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Ivan Fedorov: why Russia is ‘kidnapping’ Ukraine mayors after Melitopol and Dniprorudne officials ‘abducted’

Vladimir Putin’s forces are said to have abducted two Ukrainian officials. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky described it as ‘a new stage of terror’ in Russia’s invasion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now in its third week, with Vladimir Putin’s army believed to be regrouping ahead of a renewed assault.

The government of President Volodymyr Zelensky remains intact in Kyiv, although Russian ground forces - including elements of a massive military convoy - are attempting to encircle the city.

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Russia is still yet to capture most major Ukrainian towns and cities - but what life under its control could look like appeared to emerge from the occupied city of Melitopol on Friday (11 March).

Ukraine claims Russian troops there have kidnapped key city official Ivan Fedorov.

Another mayor - Yevhen Matveyev from the southern city of Dniprorudne - has also reportedly been abducted.

So what exactly has happened - and why could Russia be doing ‘kidnapping’ politicians?

Melitopol is a city of around 150,000 people that sits close to the Black Sea coast (image: Getty Images)

Who is Ivan Fedorov?

Ivan Fedorov is the mayor of Melitopol - a southern Ukrainian port city with a population of around 150,000 people.

Melitopol was one of the first Ukrainian cities to come under Russian control - falling on the second day of the invasion (26 February) due to its proximity to Russian-annexed Crimea.

Mr Fedorov continued to give updates on the Russian occupation after his city’s fall and led several rallies against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Protests are reported to have taken place in the city every day since its occupation, with a protest on Saturday (12 March) seeing hundreds of demonstrators demanding the mayor’s release.

The Ukrayinska Pravda news website reported on 5 March that Mr Fedorov had said the situation in his city was becoming “difficult” as food and medicine supplies were running short.

He also said Melitopol authorities had asked the Russian military to open a humanitarian corridor to let residents leave, but that this request had been denied.

The BBC interviewed Mr Fedorov on Wednesday (9 March) - a day before his apparent abduction.

He told the news organisation: “We are not co-operating with the Russians in any way."

Has Ivan Fedorov been kidnapped?

On Friday, the Ukrainian government claimed Ivan Fedorov had been abducted by Russian troops on Thursday (10 March).

He has since been replaced by a new mayor - Galina Danilchenko - who appears to be a Russian puppet.

She appeared on local TV to urge Melitopol’s citizens to not take part in "extremist actions", introduced a curfew and banned protests.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s parliament tweeted that a group of 10 Russian soldiers had entered Melitopol’s crisis centre, put a bag over Mr Fedorov’s head and took him to an unknown location.

Footage posted on social media site Telegram by Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, appeared to show Mr Fedorov being escorted across a square in the city centre.

The footage and account of the ‘kidnapping’ has not been verified and Moscow has not made a comment on Mr Fedorov.

However, the prosecutor’s office of the Luhansk People’s Republic - a Moscow-backed region of eastern Ukraine that has been under the control of separatists since 2014 - has accused Mr Fedorov of "terrorist activities".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the apparent kidnapping.

“This is obviously a sign of weakness of the invaders,” he said. “They have moved to a new stage of terror in which they are trying to physically eliminate representatives of legitimate local Ukrainian authorities.”

The Ukraine foreign ministry said Mr Fedorov’s ‘abduction’ should be considered as a war crime as it is prohibited under international law to take civilians hostage during a conflict.

Second Ukrainian mayor ‘abducted’

On Sunday (13 March), another Ukrainian mayor was reported to have been abducted.

Yevhen Matveyev from the southern city of Dniprorudne is the latest politician to have been ‘kidnapped’, according to Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

No further details have yet emerged about this latest ‘abduction’.

Why could Russia be ‘kidnapping’ Ukrainian politicians?

As Mr Kuleba suggested in his tweet, Russia could be abducting politicians in a bid to remove the mouthpieces of anti-Russian sentiment in occupied Ukraine.

Reports and footage from Russian held towns and cities have suggested the arrival of Vladimir Putin’s forces has been unpopular amongst many Ukrainians.

One of Putin’s key stated motivations in invading Ukraine was that it wanted to liberate Ukraine’s citizens through “the demilitarisation and denazification” of the country.

By removing political resistance and installing puppet politicians, Russia can make it appear to its own citizens that it has succeeded with its aims.

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US intelligence warned Russian forces would seek to detain or even kill leading Ukrainian figures.

This included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Support people fleeing the devastating conflict in Ukraine: donate to the DEC appeal

Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners are in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Learn more and donate what you can today.

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