In April, “unknown” drones attacked Zaporizhzhia NPP. The occupiers blamed Ukraine. The GUR says: this is the Russian school for the operators of the Arkhangel UAV training new crews

Oleksandr Myasishchev
Yuliana Skibitska, Kateryna Kobernyk
In April, “unknown” drones attacked Zaporizhzhia NPP. The occupiers blamed Ukraine. The GUR says: this is the Russian school for the operators of the Arkhangel UAV training new crews

Anastasiia Lysytsia / «Babel'»

In April 2024, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported: "unknown drones" attacked the Zaporizhzhia NPP at least three times. These are the first strikes on the station since November 2022, when the Russians shelled it and damaged some of the facilities. In the latest attacks, Russian propaganda blamed Ukraine and did so before the IAEA announced the shelling. Regarding the number of shellings, data from the agency and the occupiers also differ — three against five. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army gave its short official version: the Russians are planning another provocation "under a false flag" at the plant. Babel spoke with the head of the Nikopol district state administration Yevhen Yevtushenko, the representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Army (GUR) Colonel Andriy Chernyak, as well as its own sources in the GUR. They claim: Russians launch FPV drones from the ZNPP, and civilian objects located nearby suffer from the attacks. We tell what is happening around the plant.

The IAEA first reported the drone attack on April 7, and recorded two more on the 9th and 18th. These strikes did not cause significant damage to the ZNPP: on April 7, the drone damaged the surveillance and communication equipment, and the upper part of the dome of the sixth power unit burned. Drones also exploded near the personnel training center and near the oxygen and nitrogen production plant. According to the IAEA, the Russians fired from one of the drones from the roof of the sixth power unit. Later, this drone exploded near one of the reactor housings. The IAEA did not say who exactly attacked the station. Its general director, Rafael Grossi, only said that in recent months, more drones have been flying over the ZNPP and Energodar. Babel tried to clarify this information with the agency twice, but did not receive an answer to the request.

Two days before the first IAEA statement, the Russians accused Ukraine of the attacks. From April 5 to 18, they counted five attacks and called it "nuclear terrorism."

In fact, drones are launched by the Russians from the territory of the ZNPP, says GUR colonel Andriy Chernyak. They take advantage of the fact that in the one and a half kilometer zone around the ZNPP it is forbidden for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to return fire. The launch sites are located near the stationʼs sixth reactor and near the personnel training center, said an interlocutor at GUR, who asked not to be named. The territory of the ZNPP cooling pond is also used for this purpose. This site is convenient for several reasons. First, the cooler is located near the Dnipro River. To attack the Nikopol area, drones need to cover less than five kilometers. Second, there is a forest near the pond from where drone operators can operate without being noticed. And finally, at the end of February 2024, the Russians allowed the IAEA to inspect the perimeter of the cooling pool, but since November of last year, they have not allowed the agencyʼs employees to enter the isolation gates of the pool. Access was not restored after the drone explosions.

ZNPP cooling pool.

Since November 2023, the Russians have been systematically attacking the coast of Nikopol with drones .

"Very often, drones attack civilian houses or cars,” says Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of the Nikopol district state administration. “From 5 to 13 FPVs are launched every day to Nikopol. Each carries 2 kilograms of warhead with plastid and flechettes. Russia launches drones not only from the station, but also from Energodar and the villages of Vodyane and Kamyane."

Crews on the territory of the ZNPP are trained by the Russian school of UAV operators Archangel, which also produces FPV drones. According to the GUR, starting in the second half of 2022, this school will train Russian military personnel and "volunteers", who will later sign contracts with the Russian army. An interlocutor at the State Government says: two Arkhangel training bases operate in the village of Zaozerne near Yevpatoria in the occupied Crimea and in Melitopol, and Russia uses Energodar and the ZNPP as a safe site to train crews.

This "school" is financed and supervised by the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. The head of the occupation administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevhen Balytskyi, and Russian "volunteer" structures are helping the Russians. According to the GUR, the Russians began to use the ZNPP area for training and "testing" of FPV operators as early as the summer of 2023.

Some of the Russian drones in the area of the ZNPP are being neutralized by EW systems. FPVs lose control and fall — either on the territory of the station or into the Dnipro Reservoir.

The IAEA has repeatedly proposed to create a demilitarized zone at the ZNPP, Russia has publicly opposed it.

Russian occupier and self-proclaimed mayor of Energodar Andriy Shevchyk at the ZNPP.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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