Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Why Would Russia Want to Take Chernobyl?

A large 'exclusion zone' surrounds the damaged reactor at Chernobyl and the abandoned nearby city of Pripyat

An abandoned carousel in the park is seen the ghost town of Pripyat close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Ukraine, April 15, 2021.
Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Few places conjure more foreboding than Chernobyl, the site of the deadly 1986 nuclear disaster. So alarm bells rang in the West when Russian forces seized the decommissioned power plant in the early hours of their invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

Why would Russia make a radioactive wasteland one of its very first targets in Ukraine?

While the full answer may be known only to top officials in Moscow, the site happens to lie along one of the most direct paths to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

“The location is important because of where it sits,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, said in an interview. "If Russian forces were attacking Kyiv from the north, Chernobyl is right there on the way, almost in the way."

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