The mayor of an occupied Ukrainian city allegedly kidnapped by Russian forces last week has been freed, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was freed from captivity in a “special operation,” according to Kirilo Timoshenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s presidential office. Timoshenko did not provide any further details.
Melitopol has been occupied since the first days of Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian officials said Fedorov, who had insisted that the southeastern Ukrainian city remain free and backed daily pro-Ukrainian protests, was kidnapped on March 11 after resisting takeover.
Fedorov disappeared after he was purportedly shown being led away with a bag over his head by a large group of heavily armed Russian soldiers in Melitopol’s Victory Square in a CCTV video shared by Timoshenko on Telegram. Russian-controlled separatists then announced they were bringing charges against Fedorov for “aiding terrorism.”CCTV footage appears to show Russian forces apprehending Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a video of himself on Telegram Wednesday reportedly talking on the phone with Fedorov. The mayor thanked Zelensky and said he needed a couple of days to recover from his ordeal and then would be ready to fulfill any orders.
A smiling Zelensky said he was very glad to speak with Fedorov and that “we don’t leave ours behind.”
Zelensky referenced the call during a national address Wednesday night.
“We have finally managed to release the mayor of Melitopol from captivity,” he said. “Ivan Fedorov is free. I talked to him today. The Russian military abducted him on March 11, trying to persuade him to collaborate. But our man withstood. He did not give up. Just as we all endure.”
The president had demanded the release of Fedorov in several video messages, calling it a “crime against democracy.”
“The actions of the Russian invaders will be equated with the actions of ISIS terrorists,” he said last week.
Following the alleged kidnapping, a pro-Russian administration appeared to have been installed in Melitopol. A local lawmaker from a pro-Russian party made a television address Saturday, during which she said a “committee of the chosen” is now taking over the running of the city. The lawmaker, Galina Danilchenko, called protesters “extremists” and urged people not to allow activists to “destabilize” the situation.
Russian riot police were also deployed in Melitopol to block protests there.
Russian forces allegedly kidnapped another mayor in an occupied city in the region. Dniprorudne Mayor Yevgeny Matveyev was kidnapped on Sunday, according to Oleksandr Starukh, head of the regional military administration.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ukrainian officials claimed a third southern Ukrainian mayor, Oleksandr Yakovlyev of Skadovsk and his deputy Yurii Palyukh were “abducted” by Russian forces.
“Russian invaders continue to abduct democratically elected local leaders in Ukraine,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, said on Twitter. “States & international organizations must demand Russia to immediately release all abducted Ukrainian officials!”