Russian military trucks emblazoned with the ominous “Z” that has come to symbolize Vladimir Putin’s deadly intentions in Ukraine have been spotted right inside the turbine halls of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant Zaporizhzhia. But Russia—on Friday—dismissed calls to demilitarize the most dangerous nuclear power plant in Europe.
Pleas for help from Ukrainian workers held hostage inside the Russian-controlled plant are ominous. “What is happening is horrific and beyond common sense and morality,” they wrote on Telegram. Constant shelling ricochets off the reactors, causing untold damage, they say, warning that if the attacks don’t stop soon, “nuclear fuel will begin melting, resulting in a release of radioactive substances to the environment.”
The increased tension has sparked concern across the region, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warning that Russia’s refusal to demilitarize the plant could lead to a deadly outcome. “Military equipment and personnel should be withdrawn from the plant. Further deployment of forces or equipment to the site must be avoided. The area needs to be demilitarized,” Gutteres said after he met with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has accused Russia of triggering fighting in the area. Russia, instead, says Ukraine is shooting first. “We must tell it like it is—any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide.”
Images of the potentially apocalyptic choice to hide war machinery and ammunition inside the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant emerged on social media on Thursday. Several news organizations geolocated the image to confirm the location, which has sparked fears of a Chornobyl-style disaster over Europe as Putin desperately scrambles to keep his invasion on track.
Workers were told not to come to work on Friday, according to the Washington Post, ahead of what many fear is an impending disaster at the largest nuclear plant in Europe.
The plant has been operated by Ukrainians under Russian control since March. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the footage seen online “shows that weapons, especially heavy ones, are not placed on the territory of this station.”
Friday, the Washington Post reported that Russia intended a “large-scale terrorist attack” on the vulnerable plant, which is eight times the size of Chornobyl and would send a toxic cloud over much of Europe if it was damaged even minimally. Several experts told the BBC that the plant can “withstand extreme external events, both natural and man-made, such as an aircraft crash or explosions,” but no one ever envisioned a prolonged military attack.