On Saturday, Ukraine’s nuclear power supplier accused Russian forces of kidnapping the head of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and keeping him in an unknown location.
According to Energoatom, the director general of the plant, Ihor Murashov, was stopped by Russian forces at around 4pm on Friday while in his car before being blindfolded and detained.
Its whereabouts remain unknown.
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The apparent kidnapping occurred just an hour after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the Zaporizhzhia region, along with Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson, and in his view officially united the regions under the Russian Federation.
Kiev and Western nations have condemned the move and said they will not recognize Russia’s self-declared claim on Ukrainian territory.
Moscow did not acknowledge the ZNPP official’s kidnapping, but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its plant personnel had been informed of the capture and claimed to have contacted Russian authorities.
IAEA personnel have resided at the nuclear power plant since the beginning of September after traveling to the plant to assess the threat level and damage caused to the ZNPP following numerous missile attacks.
Officials have long warned that fighting near the ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, must stop immediately amid concerns that the plant’s integrity could be compromised and trigger a radioactive disaster.
Russia has occupied the plant since early March, but Ukrainian technicians have continued to operate the plant.
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The last two operational reactors of the plant were closed in September as a precautionary measure amid the ongoing bombing.
It is unclear what Russia’s next plan for the power plant is as it attempts to reclaim the Zaporizhzhia region.
Energoatom president Petro Kotin called for the immediate release of the director general and said: “His detention … jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and the largest nuclear power plant in Europe”.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his forces will not stop fighting the Russian occupation until all of Ukraine has been restored and Russian troops have withdrawn.
Ukraine has begun to make progress in its northeastern regions as its troops advance to Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.