ua en ru

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employee

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employee Photo: Russian troops at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (Getty Images)

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been under occupation for more than two years. The Russians are staging explosions at the plant and intimidating workers. An operational specialist who used to work there tells RBC-Ukraine what was happening at the plant.

Ukraine has become the only country in the world to have a nuclear power plant seized by another country. Russia, in violation of all international conventions, has done so twice: The Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant was liberated, and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant near Enerhodar is still under Russian control.

The few employees who remained in Enerhodar were forced to sign contracts. Some of them decided to stay to ensure the safety of the plant, which means the safety of the whole world. Due to the actions of the Russian troops, the plant has experienced eight complete and one partial blackout since the beginning of the full-scale war.

RBC-Ukraine speaks with Oleksii Melnychuk, a ZNPP operation specialist and a member of the Enerhodar City Council who has spent 19 years of his life working at the plant. He tells us about Russian fakes and staged shelling, the threat of a new blackout, and how the occupied city is living now.

Oleksii lived for six months under Russian occupation, now he is volunteering, maintaining his specialist qualifications, and dreams of returning to work at the ZNPP, which has already been liberated from the Russian troops. The following is the interlocutor's direct speech.

Russian troops constantly violate IAEA requirements

More than a year after the beginning of the occupation of Enerhodar, on May 30, 2023, in Georgia, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi announced 5 safety principles for ZNPP.

First, there should be no attacks from or against the plant, especially against reactors and nuclear fuel storage facilities. In March 2024, the IAEA recorded artillery shelling from the territory of the plant itself. On their official website, they have information that they heard exits from the ZNPP territory and that it looked like artillery. That is, the Russian troops have already violated this point, and this is just one of many such cases.

Secondly, there was a requirement not to store heavy weapons at the station and that there should be no military personnel at the station who could be used for an attack. But on the social media of the Russians themselves, on March 12, 2024, there is a photo of two tanks standing between the power units and the onshore pumping stations of the power units.

Also in March, the Russian military published photos of them posing openly with anti-tank weapons, where they were training right in the engine room. One of the videos shows that the repair site of Unit 4 is filled with military equipment, including armored personnel carriers and other large military vehicles. Similar photos and videos have been posted online before.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employeePhoto: Russian soldiers pose in front of the ZNPP. According to IAEA requirements, the military should not be there (provided by Oleksii Melnychuk)

The deployment of military equipment at the repair sites was recorded at five of the six power units. Russian military personnel are deployed at each power unit, in special buildings, and the laboratory and amenity buildings of the ZNPP. It has long been obvious that from the first day of the Russian occupation, the Russian troops turned the nuclear power plant into a military base.

The next point from the IAEA is to ensure uninterrupted external power supply to the plant. However, we often record power outages: both the 750 kV and the 330 kV backup lines of the ferroalloy plant are out of service. The lines are constantly being repaired by Ukrainian power engineers, but the most serious consequence for the uninterrupted external power supply of the enterprise is that on March 26 this year, the Russians destroyed the machine rooms of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant. That is, they took Dnipro HPP out of the power grid altogether.

The IAEA's safety requirements for the plant also included a requirement to protect all system structures and components important to the operation of the plant from attacks or sabotage. It is strange to hear that the Russian troops will protect the station from anything. After all, Ukraine will not attack it in any way: we all understand how important this facility is and that it should not be touched at all. The radiation safety of ZNPP is a priority for Ukraine's top leadership.

The Russian troops' statements about the alleged shelling by Ukraine are cynical because they seized the station using heavy weapons. Back in 2022, the Russian troops destroyed one of the buildings of the training center, there were hits on the galleries, on the power unit, the administrative building was shot, and damage to the transformer led to the disconnection of Unit 6 from the power grid.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employee

Photo: Russian soldiers train right in the engine room of the ZNPP (provided by Oleksii Melnychuk)

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employee

Photo: Russian soldiers train right in the engine room of the ZNPP (provided by Oleksii Melnychuk)

Another point among the requirements is not to take any actions that would undermine these principles. In other words, we understand that Russia has violated virtually all the principles this year and earlier, from the first days of the seizure of the city of Enerhodar and the ZNPP.

