Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov was freed from detention by Russian forces as part of a prisoner swap, Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security said in a statement Thursday.
Fedorov was exchanged for nine Russian soldiers, whom the Ukrainians say are “conscripts,” born between 2002 and 2003, the statement said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied sending conscripts to Ukraine. But Russia's Ministry of Defense previously confirmed that conscripts have been involved in the invasion and that some were taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces.
Fedorov was taken to Luhansk after his detention and held for five days. He was allegedly advised to cooperate with Russia, which he declined to do, according to Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security.
“We have finally managed to release the mayor of Melitopol from captivity. Our Ukrainian Melitopol, which did not submit and will not submit to the occupiers," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to Facebook early Thursday.
“Ivan Fedorov is free. I talked to him today. The Russian military abducted him on March 11, trying to persuade him to collaborate. But our man withstood. He did not give up. Just as we all endure. You all. Just as we all do not give up. Because we are Ukrainians. And we always protect our own.”
Earlier, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official in Zelensky's office, said on his Telegram channel that Fedorov was rescued in a "special operation."