Ukraine’s state nuclear power company has accused Russia of “kidnapping” the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is under occupation by Russian troops in a region that President Vladimir Putin has moved to illegally annex.
- Energoatom, the Ukrainian company which runs the nuclear site has demanded the immediate release of director Ihor Murashov
- His seizure has not been acknowledged by Russia and IAEA staff at the plant
- Ukraine has encircled thousands of Russian troops at the eastern town of Lyman, a critical bastion for Moscow
Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, at around 1300 GMT on Friday, state company Energoatom said.
His apparent detention came hours after Mr Putin, in a sharp escalation of his war, signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory — including Zaporizhzhia region — into Russia.
Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Mr Murashov’s car, blindfolded him, and took him to an undisclosed location.
Mr Murashov “bears main and exclusive responsibility for the nuclear and radiation safety” of the plant, and his detention “jeopardises the safety of operation of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant”, company chief Petro Kotin said.
Mr Kotin demanded that Russia immediately release Mr Murashov.
Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the nuclear facility plant, has not yet confirmed Energoatom’s claim of Mr Murashov’s capture.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has repeatedly been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian technicians have continued to run it after Russian troops took control of the site earlier this year.
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 Mr Putin’s decision to take over more territory – Russia now claims sovereignty over 15 per cent of Ukraine – “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War”.
Ukraine advances in key town
Ukrainian forces have encircled thousands of Russian troops at the eastern town of Lyman, a bastion that is critical for Moscow, in an operation that is still underway, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said on Saturday.
The capture of Lyman, which Russia has used as a logistics and transport hub for its operations in the north of the Donetsk region, would be a major setback for the Kremlin’s plan to seize all of the industrial Donbas region.
“The Russian grouping in the area of Lyman is surrounded,” Ukrainian army spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi said.
“Lyman is important because it is the next step towards the liberation of the Ukrainian Donbas,” he said.
“It is an opportunity to go further to Kreminna and Sievierodonetsk, and it is psychologically very important.”
Russia’s has around 5,000 to 5,500 personnel at Lyman, but the number of encircled troops may have fallen because of casualties and some soldiers trying to break out of the encirclement, said Mr Cherevatyi.
He said Russian troops were continuing to make attempts to break out of the encirclement.
“Some are surrendering, they have a lot of killed and wounded, but the operation is not yet over,” he said.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Russian reports appeared to indicate a retreat from Lyman.
That corresponds to online footage 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.
Ukraine’s military claimed on Saturday that Russia would need to deploy cadets before they complete their training because of a lack of manpower.
Mr Putin ordered a mass mobilisation 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 mobilisation.
It offered no details on how it gathered the information, though Kyiv has electronically intercepted mobile phone calls from Russian soldiers during the conflict.
In a daily intelligence briefing, the British Ministry of Defence 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” struck a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.
Russia ‘lacking munitions’
Russia’s increasing use of anti-aircraft missiles to conduct ground attacks is likely due to a lack of munitions, the British Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.
“Russia’s stock of such missiles is highly likely limited, and is a high-value resource designed to shoot down modern aircraft and incoming missiles, rather than against ground targets,” the British report said.
“Its use in ground-attack role has almost certainly been driven by overall shortages, particularly [of] longer-range precision missiles.”
The UK briefing noted the attack came while Mr Putin was preparing to sign the annexation treaties.
“Russia is expending strategically valuable military assets in attempts to achieve tactical advantage, and in the process is killing civilians it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.
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