FSB bans the last Ukrainian charity providing humanitarian aid in Russian-occupied Melitopol
Russia’s FSB have raided the last functioning charity in occupied Melitopol (Zaporizhzhia oblast), taking some employees away for so-called ‘filtration’ and leaving elderly, disabled and other vulnerable Melitopol residents without the humanitarian aid they need to survive. Russia has been targeting volunteers since the beginning of its full-scale invasion, with those seeking to help other Ukrainians presumably viewed with suspicion and distrust. Several, such as Iryna Horobtsova and Yaroslav Zhuk, are known to be imprisoned by the Russians in occupied Crimea or Russia, while the whereabouts of others remain unknown.
Valery Hazaiev, Head of the Support for Melitopol Fund has told the Centre for Journalist Investigations that armed men burst into the Melitopol office of the organization on 13 January. One produced Russian FSB [security service] identification. The men proceeded to search the premises and took all mobile phones away, saying that this was “for further checks”. The invaders have been carrying out such ‘checks’ since February, with people often abducted, tortured and imprisoned because of Ukrainian symbols, patriotic videos, etc. found on phones or other gadgets. Most of the employees were questioned on the spot, however two were taken away for separate interrogation. They were, however, later released. Hazeiev says that the Russians’ search found nothing, yet they closed the premises down and removed the keys, with the staff ordered to stay away. This means that the humanitarian aid left inside, including medicine, items of hygiene and foodstuffs, will not be received by those in need whom the charity was helping. Hazaiev explains that just on that day 43 people were awaiting food parcels from them. He is devastated by the effect all of this will have on those they were helping. Many of them have no family left in the city and desperately need their aid. They help a lot of elderly people who will not have access to the Internet and will have no idea why they have not come.
The official version provided by the security service of the aggressor state illegally occupying Melitopol is that the fund was working ‘illegally’. Hazaiev dismisses any suggestion of illegality. There was no way, he says, that an organization which has at various times had up to 40 volunteers and provided food parcels to more than 500 people a day, could be working secretly. He points out also that people from the Russian-installed occupation ‘administration’ and Russian soldiers were constantly turning up and watching what they were doing. They were not once told that some kind of additional permits were required. The Support for Melitopol charitable fund had been working in the occupied city since March. With donations received from all over the world, they had managed to provide over 70 thousand food parcels. After the invaders totally banned deliveries of humanitarian loads to occupied territory, the organization was forced to prioritize those deemed in greatest need. They had recently been helping around 300 elderly people in ill health and without families. Hazaiev is adamant that the charity has not closed. It has simply suspended its activities, and will renew them as soon as is possible. This, however, may well be too late for many of those it was helping.
Russia is not just destroying Ukrainian cities in order to gain control of more Ukrainian territory. It is then effectively blocking international aid to those civilians who remained on that territory, while blocking those living in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia oblast from leaving for government-controlled Ukraine. In October 2022, the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine told Voice of America that they were unable to provide humanitarian aid to millions of Ukrainians because the Russians were not granting access across the front line and to areas that they were temporarily occupying.
In those cities which Russia virtually destroyed, like Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the invaders have done little to reinstate infrastructure, with people existing in badly damaged buildings, without heating and often without electricity and running water.
While Russia continues to occupy Melitopol and other parts of Zaporizhzhia oblast, it is not physically destroying them. It is, however, making the life of ordinary Ukrainians living there impossible. The latest ‘innovation’ was the total ban, from 1 January 2023, on using Ukrainian currency. In conditions of Russian occupation, a huge part of the remaining population, many of whom are elderly, will now be totally dependent on social benefits or pensions from the Ukrainian state, These are, obviously, paid in Ukrainian currency. Now, not only are the prices of ordinary products virtually unaffordable, but the residents have to lose money by changing hryvnia to Russian roubles in order to buy anything.