Ukraine’s nuclear energy supplier said Saturday that Russian forces blindfolded and arrested the director of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, hours after Moscow illegally annexed part of Ukraine’s territory in a sharp escalation of the war.
The alleged kidnapping comes at a crucial time in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. In the face of a Ukrainian counter-offensive, Putin stepped up threats of nuclear weapons this week and used his most aggressively anti-Western rhetoric yet.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military promised to continue fighting for the liberation of the annexed territories and other areas occupied by Russia.
Ukrainian officials said their forces surrounded thousands of Russian forces holding the strategic eastern city of Lyman, located in one of the four incorporated territories. Zelenskyy formally applied for Ukraine to join NATO on Friday, increasing pressure on Western allies to defend the country.
In a possible attempt to secure Moscow’s grip on the newly-annexed territory, Russian forces arrested Zaporizhia nuclear power plant director-general Ihor Murashov around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed deals to incorporate Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the area around the nuclear power plant.
Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.
Russia did not immediately admit to arresting the plant manager. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the facility, said it was aware of reports of Murashov’s capture and had contacted Russian authorities to clarify what happened.
“His detention by (Russia) endangers the security of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, calling for the immediate release of the director.
The power plant was repeatedly caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued to operate it after Russian troops seized the power plant, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure due to the ongoing shelling nearby.
Amid mounting international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has embarrassed the Kremlin appeared on the verge of retaking more ground.
A Ukrainian official said Saturday that the Russian-held town of Lyman was surrounded and about 5,000 Russian forces were trapped there. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes supplying Russian forces in Lyman were blocked.
“The occupiers asked their leadership for the opportunity to leave, which they refused,” Haidai said in a television interview. “Now they have three choices: attempt a breakthrough, surrender, or die together.”
His claims could not be immediately verified. Russia has not confirmed that its forces have been cut off, and Russian analysts had said Moscow is sending more troops to the area.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine is likely to recapture Lyman in the coming days.
Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared Russian forces were withdrawing from Lyman, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. That matches online videos allegedly showing some Russian forces retreating just as a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached Lyman’s outskirts.
It said Ukraine was also making “incremental” gains around Kupyansk and the east bank of the Oskil River, which have become a key front line since Ukraine’s counter-offensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.
According to regional governor Vitaliy Kim, the Russian army twice attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv overnight, once with drones and the second time with rockets. The first attack was carried out with Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the second with S-300 missiles, he told Telegram.
One of the rockets hit a five-story apartment building in the city center, while windows of surrounding houses were smashed. In another part of the city, a private house and a two-story apartment building were badly damaged. Five people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby, Kim said.
In its heaviest barrage in weeks, the Russian military on Friday bombarded Ukrainian cities with rockets, missiles and suicide drones, killing 30 and wounding 88 in a strike in the Zaporizhia region’s capital.
In a daily intelligence briefing on Saturday, Britain’s Defense Ministry said the Russians “almost certainly” hit a humanitarian convoy carrying S-300 anti-aircraft missiles there. Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to conduct ground attacks, likely due to shortages of ammunition, the British military said.
“Russia is expending strategically valuable military assets to gain a tactical advantage, killing civilians whom it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.
The attack came as Putin was preparing to sign the annexation treaties that included the Zaporizhia region. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhia blamed Ukrainian forces but gave no evidence.
Russia now claims sovereignty over 15 percent of Ukraine in what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described as “the largest attempt at a violent annexation of European territory since World War II.” The NATO chief met with the Danish prime minister on Saturday amid investigations into Russian pipeline explosions in the Baltic Sea.
Nord Stream leaks could be the largest methane leaks ever recorded
The ruptures in the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline system under the Baltic Sea have led to what is likely the largest single release of climate-damaging methane ever recorded, the United Nations Environment Program said on Friday.
A huge plume of highly concentrated methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent but short-lived than carbon dioxide, was spotted this week in an analysis of satellite imagery by researchers linked to UNEP’s International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), the said Organization.
“This is really bad, most likely the largest emission event ever detected,” Manfredi Caltagirone, head of IMEO for UNEP, told Reuters. “That’s not helpful at a moment when we absolutely need to reduce emissions.”
Researchers from GHGSat, which uses satellites to monitor methane emissions, estimated the leak rate at one of the four fracture sites was 22,920 kilograms per hour. That’s the equivalent of burning about 630,000 pounds of coal per hour, GHGSat said in a statement.
“This rate is very high, especially considering that four days have passed since the first breach,” the company said.
The total amount of methane escaping from the Gazprom-led GAZP.MM pipeline system may be higher than a major leak that occurred in December from offshore oil and gas fields in Mexican Gulf waters, which caused around 100 tons of methane were escaping every hour, Caltagirone said.
Broad opposition to Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday announced the annexation of four regions in Ukraine, while Kyiv said it would continue its fight to retake occupied lands.
Before signing documents to annex the four regions – an act denounced as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and the UN chief – Putin delivered a 37-minute anti-Western diatribe.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday that the country is officially applying for accelerated membership of the NATO military alliance and that Kyiv is ready for talks with Moscow, but not while Putin is president.
The United States responded to the annexations on Friday by imposing more sanctions on Russia, targeting hundreds of people and companies, including those in Russia’s military-industrial complex and lawmakers.
Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution brought by the United States and Albania condemning Moscow’s proclaimed annexations, with Russia’s strategic partner China abstaining.
With agency reporting
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/ukraine-accuses-russia-of-kidnapping-nuclear-plant-director-as-thousands-of-putins-troops-surrounded-in-lyman-42031782.html Ukraine accuses Russia of kidnapping the director of the nuclear power plant while thousands of Putin’s troops were surrounded in Lyman