Ukraine has made three attempts so far to free the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), which is currently occupied by Russian forces, the head of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence agency (GUR) has said.
Kyiv’s special operations teams carried out the operations to liberate the ZNPP, with the first taking place in August 2022, Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov told Ukrainian publication NV in an interview published Sunday.
The nuclear plant—Europe’s largest—has been under Russian control since early March 2022, just days after President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. It was one of the first sites to be seized by Russian forces.
Its six reactors are currently in shutdown mode, and its one remaining power line is supplying the electricity needed to prevent a reactor meltdown.
When the ZNPP was seized by Russian forces in March 2022, there was widespread concern about a potential nuclear catastrophe at the plant, which remained a target of shelling as Ukrainian and Russian forces clashed in the region. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other’s forces of shelling the plant.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace warned in September that international regulators were unable to adequately monitor the ZNPP.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry via email for comment.
In August 2022, GUR forces were forced to retreat during an attempt to create a bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnieper River that would pave the way toward the liberation of the ZNPP, Budanov said.
Special operations teams involving several hundred people tried twice more afterwards to free the nuclear plant, but failed, he said.
“But as the GUR gained experience in landing operations, so the Russians in the area became more and more prepared. And at the moment of the third landing operation, they deployed heavy military hardware, including tanks,” the intelligence head was cited as saying.
“The operation played another role: it provided practical skills for everyone—from the command staff to the fighters—how to operate on the water. This experience was very well applied and used later on. For example, during the landing in Crimea,” Budanov added, referring to Ukraine’s reported recent amphibious landing in the annexed peninsula of Crimea, where units of special operations forces attacked Russian troops.
An estimated 500 to 600 Russian troops are stationed at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in March that holding a nuclear power station “hostage” for more than a year was “surely the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of European or worldwide nuclear power.”
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