Russian soldiers who control a giant nuclear power plant in Ukraine are detaining workers and subjecting them to brutal interrogations for possible saboteurs, prompting many employees to leave and raising security concerns, according to Ukrainian officials.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – the largest in Europe – is located in southern Ukraine, in the town of Enerhodar on the eastern bank of the Dnipro, opposite territory still held by Ukrainian forces. With 11,000 workers, the factory is strategically important, and security issues at the factory make any Ukrainian counter-offensive to retake the area particularly complicated.
Russian forces have fortified the outside of the plant with trenches and heavy artillery, and inside they are stepping up measures to find anyone they think might pose a threat, local officials say. and business.
“People are being abducted en masse,” Enerhodar mayor-in-exile Dmytro Orlov said during a meeting Wednesday with officials from Energoatom, the state-owned company that oversees the complex. “The fate of some of them is unknown. The others are in very difficult conditions: they are tortured and mistreated physically and morally.
Mr. Orlov said in an interview with a local radio station this week that many factory workers and other residents were trying to escape to Ukrainian-held territory. “Even young people are leaving town,” he said. “It is not known who will operate the nuclear power plant.”
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Mr. Orlov’s statements could not be independently confirmed. But Energoatom officials offered similar accounts based on interviews with factory workers, and witnesses in other occupied parts of Ukraine relayed similar reports of mass detentions of civilians.
At the same meeting, Petro Kotin, the acting president of Energoatom, declared that “the seizure and gradual transformation of the factory into a military base with numerous weapons and explosives” amounted to an act of “nuclear terrorism “. He said the company would continue to support its employees in the occupied territories in any way possible.
Last month, Mr. Kotin raised concerns about Russian militarization of the facility.
“The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is a well-fortified facility even in times of peace,” he said. “It’s a perfect military base. Moreover, the Russians understand that the amount of nuclear material there protects them. Ukraine will not hit such an object.
Enerhodar, like other Russian-occupied areas in the south, has been the scene of attacks by a growing resistance movement in southern Ukraine – with civilians known as partisans engaging in violence against forces of occupation, civil disobedience and efforts to help the Ukrainian army – and retaliation by Russian forces.
Tensions in the city escalated on May 22, when Andrii Shevchyk, whom the Russians had installed as mayor, was injured in a bomb attack outside his apartment. He was flown to Crimea for treatment. The following day, according to Energoatom, an employee of the nuclear power plant was shot several times in his home by Russian forces.
This week, Vladimir Rogov, a Russian proxy on the main governing council of the Zaporizka region, which includes the nuclear power plant, said in a television interview that it was time to institute the death penalty for “war criminals “.
Ivan Federov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol who has become something of an unofficial spokesman for the Ukrainian resistance in the region, estimated on Tuesday that Russian forces had detained around 500 residents in his hometown alone.
His claim could not be independently verified because Russia tightly controls access to the occupied territories. People who live there have their mobile phones regularly inspected by Russian forces at checkpoints and during searches of their homes, witnesses say, making communication with foreigners extremely risky.
Mr Federov was himself kidnapped by Russian forces before being released, in a pattern that unfolded in towns and villages including Enerhodar. Ivan Samoidyuk, the first deputy mayor of Enerhodar, has been detained in Russia for more than three months, according to Ukrainian officials.
As Russia steps up its crackdown, the Ukrainian government has promised a massive counter-offensive and told anyone who can flee the occupied territories to leave before it begins.