Russia is facing new forms of resistance in the cities it has seized in Ukraine, where attempts to abduct and replace political leaders have been met with legal pushback and defiant public protests.
Russian troops have detained the mayors of at least two regions, Ukrainian officials say, replacing one with a pro-Kremlin opposition member. Lawmakers in a third Russian-occupied city say the groundwork is being laid for a political coup.
Despite overcoming significant Ukrainian military resistance to occupy the territories, attempts to oust local leaders have led to new difficulties for Moscow.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general has opened a treason investigation into Galina Danilchenko, the newly installed mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine, after the city’s elected mayor, Ivan Fedorov, was arrested by armed men on Friday.
The move follows a plea on Sunday by the city’s lawmakers for a criminal investigation of Danilchenko over what they called “the high crime of treason, for attempting to set up an occupying government in Melitopol.”
The city council accused Danilchenko — who is a former member of the city council, according to the Zaporizhzhia regional administration’s website — of dissolving the city government and transferring its powers to a People’s Deputies Committee.
Danilchenko declared herself the local leader and immediately said in a televised address Sunday that “Russian TV channels” would begin broadcasting in the city, which has been occupied by Russia since the first days of the invasion.
Her ascension was met by angry protests on Saturday, when several hundred people demonstrated outside the city hall, chanting “Freedom for the Mayor” and “Fedorov.”
The Russian-backed regional prosecutor of Luhansk, a separatist-controlled region nearly 300 miles from Melitopol, claimed the rationale for Fedorov’s arrest was that he had committed terrorism offenses.