“The war showed the real face of the city.” The story of an Israeli woman about the occupied Melitopol

“The war showed the face of the city.” The story of an Israeli woman about the occupied Melitopol.

NEWSru.co.il correspondent Alla Gavrilova spoke with Israeli Tatyana Kumok, who was in the Melitopol city in Ukraine at the time of the occupation by Russian troops, reported about what was happening on her Facebook and later was abducted by the Russian military along with her parents.

Tatyana, why did you end up in Melitopol on February 24?

I have made wedding dresses for over 20 years, I have two wedding salons – “Pink Panter” in Tel Aviv and “Chervona Ruta” in Melitopol. When the coronavirus-related quarantines ended, I found a partner for “Pink Panter”, and I had the opportunity to go to Ukraine to improve my second business, which was going through hard times due to the epidemic. Therefore, for the last six months I have been living in Ukraine. Two weeks before the start of the war, I built a new beautiful bridal salon and was going to return to Tel Aviv in a month.

Do you have a family in Melitopol?

Yes, parents. I repatriated in 2000, then returned to Melitopol for a while, and in 2011 I finally moved to Israel.

Why didn’t you leave before the war, when the Israeli authorities asked all Israelis to leave Ukraine?

My parents and I, they are also citizens of Israel, decided that this is our home and we will not leave it. And when the war started and people panicked, I thought that my experience of living under shelling in Israel would help people here. When shells exploded on the outskirts, people in the center threw themselves on the ground and hid in basements that were unsuitable for this, and if a rocket hit people in the basement, they would simply be under the rubble. I thought that when a person who survived the shelling behaves adequately nearby, this can support. And I decided that I would help in any way I could.

Melitopol was occupied almost on the first day of the war. Already on February 24, the airfield was shelled, the Ukrainian army left and by the evening Russian tanks were already standing under the city.

What happened immediately after the troops entered the city?

In the early days there was panic. When the Russian soldiers entered, they smashed the windows of stores, in particular those selling iPhones. And already the people climbed into the holes that had formed, looting began. People were frightened and stole everything in a row – food, alcohol and electrical goods. Everyone saves themselves in the war as best as they can. The Russians immediately disbanded all law enforcement agencies, told the police to hand over their weapons and leave. But thanks to the city authorities and caring citizens, law enforcement groups were immediately created and within a couple of days the looting stopped.

The mayor supported us very much, every day he went on the air, trying to find a place where there is a Ukrainian flag and reported on how communal problems are being solved in the city. We spent several days without electricity, communications and water, but everything was quickly put into operation. The mayor did not participate in the rallies, but everyone understood why.

Tell me about the rallies.

At first we went out rather timidly, there were about 50 people at the first rally. But at the same time, women armed with umbrellas stopped military equipment. Then thousands started coming out. And at first they didn’t touch us, but at some point, riot police pulled up into the city, and the rallies began to be dispersed. The men were beaten, taken out of the city and thrown somewhere in the field, smeared with green color. Women were not beaten, but they were also taken out of the city.

What is the power in the city now?

Russian flags hang on all administrative buildings. They call themselves a military-civilian administration, but in fact they generally try not to answer questions very much. That is, in fact, armed people entered the city, they spoiled the whole life in the city, but they do not offer anything new and do not present themselves.

Almost all deputies of the City Council left the city. The mayor also left after the kidnapping. But only one of the authorities went over to the side of the Russians. The mayor – in the city we call her “Galya, for whom we do not feel sorry for”, the other day she met with foreign journalists and told how production was being restored in the city and how people should get used to living in a new way and fighting the “Nazis”. And she gave telephone numbers – where you can call and give out the “Nazis”.

If in Mariupol people are killed physically, here they are trying to destroy our souls.

What is the humanitarian situation in the city?

All exits from the city are blocked. Food and medicines are not supplied. But our people are enterprising and some are ready to risk their lives to import sausages.

In general, the situation in the city is similar to the early nineties. There are no basic products left in supermarkets, but there are delicacies. The markets have everything – we have an agricultural region – milk, eggs, cottage cheese and potatoes. But everything can be bought only for cash, which began to be delivered to ATMs quite recently. Cards have also only just begun to work, and pensioners, for example received pensions to their bank cards.

Money exchangers appeared. Previously, cashing out was for plus 30%, but now the market has settled down and today you can safely cash out for plus 10%, and everyone knows who has it. In every market there are special people with purses. Plus, the Russians themselves are starving. The other day there was a case – they came to the market and said that they were changing diesel fuel for food.

By the way, hairdressing and nail salons are already operating in the city, but unofficially. Slowly cafes are opened so you can order sushi.

It’s such a half-life. Who has turned sides generally feels fine. Adequate citizens are trying to help each other and visitors. The dormitory, where the people who had escaped from Mariupol were accommodated, was flooded with everything necessary just instantly.

The war showed the face of the city, and it turned out to be much better than I thought, looking from Tel Aviv.

Are the moods in the city mostly pro-Ukrainian or are there pro-Russian voices?

Mostly pro-Ukrainian. Not everyone, however, dares to talk about it. People were knocked down not only by the entrance of the army, but by the bombing and pictures from Mariupol. Many people in the town say that they don’t care who they live under, as long as they don’t shoot.

And what about the weak sections of the population?

The towns people themselves founded a fund, where entrepreneurs first brought food and then began to buy food for donations – Israel and other countries transferred about a million hryvnias to us. Volunteers buy food and travel around the villages, distributing them.

There is another fund founded by a local resident, the director of a technical school, her fund helps low-income segments of the population.

