Ex-president barred from leaving Ukraine amid alleged plan to meet with Hungary's Viktor Orban

FILE - Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to reporters in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday Jan. 16, 2021. Former President Petro Poroshenko has been denied permission to leave Ukraine due to a planned meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Ukraines security service said Saturday. Dec. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Piotr Molecki, File) (Piotr Molecki, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

KYIV – Former President Petro Poroshenko was denied permission to leave Ukraine for a planned meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Ukraine’s security service said Saturday.

Poroshenko announced Friday that he had been turned away at the border despite previously receiving permission from Parliament to leave the country. Under martial law, Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 years of age are not allowed to leave the country without special approval.

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The 58-year-old, who lost his re-election bid in 2019 to current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that he had planned to meet with U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, and the Polish parliament during his trip.

But security officials said that Poroshenko had also agreed to meet Orban, who has previously praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and refused to support Kyiv’s bid for EU accession. In a statement on social media, they said such talks would make Poroshenko a “tool in the hands of the Russian special services.”

On Saturday evening, Orban's spokesman said that Hungary “does not wish to play any part in (President Zelenskyy's) internal political struggles," without confirming or denying that a meeting had been planned between Poroshenko and the Hungarian leader. Zoltan Kovacs made the remarks in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Poroshenko, who called his experience at the border an “attack on unity”, is yet to comment on the allegation that he planned to meet Orban.

As of late morning on Sunday, there was no further comment from Ukrainian authorities regarding Poroshenko's planned trip. Ukraine's Parliament speaker on Sunday accused Poroshenko's political party, the center-right European Solidarity, of having made false claims in the past that its lawmakers were being systematically prevented from travelling abroad.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was left on “the verge of a nuclear and radiation accident” Saturday after it was unable to draw power from two of the lines connecting it to the local energy grid, the country’s nuclear energy operator said.

It said that the plant switched to diesel generators to stop the plant from overheating before off-site power was restored by Kyiv.

Russia occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant in the early stages of the war. Over the past year, the station has become a focal point of concern for international observers, with both Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of shelling the plant.

In a statement on social media, Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator, accused Moscow of “incorrect, erroneous, and often deliberately risky operation of the equipment” at the site.

The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the claims.

Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been monitoring safety at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is one of the world’s 10 biggest nuclear power stations.

Although the plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia launched 11 Iranian-made Shahed drones and one guided cruise missile overnight Saturday, military officials said. The missile and all but one of the drones were reportedly destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said that it had shot down two Ukrainian C-200 rockets over the Sea of Azov.

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