Christie Brinkley, Public Health Advocate, Warns of Radiation Dangers in Ukraine: 'Game of Russian Roulette'

The model and activist wrote in a letter to the New York Times: "Every Ukrainian life lost in this unwarranted invasion would be for nothing if the land Ukrainians love is contaminated"

Christie Brinkley
Christie Brinkley. Photo: Cassidy Sparrow/WireImage

As Russian forces seize at least one major nuclear power plant in their ongoing invasion of Ukraine, a surprising advocate has emerged with a warning.

Christie Brinkley, in a letter to the editor sent to The New York Times that was published Tuesday, writes that radiation dangers in the war-torn country are "a game of Russian roulette the world can't afford to play."

Citing the recent seizure of a nuclear power plant in a southern-central region of Ukraine, Brinkley, the famed model and the vice president of the Radiation and Public Health Project, writes that it was "nothing short of a miraculous stroke of luck" that the region avoided a "massive meltdown" after a fire broke out due to the attack from Russian troops.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Zaporizhzhia Plant — Europe's largest nuclear power plant — was being shelled by Russian troops, which ultimately caused a fire to break out at the complex.

Dmytro Kuleba, the minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine, tweeted: "Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. ... Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!"

That plant was later deemed safe — but, Brinkley, 68, notes in her letter to the Times, the world hasn't averted disaster just yet as Russian forces have reportedly seized a second plant in Ukraine.

"Will there be another near disaster? Will we be so lucky next time? We can't afford to find out," she writes.

She continues: "Every Ukrainian life lost in this unwarranted invasion would be for nothing if the land Ukrainians love is contaminated with radiation and uninhabitable. It would be an unthinkable loss for Russians, too, and a meltdown could result in mass evacuations in Europe, as radiation knows no boundaries."

A screen grab taken from a surveillance camera footage the Zaporizhzhya NPP
A screen grab taken from a surveillance camera footage the Zaporizhzhya NPP. Zaporizhzhya NPP/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Were the power plants under siege to release radioactivity, Brinkley believes the resulting casualties "could dwarf the 1986 Chernobyl nightmare."

The Chernobyl disaster — in which an explosion spewed clouds of radioactive material over the surrounding area and emitted 400 times the radioactivity as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II — has been fresh in the minds of nuclear experts during the invasion.

Late last month, Russian forces took control of that infamous power plant, too, causing concerns that the radioactive site could be damaged in the fighting.

As Dr. Lydia Zablotska, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of California, San Francisco, told PEOPLE in an earlier interview, "If it were to be damaged, that is very, very dangerous."

"So if there was an explosion at that site, if those particles were released, they would disperse with prevailing winds," Zablotska said. "This happened in 1986. Winds were blowing northwest and [radioactive particles] spread out all over Northern Europe."

Brinkley writes in her letter to the Times that "an international expert panel is urgently needed to develop rules protecting nuclear plants during warfare."

"We can't just hope we'll be so lucky next time; this is a game of Russian roulette the world can't afford to play!" she writes.

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. More than a million Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

RELATED VIDEO: Little Girl In Ukraine Performs "Let It Go" at Bomb Shelter

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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