Melitopol mayor: City's liberation would be a step toward taking back Crimea

The mayor of Melitopol says his city in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia will be one of the key cities for Kyiv's planned counteroffensive against Russia.

Melitopol was seized by the Russians last year. The US newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, said on Saturday that many experts believe that recapturing Melitopol is one of the top priorities for Ukraine, which is going on the counteroffensive.

In an online interview with NHK on Thursday, Mayor Ivan Fedorov said Melitopol's liberation would mean that Ukrainians would be starting to liberate Crimea. Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea in 2014.

On the current situation, Fedorov said Russia has been deploying its troops and fighters of the private military firm Wagner Group, and tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are now situated on the frontline.

He said Russia has built more than three defense lines in the Zaporizhzhia region.

The mayor said the Russian forces have used Melitopol as a logistics hub for units deployed in the Zaporizhzhia and neighboring Kherson regions, so the city is of strategic significance to Russia.

Fedorov also said Melitopol is connected to Russia and Crimea by two highways, so the city is a "gateway" to Crimea.

He said that is why Melitopol is one of the most important cities which Ukrainians need to liberate.

The mayor suggested that Ukraine's counteroffensive will be a bigger operation than ever before, with his city being one of the keys, so careful preparations are underway.