“It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians,” he said.
“This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today,” Podolyak said.
The news came mere 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.
Some Russian military massed in the Chernobyl “exclusion zone” before crossing into Ukraine early on Thursday, a Russian security source told Reuters.
Russia wants to control the Chernobyl nuclear reactor to signal NATO not to interfere militarily, the same source said.
Thousands of square kilometres around the site are now uninhabitable. A shelter was constructed around the decommissioned plant to prevent nuclear leakage, and an additional 29-kilometre radius around the site is considered an “exclusion zone.”
About a week before the Russian invasion the Chernobyl zone was shut down for tourists.
A Ukrainian official told the 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.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister, told the New York Times that Ukrainian troops put up a “fierce resistance” on Thursday.
Should an artillery shell hit the storage unit, he warned, “radioactive dust could cover the territory of Ukraine, Belarus and the countries of the European Union.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, said on a talkshow Thursday that he believes the Russians took Chernobyl as a blackmail tactic.
“Chernobyl has been seized and I think they will blackmail the West. The President’s Office is preparing a response to possible blackmail through Chernobyl,” Arestovich said, as reported by news site Ukrinform.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a widespread attack on Ukraine Thursday morning.
Russian forces have attacked the country by land, sea and air, and administration in the southern Kherson region confirmed that parts of the country were no longer under Kyiv’s control.
Ukrainians have begun to flee the country after several areas were targeted by missile strikes. An adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office confirmed that a least 40 people were dead and dozens have been wounded by the Russian attacks.
Putin has warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”
Global Affairs Canada, which since January has warned against non-essential travel to Ukraine, on Thursday updated its advice for Canadians who remain, urging people to “shelter in place unless it is safe for you to leave the country.”
“The security conditions are deteriorating rapidly,” a notice on the Global Affairs website reads.
— With files from Reuters and Global News