Russia accused of ‘kidnapping’ head of Ukraine nuclear plant

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Turkey rejects annexation of Ukrainian territory

Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said Saturday that Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, hours after Moscow illegally annexed a swath of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

The alleged kidnapping comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. Facing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military vowed to keep fighting to liberate the annexed regions and other Russian-occupied areas.

Ukrainian officials said Saturday that their forces had surrounded thousands of Russian forces holding the strategic eastern city of Lyman, which is located in one of the four incorporated areas. Zelenskyy formally applied Friday for Ukraine to join NATO, increasing pressure on Western allies to help defend the country.

In a possible attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory, Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the area around the nuclear plant.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, said it was aware of the reports of Murashov’s capture, and had contacted Russian authorities for clarification on what happened. “His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, demanding the director’s immediate release.

A Ukrainian official said Saturday that the Russian-occupied city of Lyman was surrounded, with some 5,000 Russian forces trapped there. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes to resupply Russian forces in Lyman were blocked.

“The occupiers asked their leadership for the opportunity to leave, which they refused,” Haidai said in a television interview. “Now they have three options: to try to break through, to surrender or to die together.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it rejects Russia’s annexation of four regions in Ukraine, adding the decision is a “grave violation” of international law.

Turkey, a NATO member, has conducted a diplomatic balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ankara opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbours.—Reuters

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