In Russia’s War on Ukraine, Are Mayors Being Targeted?

How is Russia, and ostensibly its president, Vladimir Putin, deciding which elected officials in Ukraine to target?

President Putin at the Kremlin February 21, 2022. Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin pool photo via AP

The West may be going after high-flying Russian oligarchs, or at least their yachts, but Moscow is coming for Ukraine’s mayors — and replacing them with its own as its grip on Ukraine and in particular the southern flank intensifies. 

On Friday, the Ukrainian parliament tweeted that “enemies” abducted the mayor of the southern city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, placing a plastic bag over his head as he was forcibly removed from the city’s crisis center and taken across a city square. Video footage indicated the enemies in question were a group of about 10 Russian troops. 

Melitopol has been under Russian occupation since February 26. Sky News reported over the weekend that the incident precipitated an anti-Russian demonstration in the city some 2,000 strong. President Zelensky accused Russia of kidnapping Mr. Fedorov and said of Russian forces, “They have transitioned into a new stage of terror, in which they try to physically liquidate representatives of Ukraine’s lawful local authorities.” 

A member of Ukraine’s parliament, Mariia Ionova, tweeted: “Kidnapped #Melitopol city mayor Ivan Fedorov is being tortured. He is being forced to break his oath of allegiance to Ukrainian people and join invaders’ side or resign.”

Regardless of whether Mr. Fedorov was forced to resign and of his current whereabouts or condition, he has already been replaced by  Galina Danilchenko. A former member of the city council, the Daily Mail reported, Mr. Danilchenko was announced as the new mayor on local TV on Saturday, according to the Zaporizhzhia regional administration website. She is said to have urged calm and called for people to not participate in “extremist actions,” and also proposed the creation of a “People’s Choice Committee” to help administer the Melitopol region. 

Reports Sunday indicated that Russian occupying forces had kidnapped a second mayor, this time from the southern town of Dniprorudne. 

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted, “Today, Russian war criminals abducted another democratically elected Ukrainian mayor, head of Dniprorudne Yevhen Matveyev.” In that tweet, Mr. Kuleba added, “Getting zero local support, invaders turn to terror. I call on all states and international organizations to stop Russian terror against Ukraine and democracy.” The circumstances of the alleged abduction were not specified.

How is Russia, and ostensibly its president, Vladimir Putin, deciding which elected officials in Ukraine to target? A story from Britain’s ITV may yield a clue: “The prosecutor’s office of the Luhansk People’s Republic, a Moscow-backed rebel region in eastern Ukraine, said on its website that there was a criminal case against Mr. Fedorov,” the website noted. The veracity of that accusation has not been corroborated elsewhere. 

Could Odessa, the most strategic of Ukraine’s Black Sea port cities, be next in Moscow’s sights for a mayoral grab-and-go? The city’s gun-toting current mayor, Gennaidy Trukhanov, a former Soviet officer, has expressed shock “that Ukrainian cities are being wiped off the Earth,” according to a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper this week. 

An intriguing story from France24 notes that “many of his constituents are wary of Trukhanov’s ultra-patriotic declarations.” The channel’s Mehdi Chebil quotes an anti-corruption activist, Oleg Mykhailnik: “Trukhanov has many links to the Russian mafia, which itself is very linked to the FSB [Russian Federal Security Bureau]. And now he’s telling Putin to piss off… I don’t know if he’s really going to stay on till the end.” According to Wikipedia, Mr. Trukhanov has also been named as part of a Ukrainian crime syndicate.

In the meantime Ms. Danilchenko, the newly installed puppet mayor of Melitopol, has also called on the city she now oversees to “adapt to the new reality.” A murky reality to say the least, as Moscow tightens its grip in ways by turns diabolical and demoralizing for the local populations. That may prove very difficult to undo.

The New York Sun

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