FROM OUR REPORTER
PROKOVS’K — When, two days ago, a huge queue of cars and trucks, with waits of five hours, formed at the Chonhar checkpoint on the way out of Melitopol to the Crimea, the exiled mayor of the city Ivan Fedorov ruled: “The Russians are in a panic”. The same panic that, again according to Fedorov, led the authorities loyal to Moscow to announce the evacuation of some villages in the Zaporizhzhia oblast.
“Something similar to what we observed before the liberation of Kherson is happening,” explains al Courier Major Sergiy Tsehotskyj of the 59th Brigade who participated in the Kherson counter-offensive and defended Mykolaiv. «The occupiers flee by shielding themselves from civilians and in the meantime try to take away everything they can». According to the stories of those who are still in the occupied areas, finding petrol in the region below Zaporizhzhia towards Melitopol is now a challenge. And the reason is simple: Kiev forces are carpet bombing fuel depots.
The fear, in addition to that of looting, is that deportations are also underway from Melitopol. “Only a third of the buses in evacuation convoys are loaded with civilians, the rest carry military personnel. The civilians are taken to Berdyansk, the military are towards Mariupol», explains Fedorov again. The general panic would have triggered a real humanitarian emergency. According to Fedorov, “people are trying to buy medicines and basic necessities.” But the shops are closing. The same for hospitals. And the Russians are threatening to cut off water and electricity should the Ukrainian counter-offensive begin.
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For many of the city’s residents, these months of occupation have turned into a nightmare. “When they came to pick up my wife, I already knew where they were going to take her,” says al Courier Oleg. Irina had never hidden her pro-Ukrainian positions and one day — it was May — Russian soldiers showed up at her door to question her. “They locked you up in a pre-trial detention center,” Oleg continues. “They beat her, abused her and then released her in a prisoner exchange after a month.”
Irina’s story is just one of the dozens that bounce in Telegram chats and pass from mouth to mouth. Since Russian forces captured Melitopol in March 2022, citizens have become accustomed to the “disappearances” that often take place in broad daylight.“They can just come to your house without saying where they are taking you or why,” Oleg explains again. “And it’s a very common thing.”
Over 1,000 people have been kidnapped since Melitopol fell to the Russians, Fedorov emphasizes again. He himself had been captured soon after the invasion. However, his case had had such a big impact that he had already been traded in March. “Over 500 people are still missing,” Fedorov now explains from his office in Zaporizhzhia. “But it’s difficult to get the full picture because many are afraid to talk about it.” The streets of the city are deserted. Locals, especially girls, avoid walking alone. Early last summer, the body of a 14-year-old girl was found in a park, Oleg said. The girl was allegedly raped and killed. Her body was dumped on the grass. Then another 13-year-old girl was kidnapped. The Russians brought her back two days later. Her parents told everyone nothing had happened, but she obviously wasn’t well.
Harder to hide torture chambers. According to the testimonies collected by Fedorov, there are at least five detention centers and torture chambers spread across the city. “Some are cruder than others: garages or police stations where they keep people cold or starve them in cages. Others are equipped with torture chambers,” witnesses say.
Just as happened in Kherson, in over a year of occupation, in Melitopol a formation of “partisans” has been created who carry out sabotage actions against the Russians and the collaborators. As a result, paranoia reigns supreme as Russian forces frantically search houses for weapons or explosives. There have been many explosions in recent months. Collaborators killed. Railway junctions affected. And not only. On 26 April twenty Russian soldiers died of poisoning in a trench outside Melitopol. This is confirmed by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Defense Forces. For Fedorov, “Russian troops working on fortifications in the Zaporizhzhia region were infected with anthrax because they dug into a pit that contained cattle carcasses.” But it is clear that many have thought it was another operation. The umpteenth. While waiting for Melitopol, the city of cherries, to be free again.