Concerns grow over Ukraine nuke plant amid evacuations

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Anxiety about the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant grew Sunday after the Moscow-installed governor of the Ukrainian region where it is located ordered civilian evacuations, including from the city where most plant workers live.

Rafael Grossi, the Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, has been trying to convince Russian and Ukrainian officials for months to create a safety zone around Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. This is to prevent radiation leaks from war-related incidents.

The evacuations ordered by the Russia-backed governor of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province, Yegeny Balitsky, raised fears that fighting in the area would intensify. Balitsky, the Russian-backed governor of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province, ordered Friday that civilians leave 18 Russian occupied communities, which includes Enerhodar and home to most plant staff.

Balitsky reported that as of Sunday, more than 1,500 people were evacuated from the two cities. The Ukrainian General Staff confirmed that the evacuation of Enerhodar is underway.

Moscow’s troops seized the plant soon after invading Ukraine last year, but Ukrainian employees have continued to run it during the occupation, at times under extreme duress.

Ukraine has fired regularly at the Russians, and Russia has shelled Ukrainian communities on the other side of the Dnieper River. As Ukraine prepares for a long-promised anti-Russian offensive, the fighting has intensified.

Ukrainian authorities reported that on Sunday, a 72-year old woman died and three others were injured after Russian forces fired 30 or more shells in the direction of Nikopol. This is about 6 miles (10 kilometers) away from the power plant.

Grossi stated that the evacuation of civilians indicated a new escalation.

“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” Grossi warned Saturday.

“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,” he said.

Although none of the plant’s six reactors are operating because of the war, the station needs a reliable power supply for cooling systems essential to preventing a potentially catastrophic radiation disaster.

Analysts have for months pointed to the southern Zaporizhzhia region as one of the possible targets of Ukraine’s expected spring counteroffensive, speculating that Kyiv’s forces might try to choke off Russia’s “land corridor” to the Crimean Peninsula and split Russian forces in two by pressing on to the Azov Sea coast.

Balitsky said Ukraine’s forces had intensified attacks on the area in the past several days.

The fiercest fighting has been going on in Bakhmut. Despite Russia’s attempts to seize the city over the past nine months, Ukrainian forces have managed to hold onto a position at the western edge of the city.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that Moscow’s forces had captured two more districts in the city’s west and northwest, but provided no further details.

Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces on Saturday accused Russia of using phosphorus in the city and on Sunday released a new video showing the telltale white fire from such munitions.

International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus or other incendiary weapons — munitions designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries — in areas where there could be concentrations of civilians, though it can also be used for illumination or to create smoke screens.

It wasn’t possible to independently verify where the video was shot or when, but chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British army colonel, said it was clearly white phosphorus.

“This is being fired directly at Ukraine positions and this would be a war crime,” he said.

“I expect because the Russians have failed to take Bakmut conventionally, they are now using unconventional tactics to burn the Ukrainian soldiers to death or to get them to flee.”

Russian forces haven’t commented on the claim, but have rejected previous accusations from Ukraine that they had used phosphorus munitions.

In the south, an aide to the exiled Ukrainian mayor of the Russia-occupied coastal city of Mariupol said in a Telegram post Sunday that there was evidence that Moscow’s forces had intensified their transfer of tracked vehicles through the city and into Zaporizhzhia province.

Petro Andryushchenko claimed that more and more vehicles were being spotted crossing Mariupol “every day.”

He posted a brief video that showed heavy trucks transporting armored cars along an expressway. However, he did not specify where or when the footage was taken.

In Enerhodar, the first residents evacuated were those who took Russian citizenship following the capture of the city by Moscow early in the war, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said.

The General Staff posted on Facebook that the prisoners were being transported to the Russian-occupied Azov sea coast, located about 200 km (120 miles), to the southeast. Mariupol, is situated there.

Grossi said Zaporizhzhia plant’s core operating staff hadn’t been evacuated as of Saturday but that most live in Enerhodar and the situation has contributed to “increasingly tense, stressful and challenging conditions for personnel and their families.”

He added that IAEA experts at the nuclear site “are continuing to hear shelling on a regular basis.”

Elsewhere, Russian shelling on Saturday and overnight killed six civilians and wounded four others in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, according to a Telegram update published Sunday by the local administration.

Five civilians have been injured in eastern Donetsk, epicenter of fighting in the last few months, according to the local governor. Pavlo Kyrylenko announced the news on Sunday.

A local official installed by the Kremlin on Telegram said early Sunday that Ukrainian forces attacked overnight with drones the largest port of Russia-occupied Crimea.

Mikhail Razvozhayev posted on his Facebook page that 10 Ukrainian drones had targeted Sevastopol. Of these, three were shot down using air defense systems. Razvozhayev stated that there was no harm.


Joanna Kozlowska from London contributed to the story.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at

Previous post See Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and More Perform at King Charles III’s Coronation Concert
Next post Stats for each pick