Soldiers from the Russian army are demanding monetary payments from Ukrainian residents for a chance to escape occupied territories. Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Oblast Military Administration reported in a Telegram post that Russian troops in the occupied southeastern city of Melitopol are charging civilians 3,000 to 5,000 hryvnias ($100 to $170) to leave the area.

“The Russians are trying to profit from armed pressure on Melitopol civilians. Russian soldiers at checkpoints are demanding that Melitopol residents who are trying to leave the city pay them between 3,000 and 5,000 hryvnias,” the Zaporizhzhia Oblast Military Administration wrote on Telegram. The translation was provided by the Ukrainian media site Ukrainska Pravda.

“Those who do not have the money are fated to remain the terrorists’ hostages amid unemployment, shortages, and terror,” the military administration added.

They also reported instances of the Russian military personnel forcing Ukrainian vehicles passing through checkpoints to pay bribes in the nearby city of Enerhodar. The military administration said that the Russians in the Vasylvika checkpoint are demanding exorbitant amounts ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 hryvnia ($675 to $1,350) per vehicle.

Only those capable of paying the bribe are let through the checkpoint, creating a queue of over 400 vehicles waiting to pass. Even cars carrying much-needed humanitarian aid for the Russian-occupied territories are being held up at the checkpoint, the Zaporizhzhia Oblast Military Administration reported.

The report came a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine reached its fourth month. Since the start of Putin’s “special military operation” on February 24, the Russian army has suffered heavy losses on the ground, as per Western and Ukrainian sources.

Russian T-72 tanks arriving in Melitopol (Rob Lee). Source:
Russian T-72 tanks arriving in Melitopol (Rob Lee/Twitter)

Fighting during the early weeks of the conflict was heavily centered around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. However, the Russians failed to seize Kyiv after meeting stiff resistance from Ukrainian defenders. Since then, Russian military operations have shifted towards the country’s eastern Donbas region.

Experts say that after the failure in Kyiv, Moscow has changed its war goals from taking over the Ukrainian government to occupying as much territory in the east and establishing a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, which it has already done with the surrender of the Ukrainian forces once holding the Azovstal Iron and Steelworks plant in Mariupol.

As of May 31, the Russian invasion force has lost over 30,500 military personnel, 1,358 tanks, and more than 3,302 armored vehicles, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff and the Ukrainian media. Note that these figures cannot be independently verified and often differ from Western estimates.

Fighting is now currently focused on the area of Severodonetsk, where Russian forces have been reported to be advancing, with half of the city being seized. However, Ukrainians continue to defend the city in an effort to prevent further pushes from the Russian forces.

Guerilla Warfare in Melitpol

Since the Russian forces arrived in the city in February, resistance in the city of Melitopol has been very strong and has no signs of declining. As living conditions in the city continue to deteriorate under Russian rule, attacks by local partisans on Russian entities have become increasingly common.

As the Russians entered the city, locals tried to block Russian armored convoys, and residents took to the streets in protest as they waved Ukrainian flags. After the Russian authorities cracked down on the protesters, the resistance movement evolved, and much more radical groups emerged.

The United States-based Institute for the Study of War said that the city of Melitopol has been a hotspot for partisan warfare since the middle of March.

According to a Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate report, partisan attacks conducted from March 20 to April 12 have “eliminated 70 Russian soldiers during their night patrol.”

Partisans were also able to take down a Russian armored train carrying soldiers and military equipment. The attack, confirmed by Ukrainian authorities on May 18, was done by remotely detonated explosives implanted by the partisans.

The explosion caused significant damage to two railway tracks, while the 10-car armored train was forced to stop.

“It’s the job of our partisans, our secret services, and our soldiers. They do this job together,” said the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov.

Most recently, an explosion caused by a car bomb injured several people in Melitopol on May 30. Russia’s Investigative Committee and an unnamed Ukrainian official claim that the attack was linked to the resistance movement in the city.

“On May 30, 2022, an explosion reportedly took place in the center of Melitopol near a residential building at the time of distribution of humanitarian aid, which was organized by Ukrainian saboteurs,” the Russian Investigative Committee wrote. Take note that this information was released by a Russian committee, thus the use of “saboteurs.”

Federov discussed the explosion in a separate state. The mayor noted that the attack happened near a building owned by the head of the city’s Russia-appointed administration.