March 26, 2023


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Officials say kidnapped Ukrainian mayor freed in ‘special operation’

Officials say kidnapped Ukrainian mayor freed in 'special operation'

The mayor of Melitopol was allegedly kidnapped by Russian forces on March 11.

Ukrainian officials announced on Wednesday the release of the mayor of an occupied Ukrainian city allegedly kidnapped by Russian forces last week.

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was released from captivity in a “special operation”, according to Kirillo Tymoshenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office. Tymoshenko did not give any other details.

Melitopol has been occupied since the early days of the Russian invasion. Ukrainian officials said Fedorov, who insisted the city in southeastern Ukraine remains free and supports daily pro-Ukrainian protests, was kidnapped on March 11 after resisting its capture.

Fedorov disappeared after a large group of heavily armed Russian soldiers allegedly drove him with a bag over his head to Melitopol’s Victory Square in a CCTV video shared by Tymoshenko on Telegram. Then the Russian-controlled separatists announced that they were charging Fedorov with “aiding terrorism”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of himself on Telegram on Wednesday reportedly speaking on the phone with Fedorov. Mayor thanked Zelensky and said he needed two days to recover from his ordeal after which he would be ready to carry out any orders.

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Smiling Zelensky said that he was very happy to talk with Fedorov and that “we are not left behind.”

Zelensky referred to the call during a national address Wednesday night.

“We were finally able to free the mayor of Melitopol,” he said. “Ivan Fedorov is free. I spoke to him today. The Russian army kidnapped him on March 11th, trying to persuade him to cooperate. But our man withstood him. He did not give up. Just as we all endured.”

The president had demanded the release of Fedorov in several video messages, calling it a “crime against democracy.”

He said last week that “the actions of the Russian invaders will be compared to the actions of ISIS terrorists.”

After the alleged kidnapping, a pro-Russian administration appears to have been installed in Melitopol. A local lawmaker from a pro-Russian party gave a televised speech on Saturday in which she said a “committee of the chosen” was now in charge of running the city. Lawmaker Galina Danilchenko called the protesters “extremists” and urged people not to allow the activists to “destabilize” the situation.

Russian riot police have also been deployed to Melitopol to prevent protests there.

He claimed that Russian forces had kidnapped another mayor in an occupied city in the region. The mayor of Dniprorodin Yevgeny Matveev was kidnapped on Sunday, according to Oleksandr Staruch, head of the regional military administration.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ukrainian officials claimed that a third mayor of southern Ukraine – Oleksandr Yakovlev of Skadovsk – and his deputy, Yuri Balyukh, were “kidnapped” by Russian forces.

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“Russian invaders continue to kidnap the democratically elected local leaders of Ukraine,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister, He said on Twitter. “States and international organizations must demand that Russia immediately release all kidnapped Ukrainian officials!”

Patrick Revell of ABC News contributed to this report.