Ukrainian secret service agents have confiscated the first shipment of a vodka produced inside Chernobyl's radioactive zone – with manufacturers questioning their motives.
Atomik vodka is made from apples grown in the Narodychi district, part of the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company said 1500 bottles were bound for the UK, but a team sent by Ukraine's secret service (SBU) intercepted their trucks in March.
The company said the UK deal was a big win for Ukraine's struggling economy, but now production has been placed on hold by authorities.
They said secret service authorities are accusing them of using "forged Ukrainian excise stamps" and that is the reason behind the bottles being held.
"This doesn't make sense since the bottles are for the UK market and are clearly labelled with valid UK excise stamps," TCSC's Professor Jim Smith said.
Ukraine introduced a new stamp excise system last year in an effort to put a stop to counterfeit alcohol production in the country.
Professor Smith's team distilled their first bottle in 2019, using grain from the contaminated site.
While radioactivity in the grain was above the safe limit, the distilling process reduced impurities to an undetectable level.
Since then, the company have progressed to using apples grown near the nuclear site, using the same distilling process to eliminate radiation.
"We are working hard to set up a business to help bring jobs and investment to the Chernobyl affected areas of Ukraine and to further support the community with 75 per cent of any profits we make," Professor Smith said.
The Chernobyl reactor explosion of 1986 had a devastating and lasting impact on Ukraine and Europe.
It forced a region-wide evacuation as the nuclear reactor spilled radioactive waste into the air.
While the explosion itself only killed about 31 people, millions across Europe were exposed to the fallout with an estimated 200,000 dying from long-term health problems.
Authorities have maintained a 30-kilometre exclusion zone around the site with some regions including Narodychi being repopulated as radiation levels die down.
While TCSC say they hope the issue will be resolved and they can get the UK shipment sent out to continue their work trying to help people affected by the devastating social and economic impacts Chernobyl had, their legal team say the actions of the secret service is damaging Ukraine's reputation.
"This case is a clear example of violation of Ukrainian Law by the Kyiv Prosecutors and the SBU," Elina Smirnova, the lawyer representing TCSC said.
"The actions of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are damaging the reputation of Ukraine as an open country for doing business. We still believe that the truth will win."