Russia stages explosions at ZNPP and in Enerhodar

Russia is once again accusing Ukraine of allegedly shelling ZNPP. But if you simply analyze some facts, it becomes clear that this is complete nonsense. On April 7, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that a drone had exploded on the territory of the ZNPP. Subsequently, a representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, Andrii Yusov, noted that Ukraine was not involved in any armed provocations on the territory of the plant.

"In one of their fake stories, the Russian troops showed that a truck delivering food to the nuclear power plant was allegedly attacked. But in their video, we see a completely intact Ural truck, with not a single hole in it. They staged the explosion so that the IAEA experts could hear it. And it was allegedly a shelling from Ukraine.

The Russians' video also shows that the dome of Unit 6 is intact. Some objects are not typical for a nuclear power plant, which, according to all standards, should not be there at all. If we freeze the video, we can see that there is some equipment clumsily rewound with blue tape. It is in this area, from where the video was filmed, that the lighting assembly is usually located, so nothing specific can be stored there. It is unclear what this electrical tape was used for. Perhaps something was mined there and detonated, and to cover it up, the remains of the drone were thrown near the video unit and demonstratively shown to the camera.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employeePhoto: The Russian sticker "Sudoplatov" was not even removed from the drone, which is called "Ukrainian" for the story (screenshot)

The Russian troops also staged an attack on the city of Enerhodar. They said that drones were allegedly flying from the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, their videos clearly showed that the "Sudoplatov" sticker on the drone's battery had been removed. The Russians promoted the assembly of drones of this occupation unit on social media. That is, they make these drones themselves somewhere in an assembly shop. They could not even properly remove their sticker to show that it was supposedly Ukraine.

The Russians realize that they have violated all the principles that Grossi announced back in 2023. Recently, they showed a photo of a training corps that was allegedly fired upon by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, the people who were there at the time heard the launch and, literally two or three seconds later, the strike. That is, they were firing from the occupied territory. When I took part in a regular training session there in early 2022, I saw that many of the premises had been shot at.

These Russian actions show their intention to shift the world's attention from their violations of security principles to the alleged attack on the ZNPP by Ukraine. The creation of fake videos by the Russians should not in any way distract the world's attention from the fact of the seizure of ZNPP and the lack of qualified personnel to ensure the radiation safety of the nuclear power plant.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employee

Photo: Russians post photos of military equipment that they place right at the nuclear power plant (screenshot)

Recently, analysts have said that Russia planned to create a new provocation at ZNPP and blame Ukraine for it to "provoke negotiations with international organizations and legitimize the occupation" of the plant.

The Russian information war against Ukraine is a very scary thing. And it must be countered by all available means. Everything that they publish and declare must be refuted at the highest level. Ukraine has been doing this for a long time.

Threat of new blackout at ZNPP

Due to the Russians and the occupation administration's actions, since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Zaporizhzhia NPP has experienced eight complete and one partial blackout. On March 22, there were direct missile hits on the Dnipro HPP, and the Russian troops caused another huge damage.

In addition to the fact that the Russian massive shelling of the engine room building caused about half a ton of oil products to leak into the Dnipro, the Russian troops thus deprived the plant of a fast source of electricity, which should be restored within 5 minutes.

Dnipro HPP is important because it supplied electricity through the ferroalloy plant directly to Zaporizhzhia NPP. The Russian troops destroyed this source of electricity, including the backup. This is extremely threatening for us in terms of a possible blackout. Also, we should not forget that in addition to six reactors, there is a storage facility for spent nuclear material on the territory of ZNPP.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employeePhoto: Oleksii Melnychuk maintains his specialist qualification and dreams of returning to work at the already liberated ZNPP (from personal archive)

The worst possible scenario for ZNPP is a power outage, as well as a lack of fuel in diesel generators. The threat is also posed by possible damage to the dry spent fuel storage facility. In this case, there is a risk of radiation leakage into the environment.

At the moment, 330 kV and 750 kV power lines are connected, but periodically one of the lines needs to be restored after Russian shelling. Sometimes it happens that two lines are damaged at once. In such cases, diesel generators are switched on at the plant to supply electricity to the plant's safety systems and to enable water to be supplied directly to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools. But the situation continues to be extremely threatening.

