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Russia accused of kidnapping head of Ukraine nuclear power plant

Ukraine’s nuclear power supplier accused Russia on Saturday of “kidnapping” the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, a facility now occupied by Russian troops and located in a region of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin , illegally annexed.

Russian forces captured the general director of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 pm on Friday, the Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin, in a sharp escalation of his war, signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia.

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

“His detention by (Russia) endangers the security of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Energoatom Chairman Petro Kotin said.

The first reactor of the Zaporizhzhia NPP.Konstantin Mihalchevskiy/Sputnik via AP
Image: UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT-WAR
A couple hugs near cars damaged by a missile strike on a highway near Zaporizhzhia.Genya Savilov/AFP – Getty Images

Kotin demanded that Russia immediately release Murashov.

Russia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, said it had sought clarification from Russian authorities and was told Murashov was temporarily detained to answer questions.

The IAEA did not say whether he had been released and what his condition was.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Zaporizhzhia plan has repeatedly been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued to run it after Russian troops seized the power plant. The plant’s last reactor was shut down in September amid ongoing bombing near the facility.

On Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg he said the war in Ukraine was at “a crucial moment.” He called Putin’s decision to seize more territory (Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine) “the biggest attempt to annex European territory by force since World War II.”

Elsewhere in Ukraine, however, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that last month embarrassed the Kremlin by liberating a region bordering Russia was on the verge of regaining more ground, according to military analysts.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine is likely to retake another key Russian-occupied city in the country’s east in the coming days. Ukrainian forces have already surrounded the city of Lyman, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared that Russian forces were withdrawing from Lyman. That corresponds to online videos purportedly showing some Russian forces backing away as a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached the outskirts of Lyman.

The Ukrainian military has yet to claim to have taken Lyman, and Russian-backed forces said they were sending more troops to the area.

Ukraine is also making “incremental” gains around Kupiansk and the eastern bank of the Oskil River, which has become a key front line since the Ukrainian counteroffensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.

In a daily intelligence briefing, the British Defense Ministry highlighted an attack on Friday in the city of Zaporizhzhia that killed 30 people and wounded 88 others.

The British military said the Russians “almost certainly” attacked a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to carry out ground attacks, likely due to a lack of ammunition, the British said on Saturday.

“Russia’s stock of such missiles is very likely to be limited and is a high-value resource designed to shoot down modern aircraft and incoming missiles, rather than use them against ground targets,” the British said. “Its use in the ground-attack role has almost certainly been driven by a general shortage of munitions, particularly long-range precision missiles.”

Russian-backed officials in Zaporizhzhia laid the blame for the attack on Ukraine without offering any evidence.

The British report noted that the attack came as Putin was preparing to sign the annexation treaties.

“Russia is spending strategically valuable military assets in an attempt to gain tactical advantage and in the process is killing civilians it now claims are its own citizens,” he said.

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