Left: Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol, Ukraine, attends the Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square on April 17, 2022 in Vatican City, Vatican. Right: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to the joint press conference with Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdimuhamedow (not pictured) at the Grand Kremlin Palace, June,10,2022, in Moscow, Russia. Contributor/Getty Images/Franco Origlia/Getty Images
In recent weeks, the situation has escalated in Zaporizhzhya, a Ukrainian-controlled city where many thousands of displaced people from temporarily occupied Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk regions and the city of Melitopol, of which I am mayor, have found their refuge. Throughout this time, Russians have been bombing Zaporizhzhya at night while people are asleep, including hitting apartment blocks and residential buildings. Every day we lose our people because of this Russain genocide, and it is a tragedy for Ukraine.
To me, Russia has yet again proved that it is a terrorist state. For seven months of the war Russian rockets have poured down on Ukraine, killing civilians and destroying energy infrastructure. I see this as one more example that this nation can only fight with civilians, children, and elderly people. But Ukrainians have no fear. What we have are resilience, anger, and a strong force to get Russian occupiers, killers, rapists and terrorists from our country.
On February 24, when the war started in Ukraine, I was in Melitopol. At 5:30 a.m., Russia started bombing the city, including the airport and other infrastructure facilities. I did not question whether to stay or to leave. I stayed in the city with my team and my people. This is the place where I should be as the mayor. My entire team worked in the city under one condition: That the Ukrainian flag remains in the main square of the city. That was until my abduction on March 11, when I was held by Russian forces for five days before being released. On March 16, thanks to President Volodymr Zelensky and international partners I was freed from captivity in exchange for nine captured Russian soldiers. Since then, I have been working from Zaporizhzhya.
I have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week with my team in Zaporizhzhya, where I am now based. I worry about my city and my people, but my working daily routine has not changed. We are accustomed to working with and helping Melitopol remotely through meetings with temporarily displaced people, volunteers, and the Ukrainian military. Many issues have to be solved every day. We organized and launched a platform where residents of the community of Melitopol who have temporarily left their homes can receive humanitarian assistance. We are very thankful to our European partners for supporting the space.
During the occupation, Melitopol has not surrendered itself to the occupiers. Initially, there were rallies of thousands in support of Ukraine: people stopped enemy tanks with their presence, right in the central streets of the city. Then, the majority of Melitopol citizens categorically refused to cooperate with the occupiers.
Residents of the temporarily occupied territories in the Zaporizhzhia Region, including Melitopol, do not collaborate with Russian occupiers. So, what do we see the occupiers do? They kidnap and torture people to achieve at least some kind of interaction. Currently, I am aware of 700 residents of Melitopol who have been victims of kidnapping. The occupiers do not care about the age, gender, or profession. They take people “to the basement” and seek cooperation in any possible way through torturing and threats. We record all the crimes committed by the Russian occupiers, so we can bring them to justice in the future.
Ukrainians have adapted to life in the war, but we have not accepted the war, Ukrainians from all over the country are fighting against Russian occupiers on the frontline, helping the Armed Forces of Ukraine and supporting each other. Melitopol partisans are well known outside Ukraine, as they continuously destroy Russian logistics, military bases and headquarters and oppose the plans of the Russian occupiers. We lose fear and become stronger; that’s our mood.
In September, Russian occupiers held a sham referendum on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Needless to say, neither Ukraine or the entire civilized world have recognized it, and there have been many reports of coercion and voter intimidation.
While these sham referendums do not create any legal consequences, since the territories are temporarily occupied, I am concerned that the Russians may intimidate and force people to be involved in further illegal actions, such as acceptance of Russian citizenship, mobilization into the Russian forces or expropriation of private property if the owners refuse to re-register it under Russian law. I am certain that further illegal actions will result in a more aggravated humanitarian disaster, making temporarily occupied territories a grey zone.
I continuously urge people to leave the city of Melitopol at any possible opportunity. More than 65 percent of residents have already left the city. The situation around people departing from the temporarily occupied territories is getting worse every day. At a checkpoint in Vasylivka, we have heard of the occupiers detaining 6,000 cars of people wishing to leave the temporarily occupied territory, in inhumane conditions.
However, I am confident the Armed Forces of Ukraine will liberate all the temporarily occupied territories of Zaporizhzhya and other regions of Ukraine, including Melitopol, which is the key to the de-occupation of southern Ukraine.
Today, each and every Ukrainian does everything possible to bring us to victory. Today, Ukrainians have united to defend their country, their dignity, independence, freedom, democracy, equality and human rights: everything that is called Western civilizational values. The courage of Ukrainian defenders, the courage of the people and the unity of the nation in the fight against the enemy amaze the world. My message to Ukrainians in Melitopol is the following: “Melitopolians, you are the bravest people in the world. We all stand for freedom and independence. Truth will win and Ukraine will win!” Putin or Russia or Putin’s Russia will never prevail over Ukraine. Never! Glory to Ukraine!
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.