March 12 (UPI) — A new mayor was installed in the Ukrainian city of Melitopol on Saturday one day after Russian forces forcibly detained the city’s elected mayor, Ivan Fedorov.
Melitopol’s new acting mayor is former city councilor Galina Danilchenko, CNN reports. The Zaporozhye regional administration announced Danilchenko’s installment on local television. She was not elected.
In her televised statement, Danilchenko said her main focus will be to “take all necessary steps to get the city back to normal.”
“I ask you to keep your wits about you and not to give in to these provocations,” Danilchenko said. “I appeal to the deputies, elected by the people, on all levels. Since you were elected by the people, it is your duty to care about the well-being of your citizens.”
Melitopol is located in south Ukraine. It has close cultural ties to Russia, and many of its citizens speak the language of the invading country.
But Federov, 33, publicly called the occupying Russian soldiers “occupiers.” According to Ukrainian officials, the Russians threw a bag over his head and drug him from his office Friday night, The New York Times reports.
Federov will likely face terrorism charges in Luhansk, one of the breakaway areas recognized by the Russian government. He’s accused of raising money for a far-right Ukrainian nationalist group.
In a televised address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Federov’s capture “a crime against democracy.”
“Obviously, this is a sign of the weakness of the invaders. They did not find any support on our land, although they counted on it, because for years they have been lying to themselves that people in Ukraine were supposedly waiting for Russia to come,” Zelensky said.
Crowds took to the streets in Melitopol on Saturday to protest Federov’s capture, with around 2,000 people gathering outside the Russian-occupied city hall building.
“Bring back the mayor! Bring back the mayor!” they chanted, according to The Washington Post. “Freedom to the mayor! Freedom to the mayor!”
Melitopol has a population of around 150,000 people. It’s been under Russian control for two weeks.