The first sign of danger came when the dwindling team of Ukrainian technicians running the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant noticed that officials from Russia's state atomic energy company had left the facility without explanation. It was August 5 and Russian soldiers were patrolling the facility.
Then, at 2:40 p.m., explosions rocked an electrical panel, causing the shutdown of one of only two remaining power lines running from the plant to southern Ukraine, according to plant workers. Outside, smoke billowed from a crater a few hundred meters from a substation; inside, technicians scrambled to check backup diesel generators that would be needed to cool nuclear fuel at risk of overheating in the event of an accident.
It was not an errant bombing that could have caused a nuclear disaster, but deliberate sabotage in Russia's broader aim: to leave much of Ukrainian territory without power by cutting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant's connecting lines, according to Ukrainian leaders, international nuclear experts and plant staff.
"What Russia is dealing with is the equivalent of annexation via utilities," said Suriya Jayanti, former head of energy at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
He added that expropriating such a large supply of cheap and reliable power would ripple through energy markets, leaving Ukraine dependent on the European Union, where electricity prices hit record highs last week. "Russia stealing a nuclear power plant is a problem for Europe," he said.