The Kiev-appointed mayor of Sviatogorsk, Vladimir Bandura, has switched his allegiance to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) following the town's liberation from Ukrainian forces.
The official appeared in a video last week, accusing Kiev's military of murdering Orthodox monks and setting a monastery ablaze.
In a Telegram post on Monday, the president of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, revealed that he had “long been in touch” with Bandura, adding that the mayor “was waiting, just like many Sviatogorsk residents, for the liberation, and supports the special military operation.”
The DPR president accompanied his post with a photo, depicting him and Bandura, sitting at a table.
Pushilin explained that “for obvious reasons” the mayor “had to keep his stance secret,” so as to “save the people.”
The DPR leader went on to announce that he had decided to reinstate Bandura as the mayor of Sviatogorsk, which, according to him, has been taken over by the DPR and Russian forces.
After Ukrainian troops retreated from Svyatogorsk earlier this month, several of the country’s media outlets initially reported that the town’s mayor had been captured by Russian forces.
On June 7, a video with Bandura was released and subsequently cited by the Russian media, in which the official leveled some damning accusations at the Ukrainian armed forces. The mayor claimed, among other things, that there was “information, confirmed information, that the Nazis are killing priests and monks and concealing these facts.” On top of that, Bandura alleged that Ukrainian troops had set fire to an Orthodox monastery in Svyatogorsk.
Soon thereafter, Ukrainian authorities launched an investigation into the mayor, saying the official was “discrediting the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the state,” and spreading a “Russian fake.”
The blaze, which Bandura referred to in his video, engulfed the Skete of All Saints on June 4. The area was still under Ukrainian control at the time, though heavy fighting had been taking place there for several days already, according to media reports.
Moscow and Kiev were quick to point the finger at each other. A Ukrainian officer with the 95th Airborne Assault Brigade, Yuri Kochevenko, described the fire as a “crime” at the hands of “Russian barbarians.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky used the occasion to once again demand that Russia be expelled from UNESCO.
The Russian military, in turn, accused Ukrainian units of deliberately firing incendiary rounds at the skete before retreating. Moscow claimed there were eyewitnesses, whose accounts corroborated this version of events.
Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.