A Ukrainian official said Russia caused “crazy panic” by evacuating a town near the disputed Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Russia asked residents to leave 18 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region, including Enerhodar near the plant, ahead of the expected Kiev attack.
The mayor of Ukraine’s Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, said there was a five-hour wait as thousands of cars left.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog warned a “serious nuclear accident” could happen.
Speaking on the BBC’s Newshour programme, Rafael Grossi – Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – said the evacuation of residents near the nuclear plant showed the possibility of fierce fighting between the nuclear plants. Russian and Ukrainian forces around the plant.
He said that although the plant’s reactors do not produce electricity, they are still loaded with nuclear fuel.
Mr. Grossi added that he had to go through a minefield while visiting the factory a few weeks ago.
Earlier, the IAEA warned in a statement that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant “has become increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous”.
Executives remain at the site but are “deeply concerned about the increasingly stressful, stressful and challenging conditions for employees and their families”.
It said IAEA experts at the plant had “received information that the announced evacuation of residents from the nearby town of Enerhodar – where most of the plant staff live – has begun”.
On Friday, the head of the Russian-appointed region Yevgeny Balitsky said that “in the past few days, the enemy has intensified shelling on settlements near the front lines”.
“So I made the decision to evacuate children and parents first, the elderly, the disabled and the patients in the hospital,” he wrote on social media. .
The IAEA had previously issued a safety warning at the plant – which Russia captured in the early days of the invasion last year – after shelling caused temporary power cuts.
In March, the IAEA warned the plant was running on diesel generators to keep vital cooling systems running, after power lines were damaged.
The IAEA said that since Russia launched the invasion in February 2022, the number of staff at the plant has decreased, “but site management has stated that they are still sufficient to operate the plant safely.” .
Russian forces occupy most of the Zaporizhzhia region but not the regional capital Zaporizhzhia, located just northeast of Enerhodar across the Dnipro reservoir.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian general staff said civilians were being evacuated to the cities of Berdyansk and Prymorsk, deeper inside Russian-controlled territory.
The exiled mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, wrote on Telegram that the shops in the evacuation area had run out of goods and medicine.
He also said hospitals were flushing patients into the streets amid fears electricity and water supplies could be cut off if Ukraine attacks the region.
And he claimed that two-thirds of the evacuation convoy – believed to be civilians – consisted of retreating Russian troops. The BBC was unable to verify this claim.
“The partial evacuation that they claim happened too quickly and it is likely that they are preparing for provocation and (for that reason) focus on civilians,” Fedorov added.