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Focus: Information warfare at Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, confession of Ukrainians who were at the mercy | Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) – Andriy Taz, 32, was the deputy head of communications at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, and helped spread the word about the Russian military’s capture of the power plant.

Andriy Taz (pictured), who was the deputy head of public relations at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, played a role in spreading the fact that the Russian military took control of the nuclear power plant around the world. FILE PHOTO: Geneva, Switzerland, August 18, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

However, he is now in exile in a foreign country, has lost his job, and is suspected by Ukrainian intelligence to be a Russian collaborator, according to documents from the Ukrainian state-owned company Energoatom, which operates the nuclear power plant.

Why did Mr. Taz go from being praised as a Ukrainian patriot to being called a “traitor”? This is because he had contacts with Russian intelligence agencies when he evacuated from the nuclear power plant, and in a video released in June, Mr. Taz said, “It was not true that Russia shelled the nuclear power plant.” It’s because of what you said. However, Taz said he was forced to record it after being tortured by Russian intelligence officials.

The Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is on the front lines of the war between Russia and Ukraine. The nuclear power plant has been reported to have been damaged by external power cuts and other damage, and Mr. Taz is torn in the midst of a heated political propaganda war between the two countries that seeks to impose responsibility for the problem on the other side. .

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) believes Taz may have assisted the Russian military, according to an internal Energoatom document dated July 11, seen by Reuters.

The document also contained instructions for Taz’s dismissal. Reuters was unable to verify Taz’s claims that Russia tortured him into pro-Russian rhetoric.

The SBU told Reuters earlier this month that it had obtained a story about Mr Taz during an intelligence gathering operation on the ground, but did not provide further details, citing laws and regulations guaranteeing the confidentiality of such activities.

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He added that at this time, no criminal trial proceedings have been initiated against him.

The Russian intelligence service, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian president’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Russia has so far stressed that it is taking all possible measures to maintain the safe operation of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.

An Energoatom spokeswoman told Reuters that Taz was no longer an employee and asked the SBU to ask “whether or not he cooperated with the FSB.”

Taz told Reuters that he plans to appeal the dismissal in the future and hopes that Ukrainian authorities will recognize his innocence once they understand what happened to him.

Ukrainian workers continued to operate the plant even after Russian forces took control of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in early March. The Ukrainian government described it as effectively an action “at gunpoint”.

Shelling continues in and around the nuclear power plant, raising fears in the international community that another radiation catastrophe such as the Chernobyl disaster could occur again.

Last week, an expert from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the site and expressed the view that the nuclear plant had been extensively damaged and was in a state of non-viability.

Both Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the shelling. Eager to justify themselves through social media, government statements and other communication channels, both sides are lashing out at each other for committing “nuclear terrorism.”

Taz said he started working at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in 2012. He was appointed deputy public relations officer last year.

In early March of this year, when the Russian army approached, he regularly posted videos to the official Telegram accounts of Energoatom and Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant, and appeared on television.

In a series of videos posted on March 4, Taz, looking directly at the camera, commented, “Be careful, Russian firearms are firing at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.” In another video, he said a building containing a nuclear power plant was on fire, but gunfire prevented firefighters from approaching it.

On this very day, the Russian army took control of the nuclear power plant. Almost at the same time, he also took control of the city of Enerjodar, where most of the workers live. Taz’s video update stopped on the same day.

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In June, Mr. Taz left Enerhodar with his elderly mother and tried to travel to Georgia via Russia. This was because fleeing into areas controlled by Ukrainian forces required crossing dangerous front lines.

According to Mr. Taz and others, the car he was driving was stopped at a checkpoint in southern Russia on June 21. One person who witnessed the search of the vehicle by Russian police told Reuters there was indeed a driver and an elderly woman.

Police then handed Taz over to the FSB, who detained him and transported him to Sochi, about 90 kilometers away. There he was charged with rioting and ordered to pay a fine, according to a Reuters investigation. Mr Taz claims the FSB fabricated the crime to create a cover for his detention.

The Krasnodar Territory’s Criminal Police and Traffic Police Supervisory Authority, which includes the city of Sochi, did not respond to requests for comment.

After being transferred, Taz was tortured by investigators who put a plastic bag over his head, tied his wrists tightly, beat him, and burned his fingers with a lighter. So he was forced to say that he would do anything to stop the torture, and after being forced to answer several questions, he was forced to record a video denying that the Russian military had shelled nuclear power plants.

Looking back, Mr. Taz said, “I realized that no one could believe such a hoax.”

The next day, he was taken to a Sochi park and said to the camera, “I am on vacation in Sochi. The people here are very friendly and helpful.”

In addition, he corrected his remarks by saying that he now understands that the information he received in March that the Russian military had shelled the nuclear power plant was incorrect.

The Russia-friendly video went viral on social media in Russia, including YouTube, on June 23.

The FSB did not respond to Reuters questions about the circumstances of Taz’s detention and interrogation.

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Taz’s mother told Reuters her son looked “very worn out” when he was released and had blood on his shirt.

Taz was released on the night of June 22 after filming the video, but the FSB did not return his passport until July 8, so he could not move immediately.

During this time, one of the FSB officials who detained him, who identified himself as “Matvay,” maintained regular contact by cell phone, the people said.

When Reuters called the number given to him by Taz, he answered “Mr. Matvey” and did not deny that he worked for the Russian intelligence service.

He also admitted that he had met Taz and had traveled with his colleagues to Sochi because he had “interesting information”. However, he did not disclose the content of the information.

“Mr. Matvey” said he released Mr. Taz after receiving the information and denied torture. “Of course not. Why should I torture someone who came here for me?” he told Reuters.

After being tortured, Taz was also asked to provide the name of a prominent local Enerkhodar politician. I was proposed to do a job to deliver.

Reuters has traced the call to someone claiming to be Ilya Chermensky.

In response to inquiries from Reuters, Mr Chermensky said he worked for Putin’s government and called Mr Taz, but did not offer him a job. Chermensky said he knew nothing of Taz’s torture or the circumstances under which he had been placed.

Mr Taz and his mother finally entered Georgia on July 12th. On the way from there to Switzerland, Taz learned that he had been fired from Energoatom by one of his former colleagues.

Taz, who is now in the United States, told Reuters while in Switzerland that he refused to speak out despite threats from the FSB’s “Mr. Matvey” to poison him if the facts came to light. said decided. Because they didn’t want to allow Russia to continue to threaten them. “So, with all the dangers and fears, I’m trying to get my story out there,” he said.

When Reuters called back the number of “Mr. Matvey” with whom Reuters had previously spoken, the person answered that it was on a different number.

The FSB did not respond to questions about Taz’s allegations of intimidation.

(Reporters by Cecile Mantovani, Maria Tsvetkova, Christian Lowe)

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