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“People come back from the hospital with bullet-pierced palms”. ZNPP employees talk of murders, torture and abductions

Russian security forces have been kidnapping, torturing and killing employees of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and residents of Energodar, a satellite city of the power plant, several independent sources has told The Insider. According to ZNPP employees, the Russian military is constantly shelling power lines to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian grid, hoping to connect it to the Russian one afterwards, and they also intend to remove American nuclear fuel, which had been loaded into four of the plant's six power units. Meanwhile, as The Insider previously reported, the Russian military has been stockpiling munitions right inside the plant, which, if detonated, could lead to a nuclear disaster.

  • Torture and murder at the nuclear power plant

  • Munitions next to the turbines, GRADs near the plant, outsiders in control

  • Shelling of power lines: the military is preparing to connect the plant to the Russian power grid

  • Shelling of the plant's special buildings with nuclear fuel

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Torture and murder at the nuclear power plant

A source told The Insider that as recently as a few months ago, plant employees were forbidden to carry camera phones to work and began to be regularly searched and interrogated. The employees have been forced to take on Russian citizenship. They have been taken to an unknown location, held in basements for two or three weeks at a time and intimidated; some have also been taken to the mayor's office “for a chat.”

Several sources report torture and murder. Beaten people have been periodically brought to the local hospital with bullet-pierced palms and broken fingers, the source says, quoting the medical staff.

Beaten people with bullet-pierced palms and broken fingers have been admitted to the local hospital

Olga Kosharnaya, an independent nuclear energy expert and former member of the board of the State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine, published her correspondence with a Zaporizhzhia NPP employee who had contacted her. It says the detainees are being beaten, tortured with electric shocks and tear gas, raped, and stabbed in the genitals on camera. According to Kosharnaya's source, there are women among the detainees. In particular, during the seizure of the power plant’s canteen on July 18, Russian soldiers threatened female employees with sexual violence.

The holding cells are 3 by 4 meters, and there are 12-16 people in one cell. At least two such “torture” locations are known: the fire station and the police building. According to the source, the detainees are treated more harshly at the fire station. The Insider's source says he also heard reports of torture. According to him, the medical staff said that the Russians used the “21 roses” torture on the detainees by cutting the skin off their fingers and genitals.

Olga Kosharnaya's source says that in addition to ZNPP personnel, residents of Energodar who do not work at the plant are also being held in “torture cells.” According to the Eastern Human Rights Group, pro-Ukrainian volunteers and activists have been kidnapped and put in cells in Energodar. Among other things, the detainees are tortured by chlorine, which is poured across the floor.

Reports of torture have also been confirmed by The Telegraph in an article titled “The Russians are torturing us so we don't talk to UN.” According to the newspaper, the Russian military is trying to intimidate NPP personnel before the visit of IAEA inspectors and stop them from disclosing the actual situation at the plant.

According to Kosharnaya's source, the employees and management of the Zaporizhzhya NPP are being detained on suspicion of cooperation with the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the SBU. As reported by Energoatom, Russian soldiers kidnapped ZNPP Environmental Service Chief Igor Kvashnin on July 17, and Deputy Chief of the Decontamination Workshop for Radioactive Waste Handling and Management Sergei Pykhtin and Decontamination Workshop Foreman Olena Ryabtseva on July 18. According to Energoatom, the Russians tried to force the ZNPP Hydro Workshop diver, Andrei Goncharuk, to dive into the cooling pools to drain them, and beat him up after he refused. After the beatings he was taken to the local hospital with numerous injuries. He fell into a coma and died without regaining consciousness. Sergei Shvets, a repair unit employee, was shot by Russian soldiers in his own apartment; he survived and managed to evacuate to Zaporizhzhia.

Detentions of nuclear plant personnel were also reported by the collaborationist “authorities” of the occupied territories. On August 17, the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” of Zaporizhzhia Region announced the detention of two employees who “worked as spotters” for the AFU. They, according to the occupation authorities, face up to 10 years in prison.

