Russia released the elected mayor of southern Ukrainian port city Melitopol on Wednesday in exchange for nine captured Russian soldiers, the Ukraine president’s office said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video posted on Telegram early Thursday that he spoke to Mayor Ivan Fedorov after he was freed by Russian forces. Fedorov was released five days after video showed him being kidnapped by Russian soldiers.
“We have finally managed to release the mayor of Melitopol from captivity,” Zelenskyy said, according to the translation included in the video. “Our Ukrainian city of Melitopol, which did not submit and will not submit to the occupiers. Ivan Fedorov is free. I talked to him today. The Russian military abducted him on March 11, trying to persuade him to collaborate. But our man withstood. He did not give up. Just as we all endure.”
Video published in The Guardian showed Russian soldiers taking Fedorov away on Friday.
Ukraine negotiated the mayor’s release by exchanging him for nine captured Russian soldiers, said Daria Zarivna, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s president’s office, according to The Associated Press.
Russia “got nine of its captive soldiers, born in 2002-2003 — practically children — conscripts Russia’s Defense Ministry said weren’t there,” Zarivna said.
Citizens of Melitopol had taken to the streets after the kidnapping to protest.
Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba drew attention to those protests and called on Western leaders to help protect democracy in the country, tweeting a photo of the mayor.
Russia installed its own “mayor” in Melitopol following Fedorov’s capture. That official, Galina Dalinichenko, called the protests “extremist” and said people should “adjust to the new reality,” according to the Financial Times.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general began investigating Dalinichenko for treason on Monday following a written request by the Melitopol City Council, according to CNN.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry declared it had captured the city of Melitopol on Feb. 26, according to Reuters.