Residents around Europe’s largest nuclear plant evacuated

The United Nation has raised serious concerns after residents near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant began to evacuate, saying the situation in Ukraine’s south-eastern region is “increasingly unpredictable”.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been under Moscow’s control since shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine, more than a year ago.

In recent days, residents of 18 settlements near the nuclear plant have been evacuated, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Ivan Fedorvov,  the Ukrainian mayor of one of the towns, Melitopol, said there were five-hour waits as thousands of cars left. He described the scene as “mad panic”.

“The partial evacuation they announced is going too fast, and there is a possibility that they may be preparing for provocations and [for that reason] focusing on civilians,” Mr Fedorov said.

Among the towns being evacuated is Enerhodar, where many residents work at Zaporizhzhia.

The evacuation, which was ordered by the Russian-installed acting governor, Yevgeny Balitsky, appears to be in anticipation of a potential counter-offensive from Ukrainian forces. 

“Over the past few days, the enemy has intensified shelling of settlements located in close proximity to the line of contact,” Mr Balitsky said, according to CNN.

He said children with their parents, the elderly, disabled and patients would be moved first, and added the evacuation was a “necessary measure”.

At the weekend, IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi issued a bleak statement, expressing concern for the “increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous” situation in the region.

I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant,” Mr Grossi said.

“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment.

“This major nuclear facility must be protected.”

Russian forces taking medical supplies in Zaporizhzhia

The IAEA is “closely monitoring” the situation in Zaporizhzhia and said operating staff remain at the plant.

Site director Yuri Chernichuk said operating staff were doing what they could to ensure the plant was secured and nuclear safety.

The plant is still loaded with nuclear material, although it is no longer producing electricity.

Experts with the IAEA report of hearing shelling regularly, including last Friday.

It has been reported by Reuters that about 1600 people have been evacuated from the area around Zaporizhzhia.

They have been placed in temporary accomodation in Russian-held territory. In the past, Ukraine has accused Russia of using evacuations to deport residents.

Most of the towns being evacuated are 50-60 kilometres from the war’s frontline.

According to the Institute of War, Zaporizhzhia Oblast occupation official Vladimir Rogov claimed the evacuations were voluntary and not forced,

However, local Ukrainian officials said Russian forces and occupation authorises were intentionally causing panic in the area and withholding humanitarian supplies and raising the price of food and essentials.

The Institute of War also reported that Russian authorities were removing medical equipment from hospitals in the area and discharging patients early, promising them medical treatment if they evacuated deeper into Russian-held territory.

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