Russia has been accused of “kidnapping” the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant within a region in Ukraine occupied by its forces.
According to Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom, the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, was seized on Friday at around 4pm.
That was just a few hours after Vladimir Putin moved to illegally annex Ukrainian territory – including Zaporizhzhia – amid a strong counteroffensive against Russian forces.
Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.
“His detention by (Russia) jeopardises the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said.
Kotin demanded that Russia immediately release Murashov.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, did not immediately acknowledge Energoatom’s claim of Murashov’s capture.
Ukrainian technicians have continued running the facility after Russian troops seized the power station, which has been hit repeatedly during the war.
The plant's last reactor was shut down in September amid ongoing shelling near the facility.
On Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the war in Ukraine was at “a pivotal moment.”
He called Putin’s decision to take over more territory – Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine – “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, however, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that last month embarrassed the Kremlin by liberating a region bordering Russia was on the verge of retaking more ground, according to military analysts.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine likely will retake another key Russian-occupied city in the country’s east in the next few days.
Ukrainian forces already have encircled the city of Lyman, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared Russian forces were retreating from Lyman.
That corresponds to online videos purportedly showing some Russian forces falling back as a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached Lyman’s outskirts.
The Ukrainian military has yet to claim taking Lyman, and Russia-backed forces said they were sending more troops to the area.
Ukraine also is making “incremental” gains around Kupiansk and the eastern bank of the Oskil River, which became a key front line since the Ukrainian counteroffensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.
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Ukraine’s military claimed Saturday that Russia would need to deploy cadets before they complete their training because of a lack of manpower in the war.
Putin ordered a mass mobilization of Russian army reservists last week to supplement his troops in Ukraine, and thousands of men have fled the country to avoid the call-up.
The Ukrainian military’s general staff said cadets at the Tyumen Military School and at the Ryazan Airborne School would be sent to participate in Russia’s mobilization.
It offered no details on how it gathered the information, though Kyiv has electronically intercepted mobile phone calls from Russian soldiers amid the conflict.
In a daily intelligence briefing, the UK’s Ministry of Defence highlighted an attack on Friday in the city of Zaporizhzhia that killed 30 people and wounded 88 others - ITV News witnessed the aftermath.
The British military said the Russians “almost certainly” struck a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.