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PROFILE: Ukrainian union works throughout the war

20 December, 2022Collective agreements, sector stability, wage increases, and good social benefits are some of the rights that Ukrainian nuclear workers were enjoying before it all went up in smoke. 

Union Profile

From Global Worker

no 2 November 2022


Country: Ukraine

Union: Nuclear Power and Industry Workers of Ukraine     

Text: Nazmia Leite

A nine-month Russian occupation and the bombing of nuclear plants has led many workers to lose their jobs, or even their lives. IndustriALL affiliate, the Nuclear Power and Industry Workers of Ukraine, Atomprofsilka, has not without challenges still managed to serve its workers during this destructive time. In a conversation with the Ukrainian union president Valeriy Matov and international officer, Lesia Semeniaka, we are exposed to how the union has been operating during a war.

Nuclear workers are suffering. Over 200 workers have been kidnapped and many have been tortured to death. Russian soldiers have occupied nuclear plants and workers are under everlasting physical and psychological pressure. Before the war, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) had over 11,000 employees and now has less than 10,000 workers. 

“This Russian war takes so much from us, nine months ago we had a beautiful city. The power plants were constructed where energy workers lived. Families were able to live together, and children could go to school. Workers had good wages and they were able to support their families. That is all gone now,”

says Lesia.

Atomprofsilka continues to operate during the war. Depending on bombing threats and shelling, unionists either work in their office or staff will operate remotely, depending on electricity supply and internet service. The daily trade union work has shifted, and the first goal is to assist members who have been affected by the war. 

“Sometimes, we can connect with members in Kyiv via cellphones. Members struggle to give us information. We have been stripped of basic trade union rights, operating under martial law, which means we can’t strike,”

says Lesia.

The union has collected money from their wages to assist Ukrainian armed forces.

“We have used external aid to accommodate displaced people who are fleeing to Western regions of the Ukraine. A portion of the money is to help the army and provide medical treatment,” says Valeriy. 

The union has tried very hard to service its members during this calamity. “Weeks ago, we purchased clothing for 167 people, military and civilian prisoners, who were able to return from Russian captivity. We are providing accommodation for women with small children who had an opportunity to leave Enerhodar city. We have had so much support from our employees. They have volunteered their time, and the employees at the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant transferred three per cent of their monthly salary to assist,” says Valeriy.

The war is worsening by the day. In March, the ZNPP was captured by Russian forces. Station workers are not allowed to leave Enerhodar and the ZNPP. This nuclear plant is subcontracted to a Russian nuclear company and workers are pressurized to sign contracts with them. 

“Our people are under so much strain, they are scared. Enerhodar has no power, no heat. Winter is coming and many people will die. Problems are growing and there seems to be no end. Workers will be asked to retire early, salaries will be reduced, the lack of tax income will give the Ukrainian budget a huge knock. There is just no end,”

says Valeriy.

Solidarity is important during these times. People flee from war, lose their jobs and trade unions need to support their members. 

“We are so grateful for the financial assistance that IndustriALL and affiliates have provided. We are also appreciative that IndustriALL is supporting our demands to the international community to make a war free zone around ZNPP and liberate workers,” says Valeriy.

Atomprofsilka serves workers in the nuclear sector, in uranium production (Eastern Mining and Processing Complex, SkhidGZK), Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, workers in the national parks of Ukraine, public sector workers, and a small portion of health workers.  At the end of 2021 they had over 50,000 members, which includes pensioners, youth, and women. The daily bombings make it difficult to know the current membership. Many plants have been damaged and equipment destroyed. Rebuilding jobs and lives will take years.