It is not known how many people in total are in custody. Ukrainian Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets said that since March, Russian occupiers have detained 26 power plant employees. They are accused of having transmitted to the AFU information on the presence of Russian equipment at the Zaporizhzhia NPP. The detentions, torture and persecution of employees is not only a war crime against civilians, but also a violation of nuclear safety principles, one of which is to preserve the integrity of the team in charge of the facility, Lubinets says.

Munitions next to the turbines, GRADs near the plant, outsiders in control

The capture of the plant in March 2022 was led by Major General Alexei Dombrovsky. Afterwards, the command was transferred to Major General Valery Vasilyev of the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops of the Russian Armed Forces. According to a source, about 500 armed Russian soldiers and military hardware, including armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft guns and equipment for nuclear and chemical reconnaissance are located at the site of the power plant. The vehicles are deployed all over the plant, which makes it difficult to assess their actual number. The area around the station is mined by Russian troops, and there are GRAD batteries stationed in the village of Vodyanoye, which is nearest the plant, the source says. According to him, Russian soldiers store mines and ammunition in the immediate vicinity of the power units, under trestles, and on July 20 some of the armaments were moved along with the vehicles to the engine room of Power Unit 1, where the turbine is located.

According to a ZNPP employee, the takeover of the plant was an independent project for Russia, which was planned separately and had a number of other goals in addition to the declared goal of “supplying electricity to Crimea.” Russia is interested in the technologies of using Westinghouse nuclear fuel and the plant's automatic equipment. It is clear, among other things, from the visits of Rosatom officials to the power plant and from the questions they asked. Most of the vehicles located at the plant are empty trucks with tents. This suggests Russia's intentions to remove new nuclear fuel assemblies or critical equipment, as was the case at the Chernobyl NPP. Besides, according to one of the workers, on August 28 Russian soldiers entered Power Unit 2 with dosimeters, allegedly to measure radiation, broke into the offices and removed the computers, monitors, and printers.

Russia is interested in the technologies of using Westinghouse nuclear fuel and the plant’s automatic equipment

Russian authorities claim that the military and Rosatom do not interfere in the operation of the plant. However, a source claims that armed Russian soldiers and Rosatom representatives regularly visit the power units, turbine sections, and unit control panels. They have access to all areas of the plant, including the so-called “dirty” areas with high radiation levels. On July 18, the soldiers took passes from two plant employees and entered the “dirty” trestle and radiation zone of Power Unit 2. Everyone who enters “dirty zones” must have a dosimeter and wear overalls, which should subsequently be categorized as hazardous waste and handled according to certain rules. If these conditions are not met, radioactive particles will disperse throughout the plant.

In addition, unauthorized persons have gained access to the ZNPP. For example, the designer and propagandist Artemiy Lebedev who was taken to the unit control panel and the turbine hall of the third unit and was also allowed to climb the roof of the sixth unit.

There is an ongoing risk of provocations by the Russian side at the site of the plant, sources say. Russian troops are constantly “shooting at something” and “finding” weapons caches in the most unexpected places within the plant site “for the sake of taking a picture.”

“Because of the irresponsibility and looting (including, for example, the search of the administrative building of the plant when soldiers broke into the offices and gained access to all the documentation) there is a risk of breaching the plant’s operation procedures, interfering in nuclear fuel reloading and reactor control processes at the ZNPP. There is a huge likelihood that in the course of the de-occupation of the plant, Russian troops will disable the nuclear infrastructure for a long time and/or will commit actions jeopardizing the safety of the plant and the environment.”

According to plant employees, because of the occupation, access to chemicals and spare parts was lost. With the current amount of fuel, the power units will remain in operation for up to a year, some until early spring 2023. Refueling under the occupation is not possible, the procedure involves inspection by the controlling authorities. Because of this, two plant units, 1 and 3, will not be launched until de-occupation.

Shelling of power lines: the military is preparing to connect the plant to the Russian power grid

Russia has been systematically shelling power lines that connect the plant to the Ukrainian power grid, ZNPP employees say. Three power lines which serve Zaporizhzhia, Kakhovka and Yuzhny Donbass have were damaged after the occupation of the plant and are now out of service. Only the Dnieper power line, which connects the plant to the Ukrainian grid, remains operational. The goal is to isolate the plant, disconnect it from the Ukrainian power grid and switch it to the Russian grid, a source says.

