The mayor of Melitopol is alleged to have been abducted by Russian forces on March 11.
The mayor of an occupied Ukrainian city kidnapped by Russian forces last week has been released, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.
According to Kirilo Tymoshenko, an adviser to the President of Ukraine, the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, has been released from captivity in a “special operation”. Timoshenko did not elaborate.
Melitopol has been occupied since the first day of the Russian invasion. Ukrainian officials say Fedorov, who insisted the southeastern Ukrainian city would remain free and supported daily pro-Ukrainian protests, was abducted on March 11 after resisting occupation.
Fedorov disappeared after a large group of heavily armed Russian soldiers carried a bag over his head in Melitopol’s Victory Square in a CCTV video shared by Timoshenko in the Telegram. Russian-controlled separatists then announced that they were bringing charges against Fedorov for “aiding terrorism.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a video of himself in a telegram on Wednesday, saying he had spoken to Fedorov on the phone. The mayor thanked Zelensky and said he needed a few days to recover from his ordeal and would then be ready to comply with any order.
A smiling Zelensky said he was happy to talk to Fedorov and “we will not leave him behind.”
Zelensky mentioned the call in a national speech on Wednesday night.
“We have finally been able to free the mayor of Melitopol from captivity,” he said. “Ivan Fedorov is free. I spoke to him today. The Russian military kidnapped him on March 11, tried to persuade him to cooperate. But our man resisted. He did not give up. Just as we all endure.”
The president demanded Fedorov’s release in several video messages, calling it a “crime against democracy.”
“The actions of the Russian aggressors will be equated with the actions of the ISIS terrorists,” he said last week.
Following the alleged abduction, a pro-Russian administration appears to have been set up in Melitopol. A local lawmaker from a pro-Russian party gave a televised speech on Saturday, during which he said “a committee of elected officials” is now in charge of running the city. Lawmaker Galina Danilchenko called the protesters “extremists” and called on the public not to allow workers to “destabilize” the situation.
Russia’s riot police have been deployed in Melitcholo to prevent protests there.
Russian forces have reportedly abducted another mayor in an occupied town in the region. The mayor of Dnipropetrovsk, Yevgeny Matveyev, was abducted on Sunday, according to Alexander Staruk, head of the regional military administration.
Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian officials claimed that the third mayor of southern Ukraine – Alexander Yakovlev of Skadovsk – and his deputy Yuri Paliuk had been “kidnapped” by Russian forces.
“Russian invaders continue to kidnap democratically elected local leaders in Ukraine,” said Dmitry Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. Said on Twitter. “The state and international organizations must immediately demand that Russia release all abducted Ukrainian officials!”
Patrick Revel of ABC News contributed to this report.