Current working conditions at ZNPP

The plant's staff can be divided into three categories. The first are those who deliberately sided with the Russians, signed contracts with Rosatom, and morally forced other employees to sign contracts. The second signed the contract consciously without coercion. The third category includes personnel who were physically coerced or had their lives threatened.

Some refused to sign the contract but continued to work for some time to ensure the security of the world. Of course, I consider those who knowingly signed the contracts to be traitors. But those who managed to keep the station operating properly without agreeing to cooperate are heroes and professionals.

Since the beginning of this year, personnel access to the territory of Zaporizhzhia NPP has been denied to those who have not signed contracts with the so-called Zaporizhzhia NPP JSC, a fake institution created by the Russians. Access to the plant was denied to personnel responsible for radiation safety at the units.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employeePhoto: Russian shelling of ZNPP (from the archive of Oleksii Melinchuk)

Currently, the Russians are severely short of staff at the plant. They bring their people from Russia on so-called business trips. But they invite people who are not familiar with Ukrainian equipment and the specifics of its operation. After all, over the years of independence, the equipment has changed and has also been translated into Ukrainian. They do not understand how to work with it. That's why there are cases when there is only one employee at the control panel, where there should always be five specialists, but there is only one employee. Something can go wrong at any time, and the loss of control over the cooling of the rector can lead to serious consequences.

Most of those who could work at ZNPP in a qualified manner have left Enerhodar. The Russian fake NPP management is trying to train new workers, practically from the street and without proper training and education. But to work at the plant, you need a specialized higher education.

To train staff, you need to have professional staff at the training center, and most of the specialists have left the occupied Enerhodar. They hire those who do not meet the standards of a Zaporizhzhia NPP employee. Someone works there for a certain time and quits. Some of those recruited from the street came to work in a state of intoxication.

Many workers took their families to the de-occupied territories and have not seen their relatives for over two years.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employeePhoto: Russia has violated all international norms by occupying ZNPP (from the archive of Oleksii Melinchuk)

Some managers who used to work at Zaporizhzhia NPP signed cooperation contracts with the Russians. If they were given the task of hiring several thousand employees, they hired everyone in a row just to close the issue. There were cases when they hired a girl who had completed only nine grades to the operational unit, while people with specialized higher education had to be hired to the unit.

Enerhodar under Russian occupation

Nowadays, it is possible to come to the unoccupied territories of Ukraine from Enerhodar only if you go first to the Russian Federation and then through the only open border crossing point in the Sumy region. Many people travel by their transport through Europe or Georgia, through the Baltic countries.

People who used to work at ZNPP get employment opportunities in Ukraine, and personnel are transferred to work at other stations. The staff has the opportunity to maintain their qualifications to take control of the reactor facilities after de-occupation and ensure the highest level of radiation safety at ZNPP.

About a third of the number of people who used to live there remain in the city. Food prices in stores are very high. Compared to Melitopol, for example, the cost of food in Enerhodar is three times higher. The hryvnia has been withdrawn from circulation: only Russian rubles are in use.

'Russians have turned nuclear plant into military base,' Zaporizhzhia NPP employeePhoto: Oleksii left Enerhodar six months after the city was occupied by Russians, now he is volunteering (from personal archive)

It's hard to survive for those who did not "legalize" themselves under the Russian occupation authorities and did not receive Russian passports. It is difficult to leave the city because, at the first checkpoint, they will ask for a passport and ask why you don't have a Russian passport.

Those who have a pro-Ukrainian position are taken for interrogation. The mere presence of a Ukrainian passport in the occupied territories can lead to serious consequences. Pro-Ukrainian rallies were dispersed with gunshots and stun grenades back in 2022, and now it has become an impossible task to hold such events.

Before the Russian occupation, the whole city was filled with cars, people were walking in the parks. Enerhodar was alive and just like home. Now the streets are empty. We can only dream that it will be liberated soon. And helping the Armed Forces of Ukraine is the main task of a Ukrainian citizen. I hope that Enerhodar will soon be cleared of the Russian troops and collaborators, and all employees will be able to return to their jobs. And all residents will be able to return to their homes.