Melitopol mayor says Russia enforcing mobilization in occupied city
By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Oct 8 (EFE).- Russian forces are carrying out forced mobilization in the occupied city of Melitopol, in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, and have arrested at least 500 locals in a bid to squash resistance, the mayor of the city, Ivan Fedorov, tells Efe in an interview.
The mayor, taken captive by Russia in the early days of the invasion and later freed in a prisoner swap, speaks to Efe from Ukraine-held territory.
He began the conversation by denouncing the Russian-staged referendum in Zaporizhzhia, which led to Moscow announcing the annexation of the region along with Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk.
“There were no independent observations and no free press. Armed Russian soldiers stopped people right on the streets, pressing them to vote not only for themselves but in the name of their neighbors or relatives,” he says.
While the Russian decision to annex the region was not recognized by any other country other than North Korea, life has been getting even more difficult in the area, Fedorov adds.
“They have been abducting ever more people in an attempt to force them to collaborate”.
Some of those people were taken to mobilization centers and forced to join so-called “voluntary battalions,” he claimed.
Inducing economic hardship is another method Russians use to force the locals to acquiesce, the mayor says.
“The Russians have set the exchange rate of hryvnia as equal to that of rouble, which means the income that locals continue receiving, for instance, from the Ukrainian state, has lost half of their value.”
Little more than one third of the city’s pre-war population remains in Melitopol. Fedorov has called on the remaining residents to leave as “no one can guarantee their safety there.”
He specifically denounces the “propaganda” and “zombification” that Ukrainian children are subjected to in the Russian-controlled schools, “many of which,” according to Fedorov, are also used as ammunition depots and by the Russian military more generally.
“Evacuating is dangerous but we provide free accommodation in Zaporizhzhia and humanitarian help,” he says.
Fedorov cites the US-based Institute for the Study of War, which recognized Melitopol as the center of “partisan resistance” in Russian-occupied Ukraine.
“Its main aim is to disrupt Russian logistics by assisting in the destruction of ammunition and heavy weaponry,” says the mayor. It also strives to make the life of collaborators as “uncomfortable as possible” by abducting or damaging their property.
Melitopol’s mayor says that the Ukrainian police received more than 500 statements from the relatives of those people who have been detained by Russia in the occupied city.
“Some of them have disappeared for good. Others were released after spending weeks or months there.”
He says anyone risks being detained. “If Russians find a Ukrainian flag or other symbols, it’s enough for them.”
Fedorov was also detained on March 11 after he refused to cooperate with Russia. He was taken away from his temporary office with a sack on his head in broad daylight.
The six days that he spent in captivity were “the most difficult days” in Fedorov’s life.