Kidnapped Ukrainian mayor freed in 'special operation,' officials say

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

March 17, 2022, 9:32 AM

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 adviser to Ukraine's presidential office. Timoshenko did not provide any further details.

In a video posted on Facebook, Fedorov thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his help with the release.

"I thank the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, for his help with the liberation. Together we will win and raise our Ukrainian flag on Melitopol central square!" Fedorov said.

He went on, "I thank Melitopol residents who were not afraid to defend their position, go to rallies and declare that we -- Ukrainians -- are free people. I thank all the residents who supported me at the distance during my six-day captivity. I thank Melitopol friends who defended the interests of our city in the national and international arenas, and did everything possible and impossible for my liberation."

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.

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."

PHOTO: CCTV footage appears to show Russian forces apprehending Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol, at Taras Shevchenko Palace of Culture in Melitopol's Victory Square, in a still image from video released on March 11, 2022.
CCTV footage appears to show Russian forces apprehending Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol, a city in southeastern Ukraine that fell under Russian control during the invasion, at Taras Shevchenko Palace of Culture in Melitopol's Victory Square, in a still image from video released on March 11, 2022.
Deputy Head For President's Office, Ukraine via Reuters

Zelenskyy released a video of himself on Telegram Wednesday reportedly talking on the phone with Fedorov. The mayor thanked Zelenskyy and said he needed a couple of days to recover from his ordeal and then would be ready to fulfill any orders.

A smiling Zelenskyy said he was very glad to speak with Fedorov and that "we don’t leave ours behind."

Zelenskyy 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!"

ABC News' Patrick Reevell contributed to this report.

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