Enacting a ‘Miracle’ at a Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant
John Reuwer, a nuclear disarmament leader and veteran of unarmed civilian peace teams, lives in Maryland. He spoke with Sojourners’ Mitchell Atencio.
I WAS CONCERNED about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant because of my background in things nuclear. Europe’s largest nuclear plant was sitting in frontline combat. It has hundreds of times more nuclear material than Chernobyl. When I read about the International Atomic Energy Agency sending in unarmed inspectors, I thought, here are 14 guys risking their necks to save what could be tens of thousands of people if this plant goes up. Those guys probably have never heard of nonviolent action or unarmed protection — everything you do to keep yourself and others safe once you take violence off the table. The least we, who practice this stuff, could do is support them.
We took a trip to Marhanets, the town where the Zaporizhzhia workers live that’s taking a beating from shelling. They can’t fire back because of the nuclear power plant, and they’ll be the first irradiated. “We’re fully aware of that,” they said. “We hate it. We’re not sure what to do about it.” Then they told us what happened on the other side of the river in Enerhodar when the Russians tried to take the plant [in March 2022]. It’s one of the most amazing stories in nonviolence history. The people came out by the thousands and said, “This is Ukrainian territory, go away.” By the third day, religious leaders came out in full regalia, saying, “You can’t come in here.” They did this for six full days. The churches played a big part. When the Russians stopped confronting the people and attacked [Ukraine’s] National Guard directly, they took the plant in a few hours and several soldiers were killed. I asked them how many people they lost holding the Russians back unarmed for a week? “None.”
The Zaporizhzhia Protection Project now has more than 40 people from eight countries training to be on site. The people in Marhanets said the Russians would never allow us to bring unarmed protection to the plant. I said, “Do you mean it would take a miracle?” Yeah, they said. “Okay,” I said. “Have we had any other miracles?”