Radiation: A danger that is unseen, yet overwhelms, is imminent. The inhabitants of this city overlooking the city know this well on the waters of the Dnieper, where the river widens into a lake and yet the Energodar nuclear power plant looms up and clearly visible on the other side, seven kilometers away. A Russian Grad missile fired from the power plant area takes 15 seconds to get to this way: how long before radiation? “It depends on the wind, we don’t know for sure: the only certain fact is that we always have plans for the evacuation of civilians,” explains Alona Muhina, 45-year-old manager of the city council of Nikopol. , who had been accompanied for nearly 5 hours to visit the damage done by the bombing. In the past three weeks, Nikopol has been hit more than 200 times, killing about ten, the more than thirty injured. “More than 40 percent of the 106,000 inhabitants are displaced. At night, those who stay on the upper floors go to the shelters, many choose to sleep in the car for the fields outside the urban area,” Muhina tells us. The Russian shots seem to have fallen haphazardly: in the apartments on the upper floors, on the Soviet monument to the soldiers of the WWII, at a supermarket.
Memory of the disaster
But to help us understand what the nuclear energy spectrum really means for the Ukrainian population, the conversation with Irina and Vladimir, a couple in their 70s we met during the course, was fundamental. Viktor Uzov in front of the ruins of a three-storey house bombed the previous night. “Of course we are afraid of the Grads. The Russians mainly bomb around midnight and between three and four in the morning. Every night we sleep in the basement as a preventive measure, the sirens always go off too late,” they say.
Yet they add the most interesting part of the reasoning, for them the specter of Enerhodar immediately brings back to the Chernobyl disaster 36 years ago and to the fundamental choices that today force them to renew their loyalty to the Ukrainian government, against the possibility of the muscular return of the Russian regime: “That Damn Night of April 26, 1986” the Soviet authorities were silent. The communist regime, which claimed to act in the name of the people, betrayed the people themselves. In Ukraine, only a few days after the reactor meltdown, and moreover from Western sources, we learned of the Chernobyl accident and its very serious consequences. Moscow hid, lied, as the radioactive cloud spread in the sky, polluted the water and fields, entered the hospitals, pressed our children. It was a terrible shock. The USSR also fell apart because of Chernobyl and today Putin would like to take back Ukraine, still accompanied by the spirit of another disaster in Enerhodar, which everyone claims is a much more powerful and therefore more dangerous power plant with its six reactors ».
Thus the uncertainties of the conflict add up to those of the possible nuclear disaster. The visit to Nikopol immediately leads to the heart of this difficult phase of the war, almost six months after its start. In fact, the power station was already quickly captured by Russian troops, advancing from Mariupol and the Crimea, during the battles of early March. Even then, the two sides complained about very serious allegations about the responsibilities of shots, cannon fire and missiles that could hit the reactors. And today, accompanied by renewed fears on the part of the international community, those accusations are becoming more serious than before with the unleashing of Ukraine’s counter-offensive aimed at retaking the Kherson region as far as the areas of Enerhodar and Melitopol.
Since late July, Kiev has accused Russian commanders of placing heavy weapons, including cannons, rocket launchers and Grad, that would “shield” themselves from reactors to fire with impunity at Nikopol and other riverside towns. “Moscow repeats its nuclear blackmail. We consider any Russian soldier who shoots at the factory or uses it to protect himself as a war criminal and he should know that our chosen units consider him a special target,” Volodymyr Zelensky himself thundered in recent hours.
Mykhailo Podolyak, the president’s personal adviser, adds to the dose by accusing the Russians of having already built the power stations and damaged the pipes carrying electricity to southern Ukraine. The Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom, sends the accusations back to the sender and replies that the Ukrainians would instead shoot at the plants to point the finger at Moscow. Meanwhile, calls for calm by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who wants to establish a demilitarized area around the factory, are futile, with the immediate dispatch of an International Atomic Energy Agency commission.