Ukrainian officials say Russian soldiers who control a giant nuclear power plant in Ukraine are detaining workers and subjecting them to brutal interrogations in search of potential saboteurs, prompting several employees to leave and raising safety concerns.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – the largest in Europe – is located in the south of Ukraine in the city of Enerhodar on the eastern side of the Dnipro River, on the other side of the territory still under the control of Ukrainian forces. With 11,000 workers, the plant occupies a strategically important place, and safety concerns at the plant make any Ukrainian counterattack to retake the area especially complex.
Russian forces have fortified the outside of the factory with trenches and heavy artillery, and inside are ramping up actions to find anyone they think might pose a threat, according to local and company officials.
Dmitro Orlov, the exiled mayor of Enerhodar, said during Wednesday meeting with officials from Energoatom, the government company that oversees the complex. “The whereabouts of some of them is unknown. The rest are in very difficult conditions: they are subjected to torture and physical and moral abuse.”
Mr. Orlov said in an interview with a local radio station this week that many factory employees and other residents were trying to flee to Ukraine-controlled territory. “Even young people are leaving the city,” he said. “It is unclear who will operate the nuclear power plant.”
Mr. Orlov’s statement could not be independently confirmed. But Energoatom officials gave similar accounts based on interviews with factory workers, and eyewitnesses in other occupied parts of Ukraine gave similar reports of mass arrests of civilians.
At the same meeting, Petro Cotten, Acting President of Energoatom, said that “the seizure of the station and its gradual transformation into a military base with many weapons and explosives” amounts to “nuclear terrorism”. He said that the company will continue to support its employees in the occupied territories in all possible ways.
Last month, Mr. Cotten raised concerns about Russia’s militarization of the facility.
“The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant is a well-fortified facility even in peacetime,” he said. It is an ideal military base. Moreover, the Russians understand that the amount of nuclear material there is protecting them. Ukraine will not hit such a thing.”
Enerhodar, like other Russian-occupied regions in the south, has been the scene of attacks by a growing resistance movement in southern Ukraine – where civilians known as revolutionaries have participated in anti-occupation violence, civil disobedience, and efforts to aid the Ukrainian army – and reprisals by the troops. Russian.
Tensions escalated in the city on May 22, when Andrei Shevchik, who had been appointed mayor by the Russians, was injured in an explosion outside his apartment. He was flown to the Crimea for medical treatment. The next day, according to Energoatom, Russian forces shot a nuclear power plant employee several times in his home.
This week, Vladimir Rogov, the Russian agent on the main board of directors of the Zaporizhia region, which includes the nuclear reactor, said in a television interview that it was time to apply the death penalty to “war criminals”.
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, who has become an unofficial spokesman for the Ukrainian resistance in the region, estimated on Tuesday that Russian forces had rounded up about 500 local residents in his city alone.
His claim cannot be independently verified because Russia tightly controls access to the occupied territories. According to eyewitnesses, Russian troops regularly check their mobile phones at checkpoints and during home searches, which makes communication with strangers risky.
Mr Fedrov himself was kidnapped by Russian forces before being released, part of a pattern that has been applied in towns and villages including Enerhodar. Ukrainian officials have reported that Ivan Samoyeduk, the first deputy mayor of Enerhodar, has been detained in Russia for more than three months.
With Russia stepping up its repression, the Ukrainian government promised a major counterattack and told everyone who could flee the occupied territories to leave before it began.