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After a third Ukrainian mayor was abducted by occupying Russian troops Wednesday, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba again called for the international community to intervene.
Kuleba on Wednesday announced the abductions of Mayor of Skadovsk Oleksandr Yakovlyev and his deputy Yurii Palyukh. “Russian invaders continue to abduct democratically elected local leaders in Ukraine,” Kuleba wrote, sharing a beachside selfie of Yakovlyev. “States & international organizations must demand Russia to immediately release all abducted Ukrainian officials!”
Kuleba’s tweet came just two hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was expected to address U.S. Congress at 9 a.m. ET. Yakovlyev is the third Ukrainian mayor abducted so far.
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“Deputinization means getting rid of Russian influence in all spheres,” Kuleba wrote Wednesday in a second tweet before Zelenskyy’s address to Capitol Hill lawmakers. “Politics, international relations, economy, energy, business, art, research etc. Russia today is a toxic partner responsible for mass war crimes in Ukraine. The earlier the world cuts all ties, the better.”
According to a Facebook livestream about an hour after Kuleba initially announced that Skadovsk mayor had been abducted, Yakovlev said he had been released. Details about the circumstances of his capture or if the video was filmed under duress were not immediately available and Kuleba hasn’t yet provided an update via Twitter.
Videos shared to social media suggest Yakovlev’s capture prompted protests in the city outside of Kherson.
Roman Hryshchuk, a member of Ukrainian Parliament, shared a photo of Yakovlev and Palyukh, saying they both were captured from city council.
Kuleba on Sunday announced that Russian “war criminals” abducted a second democratically elected Ukrainian mayor, head of Dniprorudne, Yevhen Matveyev.
“Getting zero local support, invaders turn to terror,” Kuleba tweeted. “I call on all states & international organizations to stop Russian terror against Ukraine and democracy.”
The news came a day after Kuleba revealed on Saturday that mayor of nearby Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, had been abducted on March 11 and locals had been holding protests to free him. Ukrainian Parliament said a group of 10 “occupiers” put a plastic bag on the mayor’s head in Melitopol’s crisis center.
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Zelenskyy on Saturday pleaded with Western nations that communicate with Moscow – France, Germany, Israel and others – to help him free Fedorov, saying in an address, “I’ll talk to whoever I need to talk to in order for our people to be freed.”
Russian state-run media reported Saturday that prosecutors in Luhansk, a breakaway area recognized by Moscow in Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, was preparing terrorism charges for Fedorov, accusing him of raising funds for far-right groups, the New York Times reported.
Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and lost relatives to the Holocaust, said kidnapping Fedorov was intended to further Russian President Vladmir Putin’s unsubstantiated claims that Russian forces need to invade to liberate the Ukrainian people from neo-Nazis.
Melitopol, located northeast of the Russian annexed Crimea, came under fierce fighting on the first day of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. It has since been occupied by Russian forces, and Fedorov had been posting regular social media updates encouraging resistance, providing lists for which ATMs were still working, where to purchase milk and medicine and warning that looters would be punished.
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Russian pundits on state-run broadcasts have also been discussing the idea of hanging Ukrainians in regions when Russian forces establish dominance.
Kherson Regional Council member Sergey Khlan warned on Facebook on Saturday that occupying Russian troops were laying plans to establish a Moscow-allegiant Kherson People’s Republic, but he and other council members were refusing to cooperate. Kherson, a city of strategic importance due to its posts and access to the Black Sea, was the first major Ukrainian city to fall on March 2.