Ukrainian recalls terror of life at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

Reuters file photo
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 4

KYIV — A worker of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine has revealed details about the tough situation at the facility in an online interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.

The worker, who fled the area last month, said the situation has been nerve-wracking for staff amid the hostile presence of Russian soldiers.

The employee, a technician in his 30s who was in charge of controlling reactor temperature, lived with his family in Enerhodar, a city of about 50,000 people where the plant is located.

According to the man, the Russians took control of the facility on March 4. They deployed tanks in the city center and entered the premises as their attacks swept across the area. They then brought heavy weapons into the plant and set up a checkpoint to strictly control access.

He said the Russians would smile at the plant staff, but the workers ignored them as a gesture of silent resistance. However the soldiers started becoming aggressive, with some assaulting workers, creating a hostile atmosphere inside the plant.

According to the man, residents of Enerhodar began to spend their nights in fear of shelling around May. In August, when shelling intensified in the city center, the employee decided to flee the city with his wife and three young children.

In addition to the risk of physical harm, people who live near the plant live in constant fear of the enormous damage that would occur in the event of an attack on the nuclear facility.

The man said he was terrified whenever he heard a whooshing sound from the direction of the plant, which about five seconds later would be followed by a booming explosion from the direction of Nikopol, a city on the other side of the Dnieper River.

Despite his anxiety, he continued to work at the plant, but around July he was shocked to see Russian soldiers carrying artillery shells and other materials into the engine room near the reactor, where flammable materials are stored. Soldiers guarded the door to the room to restrict the access of plant staff.

The employee, who assumed the Russians chose the engine room as their arsenal to limit the threat of a counterattack, said the possibility the invaders were using the nuclear plant as a shield filled him with terror.

A local pro-Russian TV channel began to broadcast reports claiming Ukrainian forces were responsible for attacks on the plant. And when the man entered the facility, Russians at the checkpoint would tell him the Ukrainian military was to blame for the shelling creating a tense situation.

Shelling of Enerhodar’s urban areas intensified in August. The interval between the firing and the explosion was about two seconds — indicating the shelling was coming from a closer range. The man said he thought the shelling was launched by Russian forces deployed around the city center.

When the apartment building next to his home was hit by shelling he decided to flee the city, knowing he would not be able to protect his family if he stayed.

The man expressed gratitude to his supervisor, who issued him with a temporary pass to leave the city to ensure experienced personnel would be available in the event that they were needed to manage the safety of the plant in the future. The Russian military, which does not allow Zaporizhzhia plant workers to leave the city without such documents, checked his mobile phone and personal computer for photos or data linked to the Russian occupation at a checkpoint when he was leaving.

The man said many workers, “mainly young and mid-career personnel,” have left amid the prolonged Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia facility.

In a clear sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not changed his position on the invasion of Ukraine, he announced plans to begin calling up reservists on Wednesday.

Worried about the safety of his supervisors and other colleagues who continue to work at the plant, the man said the situation has left him despondent.