On Feb. 24 – the very first day of the Russian invasion – enemy troops marched into Melitopol. In an interview with NV Radio, the city’s Mayor Ivan Fedorov recalls how he hoped that a swift and decisive international response would quickly put an end to the war.
NV: Within a day, Russian tanks were in Melitopol. In some of your interviews, you said you had nothing but shovels and garbage trucks against enemy tanks. How would you explain this lack of preparation for a full-scale invasion?
Fedorov: Russia was insidious in how it treated Ukraine. From the morning of Feb. 24, missiles were striking near residential areas across the country. In Melitopol, explosions were occurring 200 meters away from people’s homes.
Why we were caught off-guard? Because we were living our peaceful lives, working to build a European country, with European cities. Russia didn’t declare war but instead launched the so-called “special military operation,” which really is the second stage of its war on Ukraine, which started in 2014.
The most hellish situation is at the front lines, where our heroic troops are defending our country and its territorial integrity. Next, come our occupied cities.
Our administration kept working for two weeks, after which I was abducted. Mass abductions then started across Melitopol – over 500 people. Our residents are being treated in the most horrific ways.
We were focused on making Ukraine into a European country. Russia attacked us suddenly, without a declaration of war.
NV: How would you describe what you and your co-workers felt on the first day?
Fedorov: We hoped it will end in a matter of hours, that the international community will put an end to the Russian aggression, to their brand of fascism. But that didn’t pan out. First explosions rocked the city at 5 a.m., and by 4 p.m. armored convoys already were at Multipole’s southern boundary.
Every day we worked towards the future of our country and city. (When the invasion began) there was much confusion. We didn’t know exactly what to do, where to flee to, how to administer municipal affairs, or what should we tell locals. Despite the confusion, we decided to remain with our residents in Melitopol, doing everything in our power to help those who decided to stay.
NV: From the very first day, the Russians started to circulate propaganda leaflets. Did they contact you at all, in those early days?
Fedorov: If I remember correctly, they contacted me for the first time on day three, maybe four. Their intent was simple: they attempted to sway me with the same propaganda they were barraging city residents with – that there is no other way than “working to bring the Russian Federation” to Melitopol.
All of us realized there won’t be a Russian Federation in the city. We saw what was going on in Crimea, in Donbas in the last eight years, so we didn’t believe all this fluff. Russians wanted us to submit and assist them in every way possible.
NV: There’s much talk of Moscow’s plans for occupied territories. Many expect Russia wants to simply annex what it managed to snag. What do you think the Kremlin intends to do with our southern lands?
Fedorov: We shouldn’t pay any attention to Russian plans, because they are worthless. Neither issuing fake passports nor switching to Russian phone numbers will make any difference. Their promises are similarly worthless.
Melitopol, Berdyansk, Kherson, Nova Kakhivka, Enerhodar – are all free cities of our democratic country, and we ought to do everything we can and more, to help our armed forces in liberating them. Our mission is to keep disrupting Russian plans.