Russia sparks ‘mad panic’ as it orders evacuation of settlements

Moscow sparked a “mad panic” after it ordered the evacuation of 18 Russian settlements in the Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia. Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, claimed the call to leave the area provoked chaos and five-hour-long queues, as many took to the roads to abandon the region. The evacuation is also affecting Enerhodar, the city near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and home to many workers at the site and their families.

This has caught the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which since the invasion of Ukraine has kept a close eye on how the war is affecting the safety at the plant.

Rafael Grossi, the agency’s director, has warned the situation at the nuclear plant, one of the 10 biggest in the world, was “becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous”.

In a statement, the IAEA added that, “while operating staff remain at the site” there was “deep concern about the increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions for personnel and their families”.

The agency had previously issued warnings about safety at the plant as shelling and fights in the first days of the invasion had caused temporary power cuts.

And in March, the IAEA warned the plant was running on diesel generators to keep its vital cooling systems going after power lines had been damaged.

Civilians are being evacuated to the cities of Berdyansk and Prymorsk, further inside Russian-held territory, the Ukrainian general staff said on Sunday.

Two days prior, the Russian-installed regional head Yevgeny Balitsky said on social media that “in the past few days, the enemy has stepped up shelling of settlements close to the front line”.

Announcing the evacuation order, he continued: “I have therefore made a decision to evacuate first of all children and parents, elderly people, disabled people and hospital patients.”

The evacuation order came ahead of Kyiv’s much-anticipated spring counter-offensive, which will aim to regain the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russian troops in the first months of the invasion between February and March 2022.

Russia occupies much of the Zaporizhzhia region, but has never taken hold of its regional capital, Zaporizhzhia.

Mr Fedorov launched a blistering attack on Russia on the messaging service Telegram, claiming shops in the evacuated areas had run out of goods and medicines and that hospitals were discharging patients into the streets amid fears electricity and water supplies could be cut off if Ukraine launched an attack on the region.

He said: “The humanitarian catastrophe caused by the sick fantasy of the Rashists [‘Russian fascists’] is no less real.”

He also alleged the evacuation may be a ploy, as he claimed two-thirds of evacuation convoys reportedly made up of civilians actually consisted of retreating Russian troops.

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The exiled mayor added: “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.”

This comes days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the creation of a special tribunal with the aim of holding Russia to account for its “crime of aggression”.

During a visit to The Netherlands last week, Mr Zelensky told the International Criminal Court in The Hague: “We all want to see another Vladimir here in The Hague… One who deserves to be punished for his criminal acts in the capital of international law. I am sure that this will happen when we win. Whoever brings war must be judged.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest in March, after accusing the Russian President of war crimes. The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow, which doesn’t recognise the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

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