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(Aleksey Filippo / AFP / Getty Images)
(Aleksey Filippo / AFP / Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about Russia and nuclear weapons while criticizes the recent Russian troops’ operations at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Tuesday during a joint press conference in Kiev with the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi.

“Today, on the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, the world was once again only a step away from the disaster, because for the Russian troops the plant and the whole was just another battlefield where they did not care about nuclear safety,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky accused the Russian troops of operating with little regard for nuclear danger and of looting and damaging several areas of the plant, including the system control center and the laboratory.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine was occupied by Russian forces just a few weeks ago and is now back under Ukrainian control.

He warned that their carelessness signaled the danger of Russia using nuclear weapons.

“Given the level of the threat, we believe that Russia has no right to convert nuclear energy into weapons and blackmail the world with the use of nuclear weapons,” Zelensky said.

During the press conference, Zelensky personally thanked the staff who stayed to maintain the facility while the Russian troops occupied. The staff were offered medals for their work.

Zelensky and Grossi discussed the current level of nuclear threat and damage to facilities.

Grossi said he agreed the IAEA would continue to work to restore capacity and infrastructure that had been damaged in recent weeks.

“Despite these difficulties, it is important to look into the future, look into peace, the moment when Ukraine will regain its peace, its calm and the security that all its citizens deserve,” Grossi said.

Grossi paid a working visit to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on the International Day of Remembrance for Disasters in Chernobyl, marking 36 years ago that an explosion there “spread a radioactive cloud over large parts of the Soviet Union, now the territories of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation,” The UN describes it.

Nearly 8.4 million people in the three countries are known to have been exposed to the radiation, the UN also states.

The IAEA chief said of the visit: “We mark the day. We remember what needs to be remembered. We show respect and honor to those who deserve it, but we work.”

During the working visit, the IAEA provided a first batch of equipment, including radiation monitoring equipment, Grossi said. IAEA security inspectors work closely with their Ukrainian counterparts to monitor and compare radiation measurements at the facility and the exclusion zone and then maintain a presence “as long as the situation requires it,” Grossi added, speaking on stage to reporters.

When a journalist asked how close Chernobyl had been to another disaster while under Russian occupation, Grossi said that although the situation was “completely different” from the 1986 explosion with a then-functioning nuclear reactor, it could still “have developed to an accident. ”

All credit for avoiding a worse fate was due to the operators, the IAEA chief said.

“I think the first credit should go to the operators. To these people here, because they continued their work in spite of all the difficulties. In spite of the stress, in spite of the fact that they could not work normally,” he said.

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