It is with the cadence of a machine gun and the embarrassment of a politician thrown into an oversized suit that Andrei Shevtchik delivers to the inhabitants of Enerhodar his video briefing of April 19. One minute and twenty-nine seconds to list in a monotonous tone the “results of our actions” since the capture of the city by Russian troops.
→ REPORT. In Yuzhnoukrainsk, life in the shadow of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant
Tax allowances for companies, distribution of medicines, as well as “Social assistance of the Russian Federation according to the program of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin” which will soon be able to benefit from pensioners, invalids and women with children, assures the man. This former local deputy of the pro-Russian opposition Platform-For Life party became, thanks to the Russian invasion, the face of a new administration acquired in Moscow.
“As if we were in prison”
Like a multitude of towns and villages in southern and eastern Ukraine, Enerhodar now lives in the era of Russian occupation. This locality of 50,000 inhabitants, which emerged from the ground in the 1970s, saw the Russian army seize the nuclear power plant in early March which, for forty years, has given the city its name (which literally means “the gift of energy”) as much as his reason for living.
A takeover by force – Russian fire inside this power plant, the largest in Europe, had raised fears of a nuclear accident – followed by an occupation already heavily felt by the inhabitants. “I feel like things are getting less and less clear every day, like we’re going to jail, like we’re ripping your old life out of you and forcing something else into it instead. », says Anna, a young student present in the city.
→ ANALYSIS. War in Ukraine: nuclear power plants, targets of the Russian army
This city on the banks of the Dnieper remains calm for the time being, while the Russian army could soon try to advance on the regional capital of Zaporijjia, 60 kilometers to the north. But under the unusual gloomy weather in one of the sunniest regions of Ukraine, the Russian presence has already transformed the lives of the inhabitants.
“The soldiers are in civilian clothes and walk around the city as if they were at home, laments Olga, who also remained in Enerhodar. There is a huge drug shortage, people are dying because they don’t have enough. » The plant continues to operate, under the close control of the Russian National Guard.
A mayor on the run, a missing deputy
It was only towards the end of March that Moscow really began to make its mark on this city ofatomchiki (nuclear workers), made up of wide avenues and imposing blocks of buildings. A Ukrainian flag lowered from the building of the local administration on March 21, and the creation six days later of a “public council of municipal self-organization” led by Andrei Shevtchik, a former engineer of the power station. An organization “without the slightest legitimacy”, then denounces on social networks Dmitri Orlov, the mayor elected in 2020. He had to flee the city; his first deputy disappeared on March 19 near a Russian army checkpoint.
In early April, Enerhodar found itself without internet for four days as war continued to rage in the region and a patriotic demonstration in the city center had just been violently suppressed by Russian troops. “It was really stressful, we couldn’t even communicate inside the city anymore”, recalls Anna. The explanation falls on April 8 on the Telegram channel “Enerhodar today”, which relays Russian propaganda in the city: “Some of you have already guessed that this cut was related to the demonstration (…) To prevent these problems from happening again, tell your family and friends not to attend these unauthorized events. »
“The unknown after”
Behind the intermittent passages of Russian combat vehicles on their way to the front and the patrols of a local security company hired by Moscow, Russia is already thinking of its long-term occupation. “There are reports that education staff may be forced to travel to Crimea this summer to learn Russian curricula, and that worries me terribly,” loose Anna, whose mother is a teacher.
200 kilometers down the Dnieper, Moscow is preparing a sham referendum in the city of Kherson to create a “people’s republic”, modeled on the models of the separatist groups that have controlled part of eastern Ukraine since 2014. .
By rejecting the Russian occupation or fearing violence, many locals have already left the city. Both Olga and Anna also want to leave. The first watches for information on evacuations, regularly announced, but rarely implemented. “There is no humanitarian corridor”, she explains. “There are fights in the direction of Zaporizhia”, worries Anna, who is also apprehensive “the unknown after”. “My town is quiet at the moment, no one is shooting, but what will happen when we leave here…no one knows. »