UKRANE – Vladimir Putin is advancing (gently) toward Kiev two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began. But he is also starting to invest the political field to get the country under his thumb, as witnessed by the kidnappings of mayors in recent days.
On Sunday, March 13, Dniproroudné city councilor, Evguen Matveïev, was kidnapped by Russian soldiers. “Today, March 13, at 8.30 am, the army of the Russian Federation captured the mayor of the city of Dniprorudne,” Olexander Staroukh, the governor of the Zaporozhye region, wrote on Telegram. The city is located in the south of the country, as you can see in our map below (use your wheel to zoom).
Two days earlier, Friday, March 11, the mayor of Melitopol Ivan Fedorov was also kidnapped by Russians occupying this town, halfway between Mariupol and Kherson, about 80 km south of Dniproroudné. The reason: He “refused to cooperate with the enemy,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also targeting Moscow.
“It’s a crime against democracy,” Zelensky said
Shortly before his disappearance, Ivan Fedorov told the BBC that he had absolutely no intention of working with the Russians. The latter may have thought that their arrival would be seen as a liberation for the inhabitants of this predominantly Russophile city. missed. “They haven’t tried to help us, they can’t help us, and we don’t want their help,” Ivan Fedorov insisted.
According to Ukrainian parliamentarian Mariia Ionova, the mayor is currently being tortured and “forced to break his allegiance to the Ukrainian people in order to join the invader, or to resign”. “Help us free him!” she shouted on Twitter. As a video posted by a BBC journalist in Ukraine shows, dozens of protesters gathered on Saturday to demand his release.
“The imprisonment of the mayor of Melitopol is (…) a crime against democracy (…). The acts of the Russian invaders will be equated with those of the terrorists of the Islamic State,” said the Ukrainian president indignantly. “(The Russians) have moved to a new stage of terror in which they are trying to physically eliminate the representatives of the legitimate local Ukrainian authorities,” he said.
European leaders also condemned the kidnapping of the two mayors. “The EU strongly condemns the kidnapping of the mayors of Melitopol and Dniprorudne by the Russian armed forces. This is another attack on democratic institutions in Ukraine and an attempt to set up illegitimate alternative government structures in a sovereign country,” EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, also condemned “in the strongest terms Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Ukraine, as well as the Russian kidnapping of the mayors of Melitopol and Dniprorudne and other Ukrainians”.
“These kidnappings and other pressures on Ukrainian local authorities are yet another flagrant violation of international law,” added the President of the European Council, representing the Twenty-seven. “Russia’s military and political aggression against Ukraine must stop”.
Meanwhile, Galina Danilchenko, a former pro-Russian member of the city’s city council, has reportedly been appointed by Moscow as the new mayor of Melitopol. Deutsche Welle and Sky News. Speaking to her constituents, she called on the city to “adapt to the new reality” and stop “perpetrating extremist acts”.
A referendum for an independent republic in Kherson
And Russia doesn’t stop there. According to several Ukrainian officials, she wants to hold a referendum to create an independent republic in Kherson, a city near Crimea and the first major city to be taken by Russian troops after their invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
“After the 2014 scenario, Russians are desperately trying to organize a fake ‘referendum’ for a fake ‘People’s Republic’ in Kherson,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba wrote on Twitter.
He refers to the referendum organized in Crimea in 2014 after the annexation of the peninsula by Russia, which was considered illegal by Kiev and Westerners.
“Given that there is no popular support, this will be completely staged,” he predicted, calling for “severe sanctions” to be imposed on Russia if that were the case. “Kherson is and always will be in Ukraine”.
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