Nikopol under attack: Residents flee fighting near Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

·2-min read

Every day, people gather in a wooded park just 30 kilometres from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and set up temporary shelters.

Some are from the southern Ukrainian city of Nikopol, situated down the river from Europe's biggest nuclear power station.

The campers have fled Nikopol to escape shelling, with many of them sleeping in tents or their cars. When the rumbling of artillery fire stops, they return to Nikopol to work or check if their homes are still in one piece.

Attacks on Nikopol – located just 10 kilometres from Zaporizhzhia – have intensified over the past couple of weeks, as Russia and Ukrainian continue to exchange deadly blows in their six-month conflict.

One of the residents who has made the trek is Maiia Chernysh, a 59-year-old mathematics professor. She spends the night in a tent with her husband before regularly heading back to the city to check on her home.

"So far, the house is intact, but whenever we leave [Nikopol], we are worried,” she said. “I'm praying to God ... because some people were left without their homes."

Chernysh added that Russian forces recently attacked the city during the day – a change from their usual nightly assaults -- which she described as "very scary."

Home to 115,000 people before the war, Nikopol and its surrounding area have become a flashpoint hot spot because of its location near Zaporizhzhia, which Russian forces have controlled since March.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently visited the site to help secure it. Several experts from the UN body have remained at the plant.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have accused each other of attempting to derail the visit, acussing one another of attacking the plant.

Another Nikpol resident, Olena Kovalova, blamed Russia for the shelling, which has damaged the nuclear plant and caused fires to break out in the past.

"We are not afraid of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, but ... the Russian soldiers, they are shelling it and accusing our soldiers of doing it,” she said. “But for Ukrainians, it doesn't make sense to shell it because Ukraine knows what Chornobyl was, and nobody would even have in mind to shell the Nuclear power plant.

“We are hoping that the Russian soldiers will be kicked out from there," Kovalova added.

Moscow has repeatedly rejected responsibility for the strikes on Zaporizhzhia.

More than 50% of Nikopol’s residents have fled the city, according to local authorities, with many of those who remain being forced to sleep in basements and shelters.