While everyone is waiting for the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, there have been more and more worrying signs related to the situation of the Energodar nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian troops since the beginning of the invasion, reports El Pais. Locals fear that if the situation deteriorates further, an accident of the proportions of the Chernobyl disaster could occur.
“If it explodes, only the shadow of us remains,” says Olga Muja, a local from the opposite bank of the Dnieper River. The six nuclear reactors of the Zaporozhye plant, Europe’s largest producer of atomic energy, occupied by Russian forces since March 4, 2022, loom menacingly on the horizon.
Defensive metal constructions and mines laid by the Ukrainian army to defend against a possible Russian offensive across the river are separated from the village children’s playground and wooden benches by the dam wall, itself mined.
The village of Ostriv is located between the positions of the Russian army and the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets in the Dnipropetrovsk region, which are continuously bombarded by Russian artillery systems. The village of Olgai is on the attack path towards both localities.
“Most people have left here,” says Olga. “We hear gunfire every day, Grad rockets, artillery, and we are very afraid. I don’t understand what this war is about or why they want to kill us.”
Olga says she has no intention of leaving, that this is her home and she wants to continue working in her garden and tending to her chickens and her orchard of 100 fruit trees.
One of her sons is on the front at Bahmut. He calls her often: “Hi, I’m fine, I’m alive.”
Two of Olga’s neighbors, Raisa Sitnicenko and Valentina Riabchenko, explain that they receive humanitarian aid once a month, including water and food, but that life here is extremely difficult.
What is happening in the red zone around the nuclear power plant. “It could be the second Chernobyl”
The closest city to Ostriv is Nikopol, located on the opposite side of the river from the Energodar nuclear power plant.
The road between the two towns is full of partridges and pheasants. Since hunting has been banned for more than a year due to the war, there are many more birds quietly going about their lives near the road with their long tails and colorful plumage.
In Nikopol, explosions are heard again. The entire region has been designated a red zone by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Journalists can only enter the red zones with special authorization and only if they are always accompanied by a military officer.
Like the Bahmut front, the region around the city of Nikopol is also a red zone due to its proximity to Energodar and its nuclear power plant. Ukrainian special forces launched several quick attacks on the opposite side of the large reservoir on the Dnieper River that serves the nuclear power plant.
“This could be the second Chernobyl,” says Raisa Stnelcova from the city of Nikopol, as she walks past a four-story block of flats bombed by the Russians. “It scared the hell out of us. Now we are attacked every day, several times a day.”
The mayor of Energodar before the Russian occupation is confident that the long-awaited attack by the Ukrainian army will end successfully and that the nuclear power plant will be recaptured.
“There were 53,000 people living there and now there are only 15,000,” Dmitro Orlov said. “Some have gone abroad, but most are in Ukraine waiting for the liberation of the city to return home.”
The nuclear plant produces almost no electricity. All six reactors are operating on minimum mode. The nearby thermal power plant is also almost closed. Before the war, Energodar produced half of Ukraine’s nuclear power.
“This situation cannot continue.” The Russians hired people who don’t know how to run a nuclear power plant
The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, warned this week that the Zaporozhye plant had been disconnected from the power grid for the seventh time since the war broke out, meaning it was running on emergency diesel generators.
“The nuclear security situation of the plant is extremely vulnerable. We must protect the plant now; this situation cannot continue,” Grossi wrote on Twitter.
The Russians hired inexperienced managers and put them in charge of the nuclear plant, according to Oleksii Blineciuc, a Ukrainian who worked there until last summer.
“These are people who have nothing to do with the energy sector and shouldn’t be there,” said Blineciuc, who has stayed in touch with some of his former colleagues.
“Everyone’s eyes are on Bahmut, but what’s happening here is more important”
The Zaporizhia front could be the most important of this war, according to British and American intelligence services, and the Ukrainian military and defense analysts agree.
“Everyone’s eyes are on Bahmut, but what’s happening here is more important,” said Stepan, an officer in the Artei infantry battalion.
If the Ukrainians manage to break through the Russian defense line in the Zaporozhye region, it will allow them to advance to the coast of the Sea of Azov without having to land on the opposite side of the Dnieper River, a highly complex mission, according to military experts.
If Kiev liberates the province, it would regain control of Energodar and the nuclear power plant.
The next step would be to recapture the city of Melitopol, from where Ukrainian forces will be able to cut the supply lines of Russian troops along the coast to Kherson, the Black Sea and Crimea.
If the counteroffensive focuses on liberating the Zaporozhye region, every urban center could be turned into fortresses by Russian troops, and the fighting could completely devastate entire cities, just as it happened last year in Kherson and Kharkiv provinces.
But if the Russians keep control of the nuclear power plant, not only the destruction of a town will be at stake, but the lives of millions of people of whom only their shadows will remain in the event of a nuclear catastrophe like the one Olga fears.
The question is whether the Kremlin will order the troops to withdraw if they are encircled or continue to play the nuclear blackmail card.
Editor: Raul Nețoiu
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