The mayor of a Ukrainian town occupied by Russian forces was released from captivity and the soldiers agreed to leave after a mass protest of the population.
Russian forces took control of Slavutich, a northern town close to the Chernobyl nuclear site, but sound bombs and fire above their heads failed to disperse defenseless protesters in its main square on Saturday.
The crowd demanded the release of Mayor Yuri Fumichev, who was captured by Russian forces.
Attempts by Russian forces to intimidate the growing protest failed, and on Saturday afternoon, his captors left Vumichev.
It was agreed that the Russians would leave the town if the gun owners handed them over to the mayor, with hunting rifles exempted.
Fumichev told the protesters that the Russians had agreed to withdraw “if there is no [Ukrainian] Military in the city.
The mayor said the agreement that was reached was for the Russians to search for Ukrainian soldiers and weapons and then leave. One Russian checkpoint will remain outside the city.
The incident highlights the struggle the Russian forces faced even in areas where they achieved military victories.
Slavutich, with a population of 25,000, lies outside the so-called exclusion zone around Chernobyl – which in 1986 was the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Russian forces captured the factory itself shortly after the invasion began on February 24.
The Russians fired in the air. They threw grenades into the crowd. “But the population did not disperse, on the contrary, more of them appeared,” said Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the governor of the Kyiv region in which Slavutych sits.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry claimed that Russia “is trying to intensify the activities of sabotage and reconnaissance groups in Kyiv in order to destabilize the socio-political situation, disrupt the system of public and military administration.”
Western officials said Vladimir Putin planned to seize Ukraine’s capitals within days of declaring his “special military operation” on February 24, but met unexpectedly fierce resistance.
While the occasional explosion can be heard in Kyiv from the fighting in the city’s west, the center has been quiet for most of the past two weeks.
“At first, they wanted blitzkrieg, 72 hours to take control [of] Mikhailo Podolyak, advisor to the President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and chief negotiator for talks with Russia, said in Kyiv:
Describing the siege of Mariupol, he said, “They had poor operational planning, and they realized that it was beneficial for them to besiege the cities, cut off the main supply routes, and force the people there to lack food, water and medicine,” describing the Mariupol siege. As a tactic to spread psychological terror and exhaustion.
However, Podolak expressed skepticism about the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim on Friday that Russian forces will now focus primarily on the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
“Of course I do not believe it. They have no interests in the Donbass. Their main interests are Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and the south – to seize Mariupol and block the Sea of Azov … We see them regroup and prepare more troops for their dispatch,” he said.
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