Russian soldiers who control a giant nuclear power plant in Ukraine are detaining workers and subjecting them to brutal interrogation in a search for possible saboteurs, causing many employees to leave and raising safety concerns, Ukrainian officials say.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest – is located in southern Ukraine in the town of Enerhodar on the eastern side of the Dnipro River, opposite territory still held by Ukrainian forces. With 11,000 workers, the factory occupies a strategically important place, and security considerations at the factory make any Ukrainian counter-offensive to recapture the area particularly complicated.
Russian forces have fortified the outside of the facility with trenches and heavy artillery, and inside they are stepping up measures to find someone they believe could pose a threat, according to local and company officials.
“People are being abducted en masse,” Enerhodar’s exile mayor, Dmytro Orlov, said during a meeting Wednesday with officials from Energoatom, the state-owned company that oversees the complex. “It is unknown where some of them are. The rest are in very difficult conditions: they are being tortured and physically and morally abused. “
Mr. Orlov said in an interview with a local radio station this week that many factory workers and other residents were trying to flee to Ukrainian-controlled territory. “Even young people are leaving the city,” he said. “It is unclear who will operate the nuclear power plant.”
Sir. Orlov’s statements could not be independently confirmed. But Energoatom officials have offered similar reports based on interviews with workers at the factory, and witnesses in other occupied parts of Ukraine have released similar reports of mass prisoners of civilians.
At the same meeting, Petro Kotin, the acting president of Energoatom, said that the plant’s “seizure and gradual transformation into a military base with many weapons and explosives” was tantamount to an act of “nuclear terrorism.” He said the company would continue to support its employees in occupied territories in every way it could.
Last month, Mr Kotin raised concerns about the Russian militarization of the plant.
“The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is a well-fortified plant even in peacetime,” he said. “It is a perfect military base. Moreover, the Russians understand that the amount of nuclear material placed there protects them. Ukraine will not attack such an object.”
Enerhodar, like other Russia-occupied areas in the south, has been the scene of attacks by a growing resistance movement in southern Ukraine – with civilians known as partisans involved in violence against occupying forces, civil disobedience and efforts to help the Ukrainian military – and retaliation from Russia. side of forces.
Tensions in the city escalated on May 22, when Andrii Shevchyk, whom the Russians had installed as mayor, was wounded in a bomb attack outside his apartment. He was transported to the Crimea for medical treatment. The next day, according to Energoatom, an employee at the nuclear power plant was shot several times in his home by Russian forces.
This week, Vladimir Rogov, a Russian deputy in the main government council for the Zaporizka region, which includes the nuclear power plant, said in a television interview that it was time to impose the death penalty on “war criminals”.
Ivan Federov, the exile mayor of Melitopol who has become something of an unofficial spokesman for Ukrainian resistance in the region, estimated on Tuesday that Russian forces had detained about 500 locals in his hometown alone.
His claim could not be independently verified because Russia strictly controls access to occupied territories. People living there regularly have their mobile phones inspected by Russian forces at checkpoints and during searches of their homes, according to witnesses, making communication with outsiders extremely risky.
Sir. Federov himself was kidnapped by Russian forces before being released, part of a pattern that has unfolded in towns and villages including Enerhodar. Ivan Samoidyuk, the first deputy mayor of Enerhodar, has been in Russian custody for over three months, according to Ukrainian officials.
As Russia escalates its repression, the Ukrainian government has promised a major counter-offensive and has told anyone fleeing occupied territories to leave before it begins.