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Where is Zaporizhzhia? Why Russia is evacuating the Ukraine nuclear power plant town over attack fears

Russian forces have begun evacuating residents from Zaporizhzhia, the city that is home to a nuclear power plant of the same name in southern Ukraine, ahead of a widely anticipated counter-offensive from Kyiv.

Russian officials said they had started evacuating the nearby city of Enerhodar, where most of the plant’s workers live, on Friday, as international observers warned of an increasingly dangerous situation unfolding in the area.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said: “The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

“I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant. We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment.”

Here’s everything you need to know.

Where is Zaporizhzhia?

Zaporizhzhia, which had a pre-war population of around 700,000, is a city in south-eastern Ukraine bisected by the Dnieper river. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant – the largest of its kind in Europe – is located near the town of Enerhodar, not far from the Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Station.

The region is widely seen as a likely focus for Ukraine’s anticipated spring counter-offensive, a concerted attack that is expected soon following Moscow’s overnight missile and drone wave, which killed three civilians in Kyiv and damaged buildings in Donetsk.

Why are residents being evacuated?

On Friday, Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed governor of the partially-occupied Zaporizhzhia province, said that he had ordered the evacuation of civilians from 18 settlements in the area, including Enerhodar.

The settlements affected are between 30 to 40 miles from the front line of fighting between Ukraine and Russia, and Mr Balitsky said Ukraine has intensified attacks on the area in the past several days.

The Ukrainian general staff said on Sunday that the evacuation of Enerhodar has already begun, with those who took Russian citizenship following the capture of the town among the first to be moved.

Mr Grossi said staff who work at the nuclear power plant had not been evacuated as of Saturday but that most live in Enerhodar. He said that the situation has contributed to “increasingly tense, stressful and challenging conditions for personnel and their families”.

“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequence for the population and the environment,” Mr Grossi said.

“This major nuclear facility must be protected. I will continue to press for a commitment by all sides to achieve this vital objective.”

Residents are being taken to the Russia-occupied Azov Sea coast, about 120 miles (200km) to the south-east.

What do we know about the nuclear plant?

Russia began shelling the city of Zaporizhzhia soon after its invasion of Ukraine in February last year. By early March 2022, its troops had taken control of the nuclear power plant.

Ukrainian Energoatom staff have remained at the Russia-occupied plant, but say they are effectively being held at gunpoint as Moscow uses it as a military base. The area around the facility has seen regular fighting, raising fears of a possible nuclear incident.

The six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are currently all in shutdown mode.

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