Zaporizhzhia: Pitched Battle at Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its ninth day Russian forces attacked Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. In a surreal turn of events the pitched battle for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was livestreamed as it happened.

The livestream from one of the power plant’s CCTV cameras went live at around midnight local time. It initially showed distant tracers and flashes of light suggesting the advancing Russian forces were engaged in-depth within the plant’s estate which has a long, mostly straight approaching the main office complex, control centre and the reactors themselves.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, located in the city of Enerhodar, is Ukraine’s most southerly nuclear site, 90km north of the occupied city of Melitopol and 180km east of the recently captured strategic city of Kherson. The plant provides around a fifth of Ukraine‚Äôs electricity. Reports throughout 3 March suggested that Russian forces had pushed aside Ukrainian civilian attempts to block the route to the plant. The plant sits in on a large open plain, terrain difficult to defend with limited resources.

Annotated satellite image of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant showing the location of the fire (via Google Maps)

Flares lit up the night as the fighting intensified and the camera picked up the Russian advanced guard. As Russian vehicles entered the area between a car park on the left and the office complex on the right an intense firefight began with Russian all arms and vehicle-mounted autocannons engaging targets inside the office complex on the right of the livestream’s frame.

This video, clipped by the plant’s youtube account, shows some of the fighting as it approached the plant

At around 2:35AM (EET) Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, called for a ceasefire in the area to allow firefighters to reach a fire that started during the fighting. At one point a convoy of flashing lights was seen in the distance further up the road but these appear to have been turned back by Russian forces.

Fire seen on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant livestream (Zaporizhzhia NPP)

Fire was exchanged for an extended period and Russian forces appear to have fired RPGs towards the buildings on the right of the livestream’s frame and towards the the building the CCTV camera was mounted on. During the course of the fighting the livestream camera showed the building within the office complex which caught fire.

Overt Defense geolocated the buildings which caught fire using satellite imagery. The building can be seen highlighted orange. It is reportedly a museum or training center.

At around 2:15AM (EET) the Russians made a fresh push to take the entrance to the plant using armored vehicles for cover. Two entry teams appear to have moved up to gain access to the building the camera was mounted on.

At 3:30AM (EET) the International Atomic Energy Agency stated that Ukraine’s nuclear energy regulator had reported no change in radiation levels at Zaporizhzhia. President Biden spoke with Ukraine’s President Zelensky who also posted a video message on social media calling for the fighting near the nuclear plant to end, condemning Russia’s actions calling them “nuclear terrorists”.

Fire seen on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant livestream (Zaporizhzhia NPP)

At around 4:15AM (EET) Ukrainian authorities reported that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was secure and the plant’s director said that “nuclear safety is now guaranteed”. The IAEA stated that the attack had not affected essential equipment and that plant personnel had taken “mitigatory actions” with some unconfirmed reports of initial reactor shutdowns. These reports were confirmed by US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm who said that the Zaporizhzhia’s “reactors are being safely shut down” late on Thursday evening.

The attack itself was in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention, the convention gives nuclear power infrastructure “special protection against attack”.

As of 4:30AM (EET) fire has reportedly been extinguished though it remains unconfirmed who controls the plant.

Overt Defense will update this article as events evolve. Follow our update feed for the latest on the conflict in Ukraine.