Ex-Ukrainian NPP Worker Slams Russian Occupation: NPR
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KYIV, Ukraine – The International Atomic Energy Agency said a team was heading to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the first such inspection team to be authorized since Russian forces took control of the complex in southern Ukraine in early March. The mission will assess the safety and security of the plant, as well as the conditions of the largely Ukrainian personnel inside.
“It’s getting harder and harder every day for staff to provide security,” Andriy Tuz, the plant’s former public relations manager, told NPR. “People are scared, they want to leave.
Tuz, 32, is now in Switzerland, but keeps in touch with his former colleagues. He says the only right thing to do is to demilitarize the compound immediately. The experts pointed out that a potential disaster is imminent if the shelling near the plant continues – for which the Russians and Ukrainians blame each other.
Tuz witnessed with his own eyes the takeover of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on March 3.
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“I was in [Enerhodar, the city closest to the plant] and I heard explosions, they sounded like the crackle of fireworks,” says Tuz. There were dozens of military vehicles and several buildings in the complex came under fire that night, he said.
At the time, the 10-year veteran of the complex was the factory’s chief spokesperson and continued to work for four months after its occupation. At first, he says, the Russians stayed away from the staff. But as the months passed, they began to interfere.
“It’s a big pressure,” he said. “It affects families who feel threatened and it’s emotionally difficult for people.”
Tuz says the Russians also tried to trick him into spreading false information about what was happening at the factory – but he resisted, angering its occupants. When he refused to cooperate, he said he was no longer allowed to do this job.
In mid-June, Enerhodar’s store shelves remained empty and pharmacies ran out of medicines. Tuz decided to leave Ukraine with his mother and embarked on a journey that would take him through Russian-occupied Crimea and into Russia, where he says he was repeatedly detained and suffered physical and torture. Tuz’s documents were also confiscated, he said, forcing him to stay in Russia even longer.
He and his mother would eventually reach Georgia. After that, the couple will eventually travel to Switzerland, where they live in safety, but without a job or a permanent home.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Details of the Tuz experiments in Russia could not be independently verified.
The day the factory was occupied
It was very scary. We didn’t know what to do next. Since the start of the war, most residents of Enerhodar believed that this town would be the safest place in Ukraine. We have common sense, no one could have imagined a nuclear plant under fire, or any place next to the power plant.
On work at the factory under Russian occupation
In the early days and months, the military was not allowed to go to workplaces or near personnel. But then the Russian soldiers began to make rounds and make their way to the workplaces of the Ukrainian General Staff. Armed Russian soldiers were everywhere and some people were kidnapped and forced to cooperate with Russia. Thus, the workers were under great psychological pressure.
When I was at the power station, the Russian military groups were uncoordinated. More than once, certain groups tried to shoot each other – and such cases were not so rare. I also saw a lot of military vehicles entering the power station; tanks and military vehicles were constantly moving. Sometimes they were next to power units. The staff didn’t know what to do, they had rounds to do, they had to check the equipment, but there was a tank right in front.
Fleeing through Crimea
On June 19, we left town around 5 am. There were 15 armed checkpoints where [the Russian military and Russian-backed Donetsk officials] looked at your documents on the way to the administrative border of Crimea. Along the way, we saw a lot of wheat coming out of Ukraine by the Russians and heavy artillery coming. We reached the border at 11 am, then I was taken to a filtration camp. They did not use physical force; they only tried to scare us. I was in the camp, surrounded by a chain-link fence, for six hours. I was released when they realized I was not a nationalist and had no connection with the army.
On his detention in Sochi
We were then stopped in the [Russian] town of Magri by the Russian Federal Security Service and I was interrogated again. They strip searched me for Ukrainian tattoos and also searched my car. Then I was brought to Sochi on June 21 by the Russian FSB and they accused me of having links with the Azov battalion. They detained me for three days. They physically abused and tortured me. Punched, kicked, handcuffed and burned me. They put a plastic bag over my head and tape over my eyes. I was only released after being forced to record a video with misinformation about the power plant, which was released in Russia. On the third day I was released, but they confiscated my papers, forcing me and my mother to stay in Russia for another 20 days.
Stay in touch with former colleagues
[The workers] are forced to stay at their place of work during the bombardments; they don’t have a normal work schedule. And a lot less people are available now, they don’t have backup in case someone gets sick. There are enough staff, but it is much more difficult for them to perform their duties. Those who stay and work to ensure nuclear safety under such pressure are true heroes.