A brutal occupation, multiplied by a radiation threat on the scale of Chornobyl – these are the conditions the residents of Enerhodar in southeastern Ukraine have found themselves in, according to the city’s mayor, Dmytro Orlov.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, and the city of 50,000 people Enerhodar next to it, have been occupied by Russian troops since March 4.
In the last few weeks, the Russians, who have stationed heavy military equipment on the territory of the station, have allegedly been shelling individual plant facilities, while accusing the Armed Forces of Ukraine of being behind the attacks.
The New Voice of Ukraine spoke with Mayor Dmytro Orlov, who currently works in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhiy, about life in Enerhodar, whether locals are afraid of a possible disaster, and how the Russians are behaving in the city.
— Currently, one of the most pressing topics is the situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. There has even been a statement from the G7 foreign ministers, who demand the return of control over the nuclear plant to Ukraine. What do you think the intentions of the Russians are for it? Are they just scaring everyone with a possible catastrophe in order to put pressure on Ukraine? Or are they genuinely ready to go all the way?
– They take one illogical step after another. All I see is that they destroy everything. Since around mid-July, they started shelling Nikopol, Marhanets, and other cities from the territory of the nuclear power plant and nearby areas. There are dead and wounded among the civilian population. Why do this? Or what they did at the end of last week — shelling the city of Enerhodar with mortars and shelling the nuclear plant. There are victims, there is destruction of civil infrastructure, and engineering structures. This resulted (in Enerhodar) losing its gas supply for a month or even longer. These are also the actions of the occupiers. Why do this? Now they resoundingly declare that they mined all nuclear facilities and will not allow these facilities to remain intact during the de-occupation process. They speak in such phrases that either it will be Russia, or there will be "scorched earth". These are inconceivable statements. And it is time for the international organizations and the global community that has some influence to step in and take some action, besides voicing their concerns, as they always do.
What we see in fact is that the people of Enerhodar have started to leave en masse; nuclear plant specialists are also leaving. Over time, a personnel problem may arise – it is already coming to the brink of that.
— I wanted to ask just about that. After all, it is our Ukrainian employees who work at the NPP?
- Yes. Our specialists, who have the appropriate licenses for certain types of work, and these are the kind of specialists who are no longer available in the country. If an operator has a license to operate a nuclear installation for the 1st power unit, then he does not have the right to work for the 2nd. He does not have a license for the 2nd. You can't bring specialists from other stations or from other countries and say what they will work on this reactor now – it's simply impossible, not to mention the fact that the equipment there is different.
— Will it not be possible to replace our staff with Russians?
- They physically cannot do so. Until Feb. 24, 11,000 workers worked at ZNPP. This is a considerable number. Where to find similar employees? For your understanding: to prepare one unit shift manager, it is necessary to study for 16 years. That is, not to work, but only to study. A nuclear power plant is not an object that can be put on hold in order to be restored later when there are sufficient personnel. The staff should already be here and now. Now there is an opportunity to organize shift work because there was a certain reserve of personnel potential. But we may face the problem of not being able to rotate staff, as people will leave for the territories under the control of the Armed Forces and there will be no one to work.
— In what conditions do people work there now? After all, the Russian military and their equipment are located on the territory of the station. They confirm it themselves.
— Yes, equipment is there. There are military personnel with weapons and ammunition, and there is also heavy equipment, which they hide either near the units, or even bring it into the reactor turbine halls. The specialists work under intense psychological pressure. There are even cases when the administrative staff and ordinary employees are taken out directly from the corridor or from the offices, and taken to the basements, some are returned, but not all, unfortunately. There are even those who have been sitting in basements for three months and neither their state of health nor their whereabouts is known. There are cases when they were beaten so badly that one person did not survive. I'm referring to the hydraulic diver who they brought to the hospital in a coma – he died a few days later.
— The situation around Zaporizhzhia NPP scares people both in Kyiv and in Europe. And what about Enerhodar? How do people there perceive this situation?