On August 25, satellite images were published showing a fire behind the ash dumps near the Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Plant, all of them below the Dnieper power transmission line that feeds the plant. Due to the fire, Power Units 5 and 6 were automatically disconnected from the grid and unloaded. Operation of the line later resumed, and Power Unit 6 started to load, but the line was again shut down by automatic safeguards. According to plant employees, it could have been a deliberate arson. Emergency unloading of the power units occurred twice that day within just a few hours. A complete shutdown could have led to a meltdown of the reactor, but the capacity of the ZNPP-TPP line was sufficient for the needs of the plant, and the staff quickly stabilized the units.

A plant employee told The Insider that on the day external power was completely cut off from the Zaporizhzhia NPP, due to the absence of electricity members of the staff communicated via a liaison person who relayed orders, and via a loudspeaker.

“The first outage was very sudden but short-lived, we even managed to restore power quickly, before the second outage. During the first one, Power Unit 5 failed, but since Unit 6 was in operation, everything was basically okay. Panic broke out, but the workers pulled themselves together and quickly got to work. After that there was a second blackout and emergency shutdown of Unit 6. Everything went out - the lights, the elevators. The telephone exchanges stopped working, there was only a loudspeaker and a liaison person, who relayed messages. The emergency lights, which should have been working, were out, and all the work on Unit 6 had to be done in complete darkness. But there were emergency flashlights, and they were lifesavers. The staff acted in a professional manner and the tragedy was avoided. The new shift arrived, but the morning shift workers also stayed and worked until 6 pm, because it was too difficult and dangerous to hand over the facility under such conditions. There are no instructions for such an emergency at all, because this has never happened before. Especially on how to restart after a shutdown of the entire plant. The staff members are heroes, because really terrible things could have happened that day.”

Shelling of the plant's special buildings with nuclear fuel

According to plant employees, shortly before that, during the first week of August, Unit 4, which had been previously in operation, underwent a cold shutdown because of damaged power lines. This happened as a result of the shelling, the automatic safeguards went off and the rods descended, employees say. In addition, the nitrogen-oxygen plant was shelled, pipelines and receivers were damaged and there was a risk of hydrogen leakage.

On August 20, as a result of the shelling, windows in the special building next to the second laboratory building and the gatehouse were blown out and the trestle windows were damaged. On August 25, projectiles hit special building No.1, water pipelines were ruptured by shrapnel. As a result, water supply to the plant was cut off for almost 24 hours. Artillery shells also hit the roof. This building is used to store new assemblies of nuclear fuel, workers say. Fortunately, the building was not damaged, the reloading workshop was hit.

On September 1, simultaneously with the visit of the IAEA delegation, the shelling of the plant resumed. According to ZNPP employees, a protective device went off at 5am on Unit 5 and disconnected it from the system. At present, attempts are being made to stabilize the unit. As a result of the mortar shelling, the ZNPP-TPP 330 kV backup power line intended for the plant’s own needs has been damaged - the very line that saved the station on August 25, when all the units shut down. If it is not quickly restored, a catastrophe may occur, employees say. If there’s a current change on the operational Dnieper power line, the units will shut down and the plant will be left without power. Also, electric power supply to unit 2 was cut off on September 1, but thanks to backup diesel generators, the unit was quickly stabilized.

According to employees, it is possible for many of them to leave the plant, but they have not done so to ensure the safety of the nuclear plant.

“Fear of death, confusion, a desire to drop everything and leave, but at the same time awareness of responsibility. We already have almost half of the workshop employees evacuated, those with families especially. You understand that you have to stay, otherwise there’s nobody to work. It is a matter of plant safety, it's not that simple, you can't replace people with someone from the street. I cry very often, there is a lot of tension, my mood changes all the time from anger to total apathy. I'm scared to go to work every day, I'm afraid they will grab me at the checkpoint and take me to the basement. It's scary in the city, there are bombings at night.”

Employees say that by the time the IAEA delegation arrived on August 31, the occupation authorities had hung posters in Energodar that read “Welcome to the Family of Russian Atom Cities”. A road sign has been installed at the entrance to the city with “Energodar is Russia Forever” written on it.

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