Russia promotes engineer to head of seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

View shows Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant from the town of Nikopol
A view shows Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant from the town of Nikopol, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine November 7, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

Nov 30 (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday it had promoted the chief engineer of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to become its director, after Kyiv said the plant's previous boss was abducted by Russian authorities.

The nuclear power plant, Europe's biggest, has been occupied by Russian forces since March. It has not been producing electricity since September but is still run by its Ukrainian staff to keep it safe.

Moscow said in October it was putting the plant under the control of Russian nuclear authorities, a move the Ukrainian government says is illegal.

"The new director of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and first deputy general director of the Zaporizhzhia power plant operating company is Yuriy Chernichuk," said Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the CEO of Russian state energy organisation Rosenergoatom, according to Russian state Rossiya 24 TV.

Karchaa praised Chernichuk as a "courageous" successor.

Chernichuk could not be reached for comment.

Ukraine says the plant's previous chief, Ihor Murashov, was abducted by Russian forces on his way from the plant in October.

Murashov was later released after Russian state television broadcast a video in which he was shown confessing to "communicating with Ukrainian intelligence". The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Murashov was subsequently allowed to join his family in Ukrainian government-controlled territory.

Shortly after Murashov left, Ukraine's state-run nuclear power operator Energoatom said that its chief Petro Kotin was taking charge of the power station, urging workers there not to sign any documents with its Russian occupiers.

Energoatom did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Moscow's announcement of a new director.

Ukraine's military said on Monday that Moscow had banned Ukrainian technicians who refused to sign contracts with Russia's atomic energy firm from entering the plant.

Ukraine's Energoatom said in May that Russia had forbidden Chernichuk from leaving the city of Enerhodar, where the plant is based, holding him and other staff as "hostages".

The six-reactor plant has since come under repeated shelling, drawing condemnation from the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which has called for a safety zone around it, a proposal so far resisted by Moscow.

Russia and Ukraine each blame the other for the shelling at the plant, located on a Russian-held bank of the Dnipro River across from Ukrainian-held territory. Kyiv also accuses Moscow of hiding military equipment at the plant, which Russia denies.

Reporting by Reuters Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.