Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant engineer held and tortured by Russian invaders for over a year
Oleksiy Brazhnyk, an engineer responsible for safety at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant [ZNPP], was seized by the Russian invaders from his workplace on 21 September 2022, and is known to have been tortured by his captors. His daughter has told that she suspects that the Russians are refusing to release him and other abducted personnel because they can reveal how, for example, the invaders mined the nuclear power station.
ZNPP and Enerhodar, a city in Zaporizhzhia oblast created to build and service Europe’s largest nuclear power station, has been under Russian occupation since 3 March 2022. Brazhnyk and his family were among the huge number of residents of the city who, together with the Mayor and his deputy, came out in protest against the invasion. Viktoria Brazhnyk recalls that the Russians “were in shock that so many people were not happy to see them, did not greet them with flowers, but, on the contrary, that people came out with the flag of their country . None of the occupiers expected that.”
It was the evening after that demonstration of Ukrainian unity and that the Russians began attacking and seizing control of Enerhodar. The lads from Territorial Defence, Viktoria says, tried to show resistance but they were powerless against tanks and armoured vehicles. The Russians immediately seized administrative buildings and began their standard tactics, abducting, among others, the Deputy Mayor of Enerhodar Ivan Samoidiuk.
Viktoria herself was living and studying in Sumy but had come home to Enerhodar for her boyfriend’s birthday and was there when Russia began its full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022. The family left Enerhodar, however, after the Russians seized control. Brazhnyk himself remained behind, together with the many other Ukrainian employees of the plant, needed to ensure its safety even under Russian attack and occupation.
In early July 2022, Ukraine’s Enerhoatom reported that the Russians had tortured to death Andriy Honcharuk , a diver for the plant, after he refused to take part in their attempt to get the water emptied from the cooling system. By the middle of July, the Russians had abducted at least three Ukrainian employees of the plant, all people whose work was linked with safety. The Russians were demanding that the Ukrainian personnel sign new ‘contracts’ with the invaders. There were reports later, in Augus, for example, that the Russians were abducting staff and using torture and / or threats to ensure their silence during visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]. It is not clear how many personnel remain in Russian captivity, but given the pretence around Oleksiy Brazhnyk’s imprisonment, there may well be many (Viktoria Brazhnyk knows that, at least at first, her father was held in a cell with 6-7 other prisoners, and believes that the number of such hostages is high). The abductions are continuing, with , who is over 60, seized in July this year.
Brazhnyk had never concealed his pro-Ukrainian position and was clearly in danger. His daughter has said that he had been planning to leave on 22 September, however, was seized before he had the chance.
Brazhnyk had rung his wife at midday on 21 September and wished her a happy birthday. That was the last time they spoke with him. After he stopped answering his phone, his wife rang Oleksiy’s boss and learned that the invaders had taken him away from his workplace.
He was initially imprisoned in the police unit of the Enerhodar SIZO [remand prison], with the Russians at least admitting that they were holding him and allowing colleagues to bring him food, clothes, etc. At first he was able to send out notes, in which he assured his family that “everything is fine.” Soon, however, the Russians blocked any such communications, though did still allow food to be brought. Another hostage was released who confirmed that that he had been imprisoned with Brazhnyk in the same cell, and that the latter had received the food parcels. His wife asked this man if Brazhnyk had been beaten. The man suggested that the very question was strange. “Of course, he was beaten. Tortured and interrogated.”
On 10 February 2023, the friend who had been bringing food to the SIZO was told not to bother, that Brazhnyk had been taken away. Shortly after this, a Russian Telegram channel posted a video with Brazhnyk and a colleague of his, Roman Matviychuk. This was one of the standard propaganda videos that Russia began showing in the second half of 2022, with the men read out a ‘decision to deport them’ to government-controlled Ukraine. Viktoria says that they know of cases where hostages have been taken to Vasylivka, forced to dig trenches, but then ‘deported’, and hoped that her father and Matvicyhuk would arrive in Zaporizhzhia. Nothing has been heard of either man since then, and Brazhnyk’s family are, clearly, going through hell.
Viktoria says that the family fear that personnel of the nuclear power station have seen so much that the Russians view them as a threat. The personnel were there, she points out, when the Russians brought in a huge amount of technology (including weapons), and planted mines. All of this is horrifically dangerous on the territory of a nuclear power plant, and this may well explain why not one of the hostages abducted from the plant has been part of an exchange of prisoners.
Viktoria and her family hope that her voice will be heard and that Ukraine and IAEA can help ensure that her father and Russia’s other hostages from Enerhodar are finally freed.