KYIV, Ukraine — The mayor of the town closest to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant says he hopes the Russian forces currently controlling the complex will withdraw, after an inspection by the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
Dmytro Orlov, mayor of Enerhodar, which is less than 3 km from Europe’s largest power plant, said Russian occupying forces were using the plant as a fortress and staging base to bomb residents local.
“I only hope that international experts will be able to assess and take appropriate decisions in order to protect the whole world from disaster,” he told NPR in an interview from the city of Zaporizhzhia. Orlov had to leave Enerhodar weeks ago for his safety, a spokesperson said.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency went there on Thursday to assess the safety and security of the complex, which has been under Russian occupation since early March. The inspectors, hosted by both Russia and Ukraine, arrived from Kyiv in just under a day, despite long delays and heavy shelling Thursday morning along the pre-approved route.
Ukrainian officials say Russian forces are responsible for the attacks on the road. Orlov says he can tell because “about 2 seconds” pass between hearing a mortar fire and the resulting explosion.
“Therefore, we understand that … the range of this weapon is approximately 1 to 2 kilometers from the location that was hit,” he told NPR. “This [where the sounds are originating from] is occupied territory.”
Orlov notes that residents of Primernoye and Ivanivka, two villages in the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia region, reported shelling from their villages. He also says that he saw bombardments coming from the nuclear power station; missiles that hit cities from Nikopol and Marganec on the other side of the Dnipro river.
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Meanwhile, Russia claims it is the Ukrainians who are bombing. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was working hard to facilitate the IAEA visit.
“We are doing everything to make sure that this station is safe, that it operates safely,” Lavrov said in Moscow on Thursday. “And for the mission there to carry out all its plans.”
Nuclear experts around the world have warned that a nuclear disaster is imminent if the Russians don’t maintain the factory properly and if the shelling in the area doesn’t stop.
Orlov calls the plant’s small team of Ukrainian workers “heroes” and says they are under immense physical and psychological pressure. Many of the factory’s employees are residents of his town – its pre-war population just over 53,000 – where Orlov says stores and the internet have stopped working and everyone lives in fear of constant shelling, or Russian troops and their armed allies walking around town.
“They steal people, steal cars, steal cell phones,” he says. “Anyone who openly – or not openly – expresses a pro-Ukrainian position is taken to the basement and tortured.”
the Ukrainian nuclear energy operator, Enerhoatom, says IAEA Director Rafael Mariano Grossi and most of his delegation left the Zaporizhzhia plant on Thursday evening Ukrainian time. He indicates that five representatives of the mission will remain on site until Saturday.
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Polina Lytvynova contributed to this report.