- Fears mount of increased fighting around the contested Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
- The UN has said that “We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident.”
- An exiled Ukrainian official said that there were queues of up to five hours to escape.
An exodus from towns and settlements has begun as fears mount of fighting near a contested nuclear power plant in Ukraine, say officials.
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that is occupied by Russian troops was becoming critical.
“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment,” said a statement from the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi
Whilst the nuclear reactors are not currently producing energy, Grossi told the BBC’s Newshour program that the nuclear materials remain at the site and, therefore, still pose a high risk if fighting was to break out in or near the plant.
“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” Grossi said in a statement.
Grossi said evacuations were underway in the nearby town of Enerhodar, built for workers at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, Kyiv’s much-anticipated counteroffensive had sent people fleeing by the busload.
The Russian-installed governor of the Moscow-controlled part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region said on Friday that he had ordered the evacuation of villages close to the front line as shelling had intensified in the area in recent days, Reuters reported
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol — a city in the Zaporizhzhia region — said that there were queues of up to five hours to escape the towns around the nuclear power plant and had called it a “mad panic,” the BBC reports.
According to reports, roads across the occupied region were choked with vehicles as civilians headed south toward Crimea.
—Ukraine News 🇺🇦 (@Ukrainene) May 7, 2023
Grossi said the evacuation of residents suggests upcoming violence, saying, “When military authorities decide to evacuate people, it is because they have either information or plans about possible military operations.”
He said there is a “possibility” of an “outbreak of full-scale hostilities” near the nuclear plant, saying, “We have been worrying about this nuclear power plant for more than a year. Unfortunately, there is nothing indicating that this situation will improve.”
Grossi described having to walk through minefields to have to access the plant just weeks ago.