Report War in Ukraine | The Resistance

How the Ukrainian Resistance operates in the Russian-occupied territories

The Ukrainian domestic resistance is giving the Russian occupation forces and staff a hard time with guerrilla and sabotage actions explains the independent Ukrainian media Hromadske.

Published on 31 August 2022 at 17:09

In Kherson, the car of Russian-appointed official Dmytro Savluchenko was blown up, he was killed. Near Melitopol, a railway bridge that Russians used to transport weapons was blown up. In Crimea, partisans sent leaflets with threats to the Russian military and their wives.

The resistance movement has spread throughout all the territories occupied by Russia. Ukrainian partisans are doing everything possible to ensure that the Russians do not feel at home here and do not have the opportunity to quickly gain a foothold in the occupied regions.

Ukrainian partisan activity is continuing to complicate efforts by Russian occupation authorities to consolidate control of occupied areas,” said the American Institute for the Study of War report of June 20.

Washington is also talking about a “serious resistance network” that makes it difficult for Russians to manage and provide even basic services, such as clean water or waste disposal. Avril Haines, US National Intelligence Director, said the Kremlin faced “rising partisan activity in southern Ukraine."

“My city was almost immediately occupied. The whole process of resistance to the occupation was in the form of protests in city squares. At first, there were many of us, and at some point, we thought that everything would be resolved and “settle down.” Then we realized that the protests were fading, people were disappearing, and only a small community was coming to these protests. They were my friends, friends of friends, and new friends. We decided it was time to continue the resistance in a slightly different form, a more informal shape.”

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A well-built man with a beard sits with his back to the camera. He tells how he joined the resistance movement in one of the occupied cities of Ukraine. He neither says his name nor the settlement's name for security reasons. This video was recorded at the request of Hromadske by the National Resistance Center which coordinates resistance in the occupied territories: Hromadske handed the partisan the questions and the Center recorded the answers.

The man in the video says that after going underground, his group started creating street art: drawing slogans, and pro-Ukrainian symbols on the city streets, making leaflets with threats to the invaders or encouragements for Ukrainians. The group was also engaged in transferring information about the movements of the Russian troops.

“We tried to stick our leaflets, make our art along their patrol routes. We showed them that they were enemies in this city. This really put pressure on them: routes were strengthened, resources were reduced, and it also affected collaborators. After the explosions and our leaflets, collaborators are afraid to speak about their treacherous position out loud in public because they understand that they are enemies”, says the man.

In addition, he adds, the resistance movement motivated other citizens to show resolve, particularly through sabotage. Later, his group began to notice that new resistance centers appeared in the city, which also stuck leaflets and painted graffiti. The resistance movement grew.

State secret

The law on national resistance was adopted by Ukrainian parliamentarians shortly before the full-scale invasion – on January 27. Legislators defined that the components of national resistance are territorial defense, resistance movement, and preparation of citizens for resistance. The last element is nonviolent counteraction. That’s what the National Resistance Center, which was established in March, is doing. The Сenter has an ambitious task – to prepare all adult Ukrainians to resist the invaders.

The Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine coordinate the resistance movement. Most often, these are professional military personnel who perform combat tasks in temporarily occupied territories. Most likely, they are the ones who blow up the railway or collaborators, but they rarely report their operations. Information about their tasks is a state secret. It happened only once when the Special Operations Forces command reported the result of the partisans’ activity – the explosion of a bridge in the south of Ukraine.

In other cases, it is impossible to identify the perpetrators of attempts and strikes in the rear of the Russians, although the Ukrainian authorities hint at the activities of partisans.

After February 24, explosions were heard in all major occupied cities. In Enerhodar and Melitopol, resistance movement tried to blow up “gauleiters.” From time to time, one can notice smoke over the Port of Berdyansk in Zaporizhzhya Oblast. For example, on March 24, the Ukrainian Armed Forces sank a large landing ship Saratov. Kherson does not leave the news feeds either: a collaborator and head of Colony No. 90, Yevgeniy Soboliev, and MP Alexey Kovalyov, who went to Kherson and began to cooperate with the Russian army, were injured during the explosions. As a result of one of the attacks, Dmytro Savluchenko, the so-called head of the Department for Family, Youth, and Sports of the Russian military-civil administration, was killed.

Our main goal is ensuring the land burns under their feet. And we’ve been succeeding in it so far.” – Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol.

“This resistance movement maintains communication with the security forces, with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, says the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov. Today, this phenomenon is more aimed at countering the military aggression of the rashist [contraction of “Russian” and “fascist”, Editor’s note] federation, and its main goal is to paralyze the movement of railway transport in the Russian Federation, the delivery of ammunition, military equipment, and, of course, everything that makes it uncomfortable for rashists to stay on our territory.”

