Ukrainian deputy mayor of home to Europe's largest nuclear plant abducted by Russian occupying forces

Energodar deputy mayor kidnapped as Russians target nuclear power plant employees, officials say

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The deputy mayor of the Ukrainian city home to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe has been kidnapped by the Russian military, prompting large swathes of Ukrainians to protest Sunday. 

"Brave Ukrainians in Enerhodar hold a peaceful protest demanding to release deputy mayor Ivan Samoidyuk who was abducted by Russian invaders," Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, sharing a video of a crowd chanting outside the Enerhodar city council. "Russians thought they could impose their authoritarian rules in democratic Ukraine. Instead, they need to go home." 

The protest was held in the occupied city of Enerhodar, near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in southeastern Ukraine, with protesters demanding the release of Samoidyuk. 

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In a message shared to Telegram, Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov said he received confirmation that Samoidyuk had been abducted after he was unable to contact him since Saturday. 

Orlov said he was not aware what condition the deputy mayor was in and added that "occupiers also put physical and psychological pressure on the active residents of Enerhodar." 

"They continue to look for those energy donors whose principled position they see as a threat," he wrote. "We ask deputies, activists and public energy donors to be extremely careful now. Do not answer unfamiliar phones, do not tell anyone about your actual location." 

Orlov urged people to come to the city council building at 2 p.m. "to declare your categorical disagreement with the abduction and captivity of Ukrainian citizens." 

"And we ask all citizens now to unite as much as possible, to support Enerhodar, which was and will remain Ukraine!" he said. "We do not give up and do not leave in trouble!!"

Additional video shared online purportedly showed several Russian soldiers arrive to the rally in a white van to arrest Ukrainian protesters. The crowd surrounded the vehicle and cursed at the Russians, who fired shots into the air. The crowd did not disperse, and the Russians left, according to the video.

Ukrainian nuclear power plants at Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia are now under Russian control.  

"Today we have gathered here to declare to the whole world that Enerhodar is and will be a Ukrainian city! The energy giants will never give up, despite the fact that the Russian occupiers have resorted to terrorist acts," Halyna Khmilevska, head of the Health Department of the South Ukrainian NPP, said in a statement shared to Telegram by Ukrainian state-run nuclear power company Energoatom. 

The kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Enerhodar comes several days after the mayor of a different Ukrainian city had been rescued. Melitopol Ivan Fyodorov was abducted by Russian forces on March 11. Video showed a man believed to be Fyodorov with a bag on his head being led out of a crisis center. Russian state-run media had said prosecutors in one of Ukraine's breakaways were pursuing terrorism charges against him.  

But Ukrainian military secured Fyodorov’s release by March 16 through a special military operation. 

In a recent radio interview, Fyodorov said he spent seven hours in a car with a bag on his head as Russians attempted to organize an exchange with Ukrainian troops. He described also being held in a small cell with armed guards at the now Russian-controlled Melitopol detention center, where civilians arrested during protests or suspected of being "saboteurs" for being outside at night are also kept. 

Though he was under psychological stress, he said he was not physically harmed by his captors, though he did hear someone screaming as Russian troops tortured someone else in the next cell. 

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At least two other mayors have been captured by Russian occupying forces, according to Ukrainian government officials. The mayor of Dniprorudne, Matveev Sergeevich, as well as the mayor of Skadovsk, Oleksandr Yakovlyev, and his deputy Yurii Palyukh, all remain unaccounted for as of Monday. 

It was not clear if any arrests were made at the Enerhodar rally. Ukrainians protested in the streets of the occupied cities of Kherson and Berdyansk on Sunday. Video shared online purportedly showed blood in the main square of Kherson after Russian troops fired into the crowd.