Russian Federation (RF) troops quartered in homes and apartments adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are departing the area in vehicles loaded with loot, a Thursday, Oct. 20 statement by Ukraine’s national atomic energy agency Enerhoatom has said.

Images and social media accounts from the city of Enerhodar, which is adjacent to the six-reactor plant, showed Russian army trucks and private vehicles with Ukrainian license plates carrying televisions, refrigerators and carpets.

The local Skifskiy Hotel, normally a residence for transient workers at the plant, was “completely looted”, the statement added Enerhodar social media chat groups said the RF soldiers were withdrawing as part of a Kremlin plan to consolidate forces in the southern sector of the Ukraine war.

It was not clear whether RF troops were still on the territory of the plant itself. RF forces captured the Zaporizhzhia plant in early March. Since then units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have traded artillery fire with RF forces in the vicinity.

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According to independent Ukrainian news reports the most recently reported shell strike, shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Oct. 19, hit warehouses and RF defensive positions in the suburbs of Enerhodar. Video footage showed that the artillery attack also smashed the roof of an office building. Damage to single-family homes in one of the city’s residential districts was reported, but no casualties. A Ukraine Army General Staff (AGS) statement said the office building strike was by RF artillery.

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The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is the second-largest atomic energy facility in Europe and a critical source of electricity in Ukraine’s heavily-industrial south Dnipro River watershed. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking a major nuclear power accident by shooting artillery at targets in and around the facility.

Russia’s national atomic power agency Rosatom has attempted to take over the plant’s management but with limited success due to insufficient staff. According to Enerhoatom and Ukrainian human rights watch groups, RF officials forced some staff to sign loyalty statements to the Kremlin. The plant was knocked offline on Sep. 5 by shelling.

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The news that RF forces were pulling out of housing servicing the Zaporizhzhia plant came in the wake of a Wednesday, Oct. 19 announcement by occupation authority officials of plans to evacuate 50-60,000 civilians from the city of Kherson and surrounding villages, because of a purportedly impending AFU offensive, and probable urban warfare.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a Wednesday, Oct. 19 situation estimate that Russian authorities are likely considering more retreats in the southern Kherson-Zaporizhzhia sectors, possibly as dramatic as “a full Russian retreat across the Dnipro River, which would cede Kherson City and other significant territory in Kherson Oblast to advancing Ukrainian troops.”

Russia-supported information platforms like Readovka and Stashie Eddy argue the Kremlin’s strategy is to clear civilians out of Kherson, consolidate forces, and then cut the Ukrainian army to pieces as it attacks prepared RF defenses in and around the city. Current RF reductions in force from positions outlying Kherson, like Enerhodar, are part of that plan, Kremlin-controlled media outlets have said.

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Independent analysts have generally disagreed, pointing to systematic AFU demolition of bridge links across the Dnipro River, using primarily US-provided HIMARS precision strike missiles. RF units on the right bank of the river in positions around Kherson are close to completely cut off from supply and dependent on river ferries and pontoon bridging with limited carrying capacity and little defense against future AFU attacks, a Wednesday, Oct. 19 situation estimate by British military intelligence said.

“Russian authorities are seriously considering the option of withdrawing troops from the Kherson region,” the Ministry of Defence statement said in part.

The AGS stated in its Thursday, Oct. 20 situation report that RF forces were “fully on the defensive” in the Zaporizhzhia sector. “There is a high probability that the invaders will fire on the civilian population of Kherson Region,” the statement said in part.

According to social media, AFU units are pressing RF forces in the southern Zaporizhzhia and Kherson sectors, but Ukraine’s military leadership, citing operational security, has not confirmed the reports.

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