We must also understand that the war began at the end of the month, and there were dishonest entrepreneurs who did not pay people salaries. Therefore, there are also starving people in the city, who are ashamed to stand in lines for humanitarian aid. So I tell everyone to look around and feed those who are starving. For example, we have neighbors who are having a hard time right now, so I just silently bring them food from the fund. I think there are many people like them.

When and with whom did the arrests begin in the city?

They started with the deputies and prominent people of the city. They were interested in whether people would like to cooperate and they were looking for the “Right Sector”. We have all sorts of problems, but there are no “Nazis”. They say in the city if you see “Nazis” – show us. We have a multinational city, and the love of money unites everyone.

At first, many were taken away with bags on their heads, talked to and released. Therefore, when the information came that the mayor of the city had been kidnapped, everyone just giggled – they say, which of us was not taken away in a black bag over our heads? But when it was reported that he was accused of terrorism, it became scary. We went to a rally demanding the release of the mayor, and at this rally the Russians threw a stun grenade into the crowd and stuffed one of the activists into the car. She was released eight days later. And nothing is known about the chairman of the district administration, who was kidnapped ten days ago. The story with the bags, by the way, is over. Now they just come and take people away “to talk”.

How are things going with communication and information?

The Internet is muffled, they just cut off the cables. Those who have Kyivstar, like me, for example, have a connection. Ukrainian channels are jammed, there are only Russian ones, through which every day they tell how we were saved from the “Nazis”.

Tell us about how you and your parents were kidnapped.

My dad is one of the owners of a media holding, although he is already retired. The holding includes several newspapers, the Melitopolskie Vedomosti website and a printing house. The printing house stopped working on the very first day of the war – the press broke down. So newspapers don’t come out, but our website published truthful information about what was going on in the city. The editorial building is adjacent to the city hall building, and the Russians simply occupied our editorial office, setting up their headquarters there, and put equipment in the yard. A week ago, the director of the holding received a call and was offered to go over to the side of the Russians. She said that she was very happy to hear that, but that they were employees, so let them talk to the owners.

All this time the site worked and published news. And on the morning of March 21, the director of the holding called dad and said that two journalists and an editor-in-chief had been captured. Dad called me and said that soon they would come after him. And five minutes later they came for him. I immediately called the director of the holding and asked him to tell the Russians that they had kidnapped Israeli citizens, and I demanded their release, otherwise I would call our Foreign Ministry and the media in an hour. And an hour later they kidnapped me.

When they rang the doorbell, I looked through the peephole and saw crying mom and people with guns at the door. They took my phone away and said that we would go to them to “talk”. My mother and I were put in different cars. A masked soldier sat next to me, like the rest, and we had the following dialogue with him:
– Im Tanya.
– Valera.
– What are you doing, Valera?
– But it was Zelensky who first started, he declared war on the Russia.

When they brought me, I said that I would only talk in the presence of the Israeli consul, but they put my mother in front of me and asked her to tell me that if I talk calmly, then nothing will happen to me.

I immediately realized that I was not kidnapped because I am a blogger and write something. I have only eight thousand Israelis in my subscribers, and the newspaper has thousands of  readers among Mariupol residents. Therefore, it was immediately clear that they took me to put pressure on dad.

I can’t say that I was somehow terribly interrogated; in principle, they didn’t need anything from me. They asked if I go to rallies, if I know the organizers, who owns the fund that pays for the work of the holding. I said that I don’t know anything, we have a Jewish family and we don’t know where dad gets the money that he brings into the house. I was urged to sign a paper stating that I would no longer go to rallies or organize anything, and that I was treated politely. They actually offered me tea, coffee and even champagne.

And then for three hours we just engaged in mutual propaganda:
– Who are you? Russian?
– Yes.
– Why did you occupy our city?
– We didn’t occupy, we saved.
– From what?
– Have you been to Donbass?
– No, and I don’t plan to, it’s bad there, you’ve been there for the eighth year already. And why did you occupied Melitopol? Have you seen the “Nazis” here?
– They all left.
– Well, if they all left, maybe you should also leave? Why are you hanging around here?
– But here they are still oppressed for the Russian language.
– Who is oppressed? I am Russian, my mother is Russian, my father is Jewish. I speak to you in Russian. The whole city speaks Russian.
– But many say that it is very inconvenient that office work in Ukraine is conducted in Russian.
– Do you want to say that all this is happening in the country because it is inconvenient for someone to conduct documents in Ukrainian? Are you saving us from that?

Then they said that I write too much and I should not do charity work, and in between they asked if I was afraid for my parents and if I had ever been in a carcer.

By the way, I told them several times that I was Israeli, and they said that they did not care about my citizenship and that I had no idea what powers they had. And then they said: “Why don’t you leave, Tatyana, if you are an Israeli?” Well, I had to surprise them and tell them that they themselves do not let people out of the city.

As a result, when dad refused to go over to the side of the Russians, but said that he was closing the holding because he could not ensure the safety of journalists, we were all released.

Are you still not going to try to get out of the city?

No. It seems to me that I can still do something here. You know, if in 2014 half of the inhabitants of Melitopol were still on the Russian side, now there are very few of them. And so everywhere. At the beginning, when rallies were not yet dispersed in the occupied cities, we even sent greetings to each other at them. Zelensky keeps repeating that the occupied cities will not be a bargaining chip in negotiations with Russia and that we will all return to Ukraine.

That’s what I said during interrogation. That I just have to wait until ours come back. To which they told me: “Better get used to the new life, yours will not come.”

We have to wait and see.

source: newsru.co.il

 

Source: https://ieshua.org/vojna-pokazala-litso-goroda-rasskaz-izrailtyanki-ob-okkupirovannom-melitopole.htm