SOCHI, Russia — Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that its paratroopers had taken control of the territory around the former Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine and were working with Ukrainian guards to ensure the safety of its facilities, contradicting Ukrainian claims that Russian forces were holding the plant’s personnel hostage.
“The radiation level around the nuclear plant is within limits,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the ministry’s spokesman, said in a statement. “The plant’s staff continues to service its facilities and monitor radioactivity.”
Ukraine’s government-run nuclear watchdog confirmed in a statement that Russian forces captured the area around the former plant, adding that all facilities “are under control and are being serviced by the plant’s staff.”
Earlier Ukrainian officials said that they “took its staff hostage.”
“This puts not only Ukrainian, but European security under threat,” said Alyona Shevtsova, a Ukrainian military official.
Chernobyl was the scene of the worst nuclear accident in history, when an explosion and fire in 1986 destroyed one of the plant’s reactors. The plant hasn’t produced electricity in more than two decades, and much of the equipment has been removed.
In Moscow, the Russian defense ministry said that “joint actions of Russian paratroopers and servicemen of the Ukrainian guards battalion will guarantee that nationalist formations and other terrorist organizations would not take advantage of the ongoing situation in the country to organize a nuclear provocation.”
In the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Mikhailo Podolyak, a spokesman for the Ukrainian presidential office, contradicted that claim. He said the Ukrainian government had received information that Russian saboteurs “planned to conduct a terrorist act at the Chernobyl plant to cause a powerful environmental catastrophe.”
“It is clear that Russia not only wants to depose the government and replaced it with some puppet executors,” said Mr. Podolyak. “It wants to cause maximum destruction in Ukraine, even of environmental nature.”
The two countries also made opposing statements about the ongoing military action.
Since the start of the Russian incursion on Thursday, its forces had destroyed 118 military facilities in Ukraine, General Konashenkov said in a televised statement. Those facilities included 11 military airfields, 13 military headquarters and communication nodes, 13 surface-to-air missile systems and 36 radars. He also said Russian forces have downed five Ukrainian warplanes, one helicopter and five drones, as well as 18 tanks and other armored vehicles.
More than 150 Ukrainian servicemen gave up arms, the statement said.
In Kyiv, the spokesman for Ukraine’s presidential office denied any claims of the Ukrainian retreat, saying that the country’s soldiers “demonstrate fantastic heroism.”