Melitopol partisans seem to be succeeding in it. This is the city that the British newspaper The Economist named the unofficial capital of Ukraine’s resistance. On July 3, unknown people blew up a railway bridge between Melitopol and Tokmak that Russians used to transport weapons. Ukrainian Intelligence Service reported that 70 Russian servicemen were killed in Melitopol during night patrols.

There is evidence that this is a consequence of the Ukrainian resistance movement’s work,” representatives of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense stated.

The Melitopol Mayor is very cautious when speaking about who exactly takes part in the partisan movement in the city, calling them “people with different qualifications.” Such caution is caused bythe repressions that Russians resort to. Every successful action of resistance movement is followed by detentions, adds Fedorov.

The Russians also intensified their persecution in Enerhodar, says Mayor Dmytro Orlov. The situation is tense, and the partisan movement is not so massive because there are many occupiers in the city, and most of the young people have left, explains Orlov. In addition, the Russians have taken over the video surveillance system and can easily track their movements.

It’s hard for the resistance movement members to be under pressure. A lot of them were taken to basements. They release them so that one reports the other, and blackmail threatening to do something to the families”, says Orlov.

The collaborators’ reaction indicates that explosions frighten them. Kherson collaborators started walking down the streets with bulletproof vests and security guards. The so-called “head of the people’s administration” of Enerhodar Andriy Shevchyk, appointed by the Russians, was injured during the explosion on May 22. Although he returned to work, he took twice as many bodyguards. Now bomb technicians are also with him all the time, says Orlov.

The Russia-appointed governor in Melitopol, Yevhen Balytsky, moved after the explosion near his house on May 30, but his new address is well known to the Ukrainian Security Forces, warns Ivan Fedorov.

“Now they are afraid to leave their apartments, look around the corners, so our main goal is to ensure the land burns under their feet. And we’ve been succeeding in it so far”, says the mayor of Melitopol.

“Everyone should become a partisan in their own place – either it is a cleaner in some building, or it is the director of some municipal institution,” this is how the representative of the National Resistance Center describes his mission. He asks not to disclose his last name for security reasons. He says that he, like other members of the resistance movement, is known to five or ten people. This is necessary so that if one group is detained, it is impossible to reach all the others. 

“Everyone should become a partisan in their own place – either it is a cleaner in some building, or it is the director of some municipal institution.” – The representative of the National Resistance Centre

The Special Operations Forces created a website where they teach forms of resistance and explain how to ensure your own safety in the occupied territories. On the website, you can find out how to use a VPN or behave in captivity or how to steal a Russian tank or set up an ambush

Here’s how the Special Operations Forces advise preparing for resistance actions:

  • You should always have an alibi. Think of an alibi in advance. It should be simple and straightforward.
  • Try to take actions that many people may be responsible for. For example, sabotage on the street after dark, which you can commit against a military vehicle or truck, is another example of an almost impossible action to blame you for.
  • You should try to damage only those objects and materials that are used by the enemy, first of all, fuel, food, medicines. 
  • After you have committed simple sabotage, resist the temptation to stay put and see the result. Observers are more likely to arouse suspicion. 

The Center has launched SABOTAGEVLOG on YouTube, where it teaches you how to complicate the life of the occupiers. Here’s one of the examples of communal sabotage suggested by scouts: “Do you work as a plumber or cleaner? Actions performed earlier with the sewage or water supply systems will allow you to get a legitimate reason to access the housing of the occupier, and even at his invitation or encouraged by him. No need to install tripwires or a camera — this is too risky here. Can you hide your phone? Set an alarm clock with a beautiful recording of “We will kill you all” in the bedroom. Unfortunately, such an action is likely to be a one-time action, and the phone will not survive this, but the deeper and closer this track is played to the occupier, the better.”

The National Resistance Center speaker says that their task is to explain that anyone can resist: a plumber, an artist, an accountant or a personnel officer in a city council. The Center only indicates the direction to the residents of the occupied territories.

“You can leave the wheels loose, not top up the oil so that the occupier’s car breaks down. You can achieve the best result because you are an expert. The plumber knows how to tighten the pipe so that it clogs in four days so that everything starts floating in the occupiers’ office, and they are knee-deep in shit. An official knows how to hold five meetings in a day, go out for a smoke break, communicate with someone, and send a document with five signatures for re-approval. This is all sabotage. We give hints, key things and explain security measures: how a person should behave during a search or communication with an occupier, what the phone should look like”, says the National Resistance Center speaker.

