part of Ukraine that saw the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
The news came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported Russian forces were trying to seize control of the site that once housed the Soviet-era power plant.
"Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the #Chornobyl_NPP. Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated. Reported this to @SwedishPM," Zelenskyy tweeted Thursday. "This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe."
According to The New York Times, the region represents the shortest path between Russian troops stationed in Belarus and the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Chernobyl is located in northern Ukraine near the border with Belarus.
The disaster at the Soviet Union-run Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 has left a 1,000-square mile area around the plant uninhabitable. While a shelter has been constructed around the decommissioned power plant to prevent the leakage of nuclear emissions, an 18-miles radius around the site has been declared an "exclusion zone."
Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the #Chornobyl_NPP. Our defenders are giving their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated. Reported this to @SwedishPM. This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 24, 2022
Russia commenced a full-scale invasion of Ukraine early Thursday morning as blasts were reported in cities across the country, including near Kyiv.
Ukraine's leadership said at least 40 people had been killed so far in what they called a "full-scale war" targeting the country from the east, north and south.
In a televised address as the attack began, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would "lead to consequences you have never seen in history."
Upon the attack, Ukraine's foreign ministry began taking steps to sever diplomatic ties with Russia, CNN reports.
"Our state took such a step in response to the act of armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the invasion of Russian troops to destroy the Ukrainian state, the seizure of Ukrainian territory by force and the establishment of occupation control," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
NATO has agreed to beef up its land, sea and air forces on its eastern flank near Ukraine and Russia, and officials said that "we have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies."