Earlier today, Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border from Belarus heading south:

Ukraine’s interior ministry announced Thursday that Russian troops had pushed from Belarus, north of Ukraine, into the highly radioactive Chernobyl exclusion zone, touching off a battle that risked damaging the cement-encased nuclear reactor that melted down in 1986.

“National Guard troops responsible for protecting the storage unit for dangerous radioactive waste are putting up fierce resistance,” said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister. Should an artillery shell hit the storage unit, Mr. Herashchenko said, “radioactive dust could cover the territory of Ukraine, Belarus and the countries of the European Union.”

Ukraine’s president announced on Twitter that there was fighting near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The concern is that fighting in this area could damage the protective housing which was installed over the reactor in 2016. If that happens, winds could potentially spread radioactive material over a wide area. The foreign minister of Ukraine put out a tweet suggesting another Chernobyl disaster was possible.

There is one video circulating online which appears to show Russian tanks parked near the power plant but it shows no signs of fighting.

The concern about the possibility of damage to the structure around the power plant is no doubt sincere, but the reason Russia would try to seize this area isn’t hard to fathom. As this Sky News analyst points out, Once you get around Chernobyl, there are roads heading south which are the most direct route to Kyiv.

Here’s a map showing the route:

There’s another reason Russia would choose to take this particular route to Kyiv, one which Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, said was predicted by Ukraine before today’s invasion began. “They came in through the exclusion zone of Chernobyl. This zone is not protected because there is radiation, nobody lives there,” he said.

And the US assessment is that Russian forces are moving on Kyiv from two directions at once with the intent of taking over the capital and “decapitating” the government.

A senior Defense Department official said that three lines of Russian troops and military forces were moving swiftly toward Ukrainian cities, with two of them headed toward Kyiv, the capital, and the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky. The forces are making their way toward Kyiv from Belarus in the north and Crimea in the south, using missiles and long range artillery, the official said.

“Our assessment is they have every intention of decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance,” the official told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon. He said the Pentagon does not have “perfect knowledge” of the Russian troop movements but described what he characterized as the “initial phase of a large-scale invasion,” coming from Belarus and Crimea.

People in Kyiv are now trying to flee to the west, toward Poland.

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