- If we talk about what they are doing, they have only one desire – to leave the city safely. Today I was in the logistics center in the city of Zaporizhzhya, where Enerhodar residents are met. They say that after shells flew right by their house, they grabbed everything they needed and left. They drove for three days and arrived here – in Zaporizhzhya, on the territory controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. About half of the population remained in the city. If there were 53,000 in the pre-occupation period, now half have already left.
— What are the biggest problems in the city? Is there no gas supply?
— Unfortunately, there is no gas supply, not only in Enerhodar, but in many cities. Because the occupiers do not allow repair crews to enter the main gas pipeline in order to restore the gas supply. The Zaporizhzhya thermal station is not working, it provided hot water and provided heat to a third of the city. We are already working on the issue of delivery of convectors and boilers in order to provide such assistance in the event that the cold season is not going according to the parameters. As for the utility firms, we manage to provide them with consumables. Work is also being done to provide fuel to ensure the work of utilities. Several times a month, we manage to deliver fuel to them from government controlled territory.
— Your first deputy, Ivan Samoydyuk, has been in captivity for more than four months. Is there any information on him? Where is he and what happened to him?
— Since March 19, there has been no information about first deputy Ivan Hnatovych Samoydyuk. His whereabouts and his state of health are also unknown. From indirect sources (and this information is about a month old) he is alive and is not in Enerhodar, but in another place in the temporarily occupied territory, but the occupiers are still holding him. Let's hope that he is alive and well.
— Recently, the occupiers announced that preparations for holding a referendum on Zaporizhzhya Oblast's accession to Russia had begun. Are they preparing in Enerhodar? And what does it manifest itself in?
— They have collected personal data for about three months. Because all personal data and all databases, in accordance with the orders of the relevant senior management structures, were destroyed or transported to a safer place in the Kyiv-controlled territory. They faced the problem that even if a referendum is held, it is necessary to have some kind of database – and it is so clear that no one will come there. That is, they needed some kind of personal database. They were compiling it for about three months, maybe even four, giving out 10,000 rubles each to vulnerable strata of the population — pensioners and the elderly — in exchange for personal data.
As for the preparatory actions, I do not know what actions are being taken, except that it was published on social networks that somewhere in Melitopol there was a general meeting of all collaborators who decided to hold these events. But they did not announce the date. Holding a referendum is a big job. This is work that has to be performed by specialists in their field. And their staff of collaborators who agreed to cooperate with them is rather weak. They cannot organize the work of a kindergarten or a school there, let alone hold a referendum.
— How does the repressive machine work in Enerhodar? You said that people are being taken to basements. Do the occupiers have a prison?
— For this, they use the police department, the premises of the SBU (Security Service), there are several basements, and there are premises on the industrial site, in the sanitary protection zone, where they gather people who, in their opinion, have a pro-Ukrainian position. They are tortured there, confessions about "love for the Russian world" are forced out of them, which are then shown on Russian television. But we saw these people before the occupation and before they visited these torture camps. They have lost half their weight, they are all beaten up – it is clear why and how these confessions are being forced out of people. These are not military people, these are ordinary civilians.
— What would you advise the residents of occupied Enerhodar now, in this situation? Leave under any conditions?
– I would not like to call for a mass evacuation, because I understand that this will lead to panic actions and it will not only affect Enerhodar. Therefore, I would refrain from such loud calls. No one has forgotten and will never forget about Enerhodar and the residents who are under occupation, about the workers of the nuclear power plant. Now the top news around the world is the developments at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. We see that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are already taking certain steps, they are already being felt even in Enerhodar and in populated areas of Zaporizhzhya and Kherson oblasts – we all see this too. I would like to say that they are real heroes, let them keep going as they did before. And all the collaborators and all those who cooperate with the occupiers should not think that they can get away with it. Law enforcement agencies work through each case.
If they think that no one will find out about it, then they are wrong. All information, all facts are collected and no one will be able to avoid responsibility. Where will they flee after Enerhodar and the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant are deoccupied, let them decide for themselves now. Because traitors are not loved in any country. And they will not be allowed to live in peace in Enerhodar either.