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When Russian troops started shelling nearby towns from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant where she worked in southeastern Ukraine, Elena decided it was time to escape.
She had kept working at the Zaporizhzhia complex for months after it was stormed by the Russians in March, among hundreds of Ukrainian workers effectively kept hostage to enable the power station — the largest nuclear power plant in Europe — to keep running.
But eventually, the constant explosions and fears for her young son’s life made her take the risk to leave.
“It’s scary,” Elena told CNN. “Everything explodes there.”
CNN agreed to use only Elena’s first name out of respect for her safety concerns.
The Ukrainians have accused the Russian troops of using the plant as a shield, and risking serious damage or a potential disaster at the plant. In response, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed Ukrainian forces are shelling the plant.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during an address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Russia had “put the world on the brink of radiation catastrophe” by turning the plant into a “war zone,” and called for demilitarization of the plant.
“At night (the Russians) are firing somewhere behind the reservoir,” Elena said. “There are many, many explosions at the same time, like big cars firing.”
Worker exodus: Fears about the consequences of the actions of Russian troops around the plant have hastened an exodus of workers.
“For the last two weeks, there has been a crazy outflow of staff,” said Daria, an employee who is still working at the nuclear plant. CNN agreed not to use her real name in light of her safety concerns. “We have people leaving en masse, dozens of them, in packs.”
Elena said employees at the plant are terrified of the Russian troops based there, as they walk around with machine guns and, at night, often “get drunk and shoot in the air.”
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