According to a Ukrainian official, Russia has caused a “mad panic” as it evacuates a town close to the contentious Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility. In its “panic”, Russia has already ordered residents in the Zaporizhzhia and 18 of its surrounding area to evacuate, including Enerhodar close to the plant.
Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Ukraine’s city of Melitopol, claimed that there were five-hour queues as tens of thousands of vehicles left.
A “severe nuclear accident” was possible, the UN’s nuclear watchdog warned.
Rafael Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stated in an interview with the BBC’s Newshour programme that the evacuation of nearby civilians was a sign that there would be fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces close to the nuclear plant. However, he also urged both the warring parties to prevent clashes near the Zaporizhzhia plant as according to him, which could be “the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences”.
The plant’s reactors were still stocked with radioactive material, he claimed, even though they weren’t producing electricity. When he visited the plant a few weeks ago, Grossi noted that he had to cross a minefield.
IAEA expresses “deep concern”
The IAEA in a statement described the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant as “already becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous”. There was “deep concern” about the “increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions for personnel and their families” despite the fact that operating staff was still on site.
The majority of the plant’s employees live in the nearby town of Enerhodar, and it was reported that IAEA experts there had “received information that the announced evacuation of residents from Enerhodar has started.”
Yevgeny Balitsky, Russia-backed governor of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province stated that over 1,600 people, including more than 600 children had been evacuated until Sunday. Last Friday, Balitsky said that “in the past few days, the enemy has stepped up shelling of settlements close to the front line.” Announcing on social media, he said, “I have therefore made a decision to evacuate first of all children and parents, elderly people, disabled people and hospital patients.”
However, Ukraine claimed that Russian forces killed a woman and wounded three others in shelling, 30 times, at Nikopol city, around 10 kilometres from the plant, on Sunday. The same day the general staff of Ukraine alleged that civilians were being taken to the cities of Berdyansk and Prymorsk, in the deeper interiors of Russian-held territory.
The plant was taken over by Russia’s forces soon after they invaded Ukraine last year, but Ukrainian workers have continued to run it throughout the occupation.