Ukraine’s nuclear power provider on Saturday accused Russian forces of kidnapping the head of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) and holding him in an undisclosed location.
According to Energoatom, the power station’s director-general, Ihor Murashov, was stopped by Russian forces around 4 p.m. Friday while in his car before he was then blindfolded and detained.
His whereabouts remain unknown.
The apparent kidnapping occurred just one hour after Russian President Vladimir Putin laid claim to the region of Zaporizhzhia, along with Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson, and in his view officially united the regions under the Russian Federation.
Kyiv and Western nations have condemned the move and said they will not recognize Russia’s self-declared claim over Ukraine’s territory.
Moscow has not acknowledged the kidnapping of the ZNPP official but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its staff at the plant had been made aware of the capture and said it had contacted Russian authorities.
IAEA staff have resided at the nuclear power station since early September after traveling to the plant to evaluate the threat level and damage caused to the ZNPP following several missile strikes.
Officials have long warned that fighting near the ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear power station, needs to immediately cease amid concerns that the integrity of the plant could be compromised and spark a radiation disaster.
Russia has occupied the plant since early March, but Ukrainian technicians have continued operating the power station.
The plant’s last two operating reactors were shut down in September as a precautionary measure amid ongoing shelling.
It is unclear what Russia’s next plan is for the power plant as it attempts to lay claim the Zaporizhzhia region.
Energoatom President Petro Kotin demanded the director general be immediately release and said, “His detention…jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his forces will not stop fighting Russia’s occupation until all of Ukraine has been restored and Russian troops have withdrawn.
Ukraine has begun making advances in its north-eastern regions as its troops push forward into Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.