A picture taken during a visit to Enerhodar organised by the Russian Defence ministry shows a general view of the shallow Kakhovka reservoir near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, 15 June 2023. EFE/EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

NGOs call for sanctions against Russian company Rosatom for torture at Zaporizhzhia plant

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, 21 sep (EFE).- International sanctions against the Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom are long overdue, say Ukrainian NGOs after an investigation by Truth Hounds revealed the Russian nuclear giant’s involvement in torture and mistreatment of staff at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

Europe’s largest nuclear power station has remained under Russian occupation since March 4, 2022, when the invading forces captured it.

Although the station is still staffed by the Ukrainian personnel present at the time of the capture, it is now controlled by Rosatom and Russian troops and doesn’t generate any electricity for Ukrainian consumers.

“Truth Hounds,” a Kyiv-based organization that documents and investigates likely war crimes, spoke to 14 witnesses of the events unfolding at the station and established that the Russian forces have launched “a systematic, large-scale campaign of abductions, torture and murder of the station’s personnel and residents of Energodar.”

According to the report released earlier this week, the witnesses provided “clear, unambiguous descriptions of torture and other crimes” that, given their scale, could only happen “with the knowledge” of Rosatom, which would likely affect the station’s functioning.

The crimes include aggravated assaults and brutal beatings, strangulation, electrical torture, forcing victims to dig their graves, mock executions, threats of rape to victims and their families, and keeping detainees in overcrowded cells without food, water, or fresh air.

One victim claimed that employees “started disappearing” immediately after the station fell under Russian control. He was severely beaten for refusing to sign a contract with Rosatom, yet escaped from Energodar.

Before that, he was taken to a forest and forced to dig a grave for himself. Two men, who he believes were Russian Federal Security Service members, shot him near his head and threatened to shoot him in the knee.

Another employee responsible for nuclear safety at the plant reported torture for refusing to identify station staff members with “pro-Ukrainian views.” For several days, the victim was subjected to numerous beatings, strangulation, and electric shocks, falling unconscious several times before being released.

All in all, 30 victims have so far been identified. At least one, the station’s diver Andriy Honcharuk, died under torture.

The true scale of the crimes is hard to establish as Russians thoroughly search the mobile phones of Ukrainians at the station, Olga Kosharna, an independent Ukrainian nuclear expert who aided in the completion of the report, told EFE.

In many cases, “just a single photo of something remotely resembling a military facility” is enough to subject them to brutal torture, the investigators have found.

Such constant pressure decreases the ability of the personnel to perform their functions properly, increasing the risk of a nuclear accident, Kosharna underlined.

Although Rosatom employees are not usually directly involved in acts of torture, they are fully aware of it, the report argues.

“There is clear, verifiable evidence that Rosatom, as a state institution and through its employees, was and remains fully aware of the scale of this active torture network operating at the station,” its authors argue.

“Sanctioning Rosatom is long overdue and needs to be done,” underlined Dmytro Koval, legal director of Truth Hounds, at a Tuesday discussion held at Ukraine Media Center.

“Through torture or inhuman treatment, Rosatom is essentially violating international norms on the safety of nuclear facilities, failing to create proper working conditions for the personnel of the nuclear station,” he added.

Koval and his co-authors argue that any trust in Rosatom’s ability to act under international law has been lost. Despite this, the Russian state corporation is still involved in various projects in 54 countries.

Continuing cooperation with Rosatom while Ukrainians are being tortured in the basements around the station goes against “both law and morality,” the report underlines.

Its authors, therefore, call on the international community, states, governments, and businesses “to take active and effective measures to end impunity and bring Rosatom to justice.” EFE