EXCLUSIVE: Ukrainian staff operating the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) knew Russian forces were responsible for attacks on the plant after Moscow’s Rosatom technicians were evacuated ahead of time, one former worker told Fox News Digital.
Russia has occupied the plant since March along with a “limited number” of experts from Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy agency Rosatom, according to a March 12 update by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a Ukrainian worker formally employed at the nuclear power station for more than 15 years said that on Aug. 11, he witnessed what he described as proof Russian forces were behind the attacks on the power station.
“During this shelling, nobody from the Russian military went to a safer place or were even concerned with what was happening. All of them knew these were planned actions,” he said. “The day before the shelling, all the Rosatom personnel were transported from the power plant.”
The missile strike hit a nitrogen-oxygen station, which set the area ablaze and injured at least one ZNPP staff member.
The Russian envoy to the United Nations called a meeting of the U.N. Security Council the same day to discuss the security situation at ZNPP, placing the blame on Ukraine.
Kyiv and Washington officials have rejected Russia’s claims as “disinformation” and have called on Moscow to completely withdraw from the plant, which it has occupied since March 3.
The former ZNPP employee, who has since fled the area with his family, described impossible conditions in which the staff continue to operate under.
Russian forces stationed at the plant have asserted aggressive dominance over the power station, though Ukrainian technicians continue to operate the plant and ensure it security.
“It is exceptionally psychologically challenging,” he said.
“They started to look closely at our things and possessions,” he added, describing how their bodies were checked for tattoos upon returning to work on March 7.
The plant’s workers have been barred from carrying cellphones while at the power station, and the 15-year veteran said the policy was mentally debilitating as workers fear for their families while Russian forces shell towns near the plant.
The threat of physical abuse also plays an active role in their daily shift.
The former ZNPP worker described how Russian soldiers would physically and verbally assault plant workers, once threatening to shoot one of his colleagues in the knees after he responded to soldiers pushing people out of the way in the plant’s canteen.
“We understood that we could expect any kind of harmful actions and provocation,” he said. “Whenever you went off to work, you didn’t know what to expect – constantly wondering whether you would return home.”
The plant worker verified recent reports that Ukrainian technicians have been tortured in the basement of the Zaporizhzhia plant and said he personally knew two colleagues this had happened to.
“One of my co-workers was in captivity in the basement for 10 days just because he made a patriotic post on Facebook,” he said. “They tortured him, so he would publicly say in a video that he was paid to make such a patriotic post on Facebook and that he supports a Russian special military operation.”
He said his other colleague has been in the basement for over a month.
“We don’t know anything about his well-being or health. There were rumors that the Russians accused him of being a Ukrainian spotter,” he continued, adding that he did not believe his colleague was spying for the Ukrainian military. “He is just an ordinary man.”
The former plant worker said that while there are major external security concerns facing the plant as Russia continues to occupy it, one of his chief concerns is human error as plant’s technicians become increasingly exhausted.
“Any little mistake by operating personnel [will have] consequences,” he warned.
The IAEA said Wednesday it was headed to the nuclear plant in a mission to better secure it against the ongoing threat.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters he plans on speaking with Ukrainian personnel operating the nuclear station.