Ivan Fedorov can’t wait. He wants to get into the car now and go to his hometown. “It couldn’t be better. Now, right now,” he says.
The 34-year-old is the mayor of Melitopol, a Russian-occupied city near the Sea of Azov. The fate of the citizens of a city of 150,000 before the Russian invasion in 2022 gives him sleepless nights. However, he had no choice but to wait in Zaporozhye.
In thinking about the Ukrainian counteroffensive, we must keep in mind that Melitopol is a prominent city on the map of Ukraine.. Taking it back from the hands of the Russians would make the atmosphere in the Kremlin very hot.
Although the counteroffensive of Ukrainian forces started in June this year, it is not yet known when they will be able to liberate Melitopol. The troops are 60 km from the town, which was the first to be captured by Russian troops shortly after the invasion began on February 24 last year.
“No, no, it won’t last until September or October,” argues Fedorov. Mer is tall and his white T-shirt bears the three-pronged coat of arms of Ukraine. He is sure that he will be able to return to Melitopol soon. He and his men are ready for it.
“We are already working with the post-occupation period in mind, because people want to return to their city where everything works,” he says. These include bus and rail transport, garbage collection, electricity, water and medical services.
In theory, all this is obvious, especially for cities like Melitopol, but after the Russian occupation, there was not much infrastructure. “We know that since the Russians left Kherson and other occupied territories, they stole all vehicles, all machinery, all equipment and simply destroyed what they could not take with them,” commented Fedorov.
The challenge for the mayor and his team is huge, which is why the politician often travels abroad, often visiting German cities, to drum up support for his city. “We need help from all sides,” pleads the young mayor, who is currently in Zaporizhia.
It is one of three temporary centers set up exclusively for refugees from Melitopol. The other two are in Lviv and Kiev in western Ukraine.
Citizens receive food parcels, medicines, official documents and psychological support. “Our centers are full of people every day,” relates Fedorov with a certain pride. More than half of the population fled from the Russians. Melitopol had fewer than 70,000. People.
Mer seems like an idealist to whom failure is a foreign word. “Liberation comes irreversibly, not only for Melitopol, but for all occupied territories,” he says, while stressing that “Ukraine cannot renounce its territorial integrity and become a European democracy.”
Gateway to the Crimea
Ukrainian soldiers are still 60 km from Melitopol. The town in the Zaporizhzhya region could be the main target of a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine.
Melitopol is the gateway to Russia’s annexed Crimean Peninsula – a hub with rail and highway links from Russia to the occupied territories. It is also a communications hub for Vladimir Putin’s military, which distributes weapons and ammunition from here and further missions to soldiers.
If Ukraine does indeed recapture the city, it will not only be a major blow to Russian military logistics.. The Ukrainians could cut off the land bridge from Russia to Crimea, destroying one of the Kremlin’s most important war targets.. The entire western part of the occupied territories – from Kherson to the Crimea – will become a huge cauldron for Russian troops.
Their only supply route will be the 19-kilometer-long Kerch Bridge, which connects the peninsula to the Russian mainland. Kiev knows about this weak point.
A few days ago, Ukrainian rockets hit the bridge, blocking the use of one lane. There is a way to destroy the Kiev bridgehead and cut Russian troops off from supplies.
Then it will only be a matter of time to destroy the Russian units without ammunition and provisions. There will be a moment when Moscow will suddenly be ready to negotiate.
So far, however, Ukrainian forces on the southern front have been making slow progress. Often the smaller units were able to recover only a few hundred meters per day. At this rate, it may take a few weeks for them to reach Melitopol. However, that may soon change.
Currently, only about 10 percent are leading. Counter-attack forces. It is still unclear when the time will come for the bulk of what remains of Ukraine’s armed forces, at least 12 of which are trained in Europe and equipped with Western weapons.
Bombing logistics on the Ukraine front
The progress of the counteroffensive depends on the success of Ukrainian attacks on Russian targets behind the front lines. Every day, Ukrainian missiles and drones target the Russian military’s ammunition depots, command posts and military bases, particularly in Crimea and cities along the Sea of Azov.
The attacks are part of a Ukrainian tactic to destabilize Russian troops and disrupt supplies. On Saturday, an ammunition depot exploded in Crimea, possibly as a result of a Ukrainian drone strike.
Loud explosions are heard in Melitopol and the outskirts of the city. His mayor confirms these incidents. “Sometimes Russian ammunition depots are blown up, sometimes soldiers’ quarters are hit,” he says.
Although working in Zaporozhye, he is informed about what is happening in his city. The fact is that Ukrainian telecommunications companies are not working and only the Russian network exists. However, the mayor’s sources in the city use VPN connections and the anonymous TOR browser. Through this, information and videos can be sent without being noticed by the adversary. “Russians can control Melitopol, but not how people think,” explains Fedorov.
He laughs at Moscow’s story that Russia actually freed people in the occupied territories. He admits that when the Kremlin invaded Crimea in 2014, several thousand people demonstrated in Melitopol. People with Russian flags, but in recent years, people’s attitudes have changed, he says.
As recently as 2020, out of 42 representatives in the city administration, there was only one pro-Russian representative, Fedorov notes. After the Russian invasion in February 2022, the mood shifted completely in favor of Kiev.
Partisans fight underground against Moscow
In fact, several videos published on the Internet show how Melitopol residents demonstrated in the streets of the city in unison against Russia. – Of course, idiots are always and everywhere, but their number in our country is clearly less – argues the mayor.
Many Ukrainian attacks against Russian targets in Melitopol would not have been possible without the support of personnel in the field. Someone needs to provide Kiev with the coordinates of the changing Russian military installations. Ukrainian guerrillas have also been responsible for numerous bombings in recent months against police officers and other senior officials of the Russian administration.
“The Russians are constantly looking for them, searching entire apartment blocks, always setting up new and surprising roadblocks, but they haven’t found any of ours,” Fedorov says with a smile.
The risks these people take are enormous, Meyer knows from his own experience. As mayor, he remained in his city despite the Russian invasion, imprisoned and allegedly tortured.
But he doesn’t want to talk about it. He regained his freedom, exchanging it for nine captured Russian soldiers. Since then, he yearned to free his city from Russian occupation.
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