Nonviolent resistance

Nonviolent resistance has spread even to the territories occupied back in 2014. In Donetsk, pro-Ukrainian graffiti appeared. Partisans in Crimea stick leaflets with hints about the destruction of the Crimean bridge and threats. A yellow and blue paint was thrown on the administration building in Yevpatoria. Unknown people created a channel on Telegram, “Crimea — the land of partisan glory,” where they publish information about the resistance on the peninsula.

The National Resistance Center speaker explains that the level of resistance in the occupied cities may seem different because it depends on the number of people. The more residents, the larger the partisan movement. That is why the news about the Kherson partisans appears most often in the media. 

“It is more difficult for the information to “make its way” from the territories that have been under Russian occupation for eight years, and it is more difficult for people to implement these tasks. The police regime is already fully established there. The danger is terrible. Fierce resistance is taking place everywhere in the territories occupied after February 24. In Mariupol, the Russians conducted a sweep, and there was a period of calm for a while. And now the first actions of our guys in the rear are beginning. People already have a better understanding of how to resist”, the speaker of the National Resistance Center announces new actions. 

Residents of the occupied territories also resort to sabotage. According to the Ministry of Education, in Kherson, only two school principals out of 60 agreed to cooperate with Russians. Most of the city’s entrepreneurs refused to work for rubles, and the heads of condominiums did not provide lists of people who left the city and left vacant apartments, says First Deputy Chairman of the Kherson Regional Council Yuriy Sobolevsky.

In fact, in every community, there are still people who resist the occupiers. First, they maintain patriotism in the region: leaflets are constantly placed and distributed, and our flags and patriotic graffiti are hung out. This is very difficult to do because if the Russians catch them, it can be very dangerous. But the Kherson region is now extremely patriotic. All our dear Kherson residents are very much waiting for the AFU”, says Sobolevsky.

In some areas of the Zaporizhzhya region, the occupiers did not receive up-to-date population lists to hold a “referendum” because the municipal bodies destroyed them, says the National Resistance Center speaker. Mass resistance of the population forced Russians to postpone the fake process of the territories joining the Russian Federation for the third time. A representative of the Center explains that when the Kremlin orders its general to hold a “referendum” in spring, and he fails the task, Moscow reprimands him, delays everything, and lowers the morale of Russians — and they postpone the “referendum” again.

“Of course, they are uncomfortable when they see that no one waits for them here. No one has ever met them with flowers, so they behave quite carefully and try not to take any food or drinks from the locals because they are worried about their health”, says the mayor of Enerhodar Dmytro Orlov.

In Kherson, both the occupiers and collaborators are nervous. Partisans also warn locals against cooperation with Russians, says First Deputy Chairman of the Kherson Regional Council Yuriy Sobolevsky. Because of the powerful partisan movement, Russians are constantly strengthening filtration measures, conducting searches, and abducting people, the official adds.

According to the Special Operations Forces, peaceful resistance of local residents is an important addition to the work of combat partisans.

“A postcard, a graffiti, a Telegram channel, a threat on a piece of paper, put on the car. It seems like nothing serious – it’s not like blowing up a car. No, believe me, when for three months some private soldier or an officer from Rostov lives in a city where everyone wants him dead, where he is without his family, and doesn’t manage to do something, the command humiliates him because he fails to complete the tasks, it deals a heavy blow to the morale and psychological state of the occupier”, the speaker of the National Resistance believes.

Russians’ fast retreat

He hopes that when the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberate the occupied cities, the Russians will retreat faster under the pressure of the resistance movement in the rear.

The resistance movement not only demoralizes Russians but also encourages locals who have been living under occupation for four months. “Despondency” is a word often used in conversation with Hromadske by the speakers interviewed.

“People somehow get used to the new reality, says Kherson journalist Ivan Antypenko. The narrative that Ukraine abandoned us continues to spread. And it will work. If Ukraine did not come, then it left us – this is a very simple link that ordinary people in the villages will make in their minds. “Yes, it is difficult, but they do not shoot, for example, in the Henichesk district. Well, prices have changed – there are rubles, some people left. There was something to eat, a vegetable garden was planted, and some kind of business was set up. You can bring vegetables to Crimea. You can live.” We can’t let this narrative work.”

According to Yuriy Sobolevsky, the Russians convince the locals that Ukraine does not need Kherson Oblast and Russia has come forever. Journalist Ivan Antypenko calls for reminding in various ways that Kherson is Ukraine to avoid a prevailing sense of despondency. 

Not only with words from the TV, but also with actions, in particular, those undertaken by the resistance movement,” the journalist says.

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov recalls another effective method — Centers for displaced persons in the controlled territories, where you can go for support. And in the Center for National Resistance, Ukrainians are advised to communicate more often with people in the occupied territories — to write even to some people you barely know to support them with words.

👉 Original article at in Ukrainian and English 
In association with the European Cultural Foundation

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