On the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Irish charity Chernobyl Children International (CCI) highlighted serious concerns about reports of an "alarming rise in radioactivity" at the site due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Tuesday is UN Chernobyl remembrance day marking the anniversary of the nuclear plant accident on April 26th, 1986. CCI chief executive Adi Roche said Chernobyl had "re-entered centre stage for all the wrong reasons" in the weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
People living in the Chernobyl region were facing a "war within a war", Ms Roche said.
“The first war is physical and the second war is invisible. What’s happening across Ukraine is beyond brutal and while Chernobyl doesn’t have those graphic or brutal images, it is nonetheless deadly.”
Russian soldiers “held the world to ransom as they ran rampant through the facility and surrounding buildings looting and holding the staff hostage. It really brought us to the brink of potential disaster,” she said.
Since the outbreak of the war, a number of incidents including forest fires from shelling and the disturbance of highly radioactive soil due to the digging of trenches have occurred in the Chernobyl region. An EU-funded research laboratory used to monitor nuclear waste was also looted.
“We are beyond lucky that what they did there didn’t escalate because all it needed was one stray shell and it would have unleashed something horrifying.”
World leaders should unanimously call Russian actions in Chernobyl a war crime, Ms Roche said.
"There needs to be full accountability with severe consequences. If we do not declare this a war crime, our concern is that others will see that Russia got away with this and see that they can use it as a new tool of modern warfare," she said.
The charity raised concerns that a potential second Chernobyl disaster could occur due to the Russian invasion of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, as radioactivity continues to soar in the area.
Chernobyl survivor Raisa Miknovitch Carolan said she was "deeply worried for all of the children of today that are now seriously threatened by the re-release of radiation in the Chernobyl region".
“As a victim of the first generation of those affected by Chernobyl… I plead with those in power to heed these dire warnings,” she said.
Scientist Professor Yuri Bandazhevsky warned that any disturbance of radioactive material would be "lethal" as it re-releases radioactivity into the atmosphere.
CCI is calling for an immediate evacuation of those who are trapped in the Chernobyl region to cleaner and safer areas in western Ukraine.
It is also calling on the Government to lobby the UN to declare that any attack on Chernobyl or any of the other Ukrainian nuclear facilities, be deemed a most heinous war crime, and for the region to be declared a “no war zone”.