In Zaporijjia, Iryna and Pavlo wait outside an aid center for exiled residents of Melitopol, a large city in southern Ukraine that has been occupied for almost 15 months. In the queue to receive their food package, they plan to return home. “We are waiting for the release of Melitopol”, says Pavlo, hoping for the success of the counter-offensive announced by kyiv against the Russian troops. Iryna abounds: “Yes, we have been preparing for a long time. We are already trying to identify those who have been able to collaborate. We are trying to get them to leave the city, to go to Russia, if they get there. Otherwise , too bad for them, so that the city is rid of these people!
>> Ukrainian civilians leave the town of Melitopol taken by the Russians
Vitaliy refused to collaborate with the Russians. This policeman therefore left his town in the early days of the occupation. Like many, he recently returned from abroad to prepare for a counter-offensive. “Everyone understood that it was only a matter of time, but a time that can last three months, six months… When people went abroad, they didn’t know what was going on. was waiting for them the next day. But now they are telling each other a lot about what is going on and they are hopeful of going home.”
Authorities in exile in Melitopol prepare for possible release
The displaced people from Melitopol therefore flocked to Zaporijjia, where the authorities in exile in the city gave them a questionnaire: it was a question of knowing who wanted to return as soon as they were liberated, and how each could make themselves useful.
Artem Chuliatiev coordinates these initiatives: “People answer us for example: ‘I can repair cars, I can make bread, etc….’ So we already have a base of people who, as soon as we can return to Mariupol , will be able to manage humanitarian emergencies on the spot, district by district”. Because no one really knows in what state they will find their city and its inhabitants, after 15 months of Russian occupation. But also after the fighting that is looming to liberate the region.
“I don’t even know if there are any men left in town.”Artem Chuliatiev
“In Donetsk or Luhansk, all the men were forced to fight. In Donetsk, they even sent musicians from an orchestra to their death and today there is no orchestra anymore”, reports Artem Chuliatiev. In Zaporijjia, everyone hopes that the Russians will retreat from the first battles of the Ukrainian counter-offensive. That’s what they did last year around Kharkiv and Kherson.
The report by Camille Magnard and Laurent Macchietti