Kiev has repeatedly accused Russian forces, which seized the factory in March, of storing heavy weapons in the complex and using it as cover to carry out attacks, knowing that Ukraine cannot fire back without risking one of to hit the factory’s six reactors – a mistake that would spell disaster. Moscow, meanwhile, has claimed that Ukrainian troops are targeting the site. Both sides have tried to point the finger at the other for threatening nuclear terrorism.
For Olga and her Ukrainian colleagues who still work at the factory, the specter of nuclear disaster isn’t just the stuff of nightmares — it’s an everyday reality.
It’s “like sleeping and watching a dream,” she told DailyExpertNews in a recent telephone interview, describing the surreal, long-lasting shock she experienced working at the factory, which although owned by Russian troops, still mainly operated by Ukrainian technicians.
In the months since the nuclear facility was taken, Ukrainian workers have slowly begun to return – performing tasks in partially shattered rooms and only interacting with Russian soldiers when they cross two checkpoints to enter the complex.
“After the occupation, only operational personnel worked at the station. There were many broken and burned rooms and windows. Then they slowly started asking people to come and work for specific tasks,” Olga, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said .
“Now the part of the staff that didn’t leave is working. About 35 to 40% of the employees have left.”
The reduced workforce and the resurgence of fighting are making working conditions increasingly weak.
Ukraine and Russia again exchanged blame after more shelling around the power plant Thursday night, just hours after the United Nations called on both sides to cease military activities near the power plant, warning of the worst if they didn’t.
“This is a serious hour, a serious hour, and the IAEA must be able to complete its mission in Zaporizhzhya as soon as possible,” Grossi said.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power company, accused Russian troops on Thursday of attacking a storage facility for “radiation sources” and shelling a fire station near the factory. A day later, the company said in a statement on its Telegram account that the plant was operating “at the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards”.
Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi said on Friday there was “no adequate control” over the factory, and Ukrainian specialists who stayed there were denied access to some areas where they should be.
DailyExpertNews cannot confirm the details of Energoatom or Monastyrskyi, but Grossi has said some parts of the plant were unusable. Olga also confirmed that parts of the complex are not accessible to Ukrainian personnel.
Russia continues to accuse Ukraine of being behind the attacks. A local official in the occupation administration, Vladimir Rogov, told Russia’s state news agency Rossiya 24 channel on Friday that there was “constant damage” to the plant’s power line and suggested the complex could be “mothballed” — without any explanation as to how. that could happen.
Ukrainian authorities say Russian missiles fired from the nuclear power plant have ravaged the city of Nikopol, on the right bank of the Dnipro River, and surrounding districts for the past week. According to local officials, at least 13 people were killed in the shelling on Tuesday evening and more were injured on Wednesday and Thursday evening, including a 13-year-old girl.
In recent months, Olga said she saw Russian military equipment arriving at the nuclear complex, although much of it is now hidden from view. “Initially there was equipment in the territory of the station, now there is even more of it,” she said, adding that workers are not allowed in the areas where it is stored.
But when she comes home from work, Russia’s firepower is evident, she said. “Terrors happen at night, they’re shooting the fucking city.
“The incoming blow on the right bank (of the river) rattles so much that the houses are shaking and the windows are shaking. It is eerie in the silence of the night when people are sleeping,” she added.
Across the Dnipro, in Nikopol, the attacks now feel relentless.
From the window of her house near the city’s harbor, Oksana Miraevska can look across the water and see the volley of incoming grenades.
“If something happens to the power plant, an accident… I can’t think of it. Do you think something can help us? We are 7 kilometers from the nuclear power plant across the river! Nothing will save us, I’m sure,” Miraevska, a 45-year-old small business owner, told DailyExpertNews in a phone call.
“That’s why I don’t even have that thought.”
When the shelling flared up last month, Miraevska said many residents fled in panic, but she stayed behind to help locally, taking in mostly abandoned pets. At night, she and her teenage son take the animals downstairs to their basement-converted bomb shelter, where they all sleep.
“When they started shooting at us, life changed in general. I live in the basement, we go there for the night. We sleep there for a month now,” Miraevska said.
“I don’t think the enemy should be underestimated,” she added.
It’s the same message echoed by international experts warning of the disastrous impact a wandering grenade could cause.
Over the weekend, shellfire damaged a dry storage facility — where barrels of spent nuclear fuel are kept in the factory — as well as radiation monitoring detectors, making detection of a potential leak impossible, Energoatom said. Attacks also damaged a power line and forced one of the plant’s reactors to stop working.
That increase in shelling forced the IAEA to step up its efforts to send an expert mission to visit the factory to assess and protect the complex.
While an initial assessment by experts showed “no immediate threat to nuclear safety” at the plant, Grossi said on Thursday that “this could change at any time”. He added that while the agency was in regular contact with Ukrainian and Russian authorities about the plant, the information provided was “conflicting”.
The statement blamed the Russian armed forces, which according to the G7 countries “significantly increase the risk of a nuclear accident or incident and endanger the population of Ukraine, neighboring countries and the international community”.
A State Department spokesman said on Thursday that the United States supported calls for a “demilitarized zone” around the nuclear power plant and demanded Russia “cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities.”
Olga Voitovych, Yulia Kesaieva and Anna Chernova of DailyExpertNews contributed to this report.