On one side of the Dnieper River is the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, visible in the haze. Six nuclear reactors and a cooling tower loom over a Soviet-built reservoir. On the opposite bank is Nikopol, a city in southern Ukraine known for its Cossack past and modern tube and metallurgical factories.
The distance between them is seven kilometres. Or, measured in rocket terms, about 15 seconds: the time it takes for a Grad missile fired by Russian soldiers ensconced in the atomic station to slam into Nikopol’s chestnut tree-lined boulevards. It is a small and terrifying interval between life and death.
The sprawling nuclear plant is Europe’s largest. In March, Russian forces seized it, as part of Vladimir Putin’s blitzkrieg operation to capture the whole of Ukraine. They rolled into the nearby city of Enerhodar and took the station’s local staff hostage. The plant is now on the frontline between Russian-occupied and Ukrainian-controlled territory.
In the first phase of the war Nikopol was peaceful, a place of safety for refugees from the eastern Donbas and other troubled regions. And then, on 12 July, Moscow began lobbing incendiary devices across the river. The Russians are using the nuclear station as cover. They have mined the complex. Multiple rocket launchers and tanks nestle among the reactors.
Even by Putin’s amoral standards, it is an astonishing act of recklessness. In his latest address on Friday, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, accused Russia of “unconcealed nuclear blackmail”. A “terrorist state”, it was threatening the “whole world” with armageddon. He urged the UN and international community to do something. [Continue reading…]