Russian invaders torture and 'deport' Ukrainians for ‘extremist’ suport for Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia oblast
Russia stepped up its methods of terror in occupied Melitopol (Zaporizhzhia oblast) following its forced retreat from Kherson and parts of the Kherson oblast. Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol, recently told that the Russians who had retreated from Kherson oblast to occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast “are behaving like animals”, abducting and raping civilians. There has also been a sharp increase in looting.
All of the methods of terror – the enforced disappearances; the abductions; torture and ‘deportations’ began as soon as the Russians gained control of Melitopolt with no let-up since. Probably quite the contrary, as the invaders and local collaborators feel vulnerable and react with anger to the ongoing resistance and passive opposition from the population. Like with Kherson and other liberated parts of the Kherson oblast, the full scale of the terror applied will only become clear when the Russians are driven from Zaporizhzhia oblast.
The invaders have an evident problem with openly acknowledging resistance. Back in September, after all, Moscow staged a fake ‘referendum’ at gunpoint, and then claimed that virtually 100% of the population had ‘voted to join Russia’. From time to time, the occupiers publish videos showing Ukrainians ‘deported’ from occupied territory. On 10 January 2023, for example, former head of the Mykhailivka vocational college in the Zaporizhzhia oblast. videoing the farcical scene in which he was informed of his ‘expulsion’ and sent away. This was essentially for supporting Ukraine and waiting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ liberation of Zaporizhzhia oblast, although Russian propaganda sources that Udovychenko had collected money for the Armed Forces [“for Ukrainian nationalists”, according to their rendition], had assured collaborators that Ukrainian defenders would soon liberate the area, and had “tried to sabotage the education process”. As the Ukrainian regional media RIA Melitopol noted, Udovychenko “was deprived of his home, his work and property for his faith in the return of Ukraine’s Armed Forces to Melitopol”. It is, unfortunately, very likely that the Russians used much more brutal methods away from the camera, with these probably including torture.
The invaders began threatening to evict Ukrainians from their homes and ‘deport’ them from occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts back in July 2022, Such ‘expulsions’ were claimed to be for ‘extremist activities’, with the alleged ‘extremism’ being to support Ukraine and circulate accurate information about Russia’s invasion and the crimes it was committing. Russia had encountered general opposition, with teachers and parents resisting attempts to force educational institutions to work according to Russian ‘standards’, etc. Such resistance clashed badly with Russia’s narrative to justify its full-scale invasion, hence the threats of consequences which were claimed to be ‘humane’. By early October, Ivan Fedorov that these so-called ‘deportations’ were being carried out on a daily basis. Fedorov mentioned a woman who had been held prisoner for a month and beaten because she didn’t know the Russian language and then deported. On 7 October, Fedorov that two women had been deported. The first had been taken to the last checkpoint in Vasylivka and left there after the Russians found a plan for children studying online according to the Ukrainian curriculum on her telephone. Another woman had been deported, and forced to walk to unoccupied Zaporizhzhia, after the Russians found a T-shirt with the Ukrainian flag.
That there is absolutely nothing ‘humane’ about such methods is also clear from given by a young couple of the torture they faced, before being ‘deported’. The two, referred to by assumed names (Inna and Oleksandr) for safety, were seized by the invaders while posting patriotic messages around Melitopol. Inna was held in a dark container for around nine days, in appalling conditions and with no food at all for the first three days. She was held prisoner in total around six weeks, before she was taken away by car, with a bag over her head, understandably wondering whether she was being taken to be executed. In fact, the invaders staged a videoed expulsion during which she was read out a ‘decision’ saying that she was being deported for so-called ‘extremist activities’ and being a ‘bad influence’.
28-year-old Oleksandr suffered more direct and savage torture, as did the men he was imprisoned with, all of whom had been seized for their pro-Ukrainian position. He too was ‘deported’ after almost exactly two months of imprisonment in horrific conditions and torture.
In the above-mentioned interview in late December, Fedorov t that 50-60% of Melitopol residents have left the city because of the danger, An estimated 60 thousand people now live in the city which, before the war, had a population of almost 150 thousand. The invaders are, of course, using them as an opportunity to move into empty apartments and, doubtless, plunder others.
The Mayor, however, says, that despite all the difficulties, Melitopol residents are continuing to hold ‘the defence’. Not one doctor has gone to provide assistance to the Russian military hospital. 90% of educational workers have refused to collaborate with the self-proclaimed ‘authorities’, despite the Russians abducting the head of the Melitopol Department of Education Iryna Shcherbak and four school heads. The invaders have been forced to bring in ‘teachers’ from Dagestan. These unqualified individuals force the children to write ‘letters of gratitude’ to the invaders; to take part in festivities marking dates important for the ‘empire’ and sing both the Russian and the Soviet national anthems. A lot of this is for appearances. Of the 15 schools in Melitopol which the occupiers ‘opened’ on 1 September, four closed immediately for lack of either students or teachers.
Fedorov notes that there are far more residents who are subscribed to a Ukrainian Telegram channel, than to a Russian propaganda one. This is despite the danger of ending up flung into a basement [improvised prison] and tortured if the Russians find the Ukrainian channel on your phone.
Fedorov adds that the residents are most afraid that Russia will turn Melitopol into a second Mariupol. Their city is a land corridor for Russia to occupied Crimea, and they will not just give it up.