Alia Shoaib

Aug 14, 2022

Business Insider


In Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, a resistance movement is steadily growing.

In Kherson, the first Ukrainian city occupied by Russia, guerrilla units are attacking pro-Moscow politicians, planting bombs, and working with the military to stage attacks against Russian troops.

“Our goal is to make life unbearable for the Russian occupiers and use any means to derail their plans,” Andriy, 32, a Kherson-based member of the Zhovta Strichka, or “Yellow Ribbon,” resistance movement, told the Associated Press.

“We are giving the Ukrainian military precise coordinates for various targets, and the guerrillas’ assistance makes the new long-range weapons, particularly HIMARS, even more powerful,” he told the outlet. “We are invisible behind the Russian lines, and this is our strength.”

Last month, Ukrainian forces used US-supplied HIMARS to strike the strategic Antonivsky Bridge on the Dnieper River, which serves as a supply route for Russian troops in Kherson. A 40-car train carrying ammunition from supply dumps in occupied Crimea to Russian forces in Kherson Oblast was also bombarded, Forbes reported.

On Saturday, Ukraine claimed it had taken out another bridge in Nova Kakhovka, northeast of Kherson, rendering it impassable.

These attacks have hugely affected Russia’s supply chain, with Western intelligence saying it can now only resupply its forces in the region using two pontoon ferry crossings, per The Telegraph.

The Ukrainian military now appears to be gearing up for a wider counter-offensive to take back Kherson, as forces have been striking Russian command centers and ammunition depots.

Partisans destroying tracks and Russian armored trains in occupied-southern Ukraine have also been reported. In May and June, guerrillas blew up two railway bridges in Melitopol and derailed two Russian military trains, Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov told AP.

“The resistance movement is pursuing three goals — to destroy Russian weapons and means of supplying them, discrediting and intimidating the occupiers and their collaborators, and informing Ukrainian special services about enemy positions,” he added.

Anna (her name has been changed to protect her identity), who lives in Kherson, told Insider that resistance forces were ramping up action against Russian troops in the city, attacking Russian vehicles, administrative buildings and killing pro-Moscow officials.

“It is all good because they are our enemies and are occupying us,” she said. “We should return our city to our control as soon as possible.”

This week the Russian-installed mayor of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, was reportedly poisoned and taken to Moscow, where he is in a medical coma, the Evening Standard reported, citing Russian opposition media.

His deputy Kirill Stremousov denied that Saldo was in a coma and said on his Telegram channel that his boss’ illness was due to “psychological and physical stress.”

Another Russian-installed official in Kherson, Dmytry Savluchenko, was killed in a bomb blast in June, and Saldo’s assistant Pavel Slobodchikov was shot and killed in his car in March.

Other officials have been shot at, and bombs have been placed at officials’ homes and near their places of work, according to AP.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider that while guerrilla warfare can often be romanticized, it is not something that should be taken lightly.

“Guerilla war is immensely destructive of society and in a whole variety of ways,” he said. “There’s physical destruction caused by the fighting, but there’s social destruction because, in effect, these are civil wars, pitting one part of a country against another.”

A violent and non-violent resistance movement

Since Russia occupied the Ukrainian territories, it has been taking steps to try and erase Ukrainian identity. It has included handing out Russian passports, imposing the use of the Russian ruble instead of Ukraine’s hryvnia, and limiting access to Ukrainian internet and TV.

Rumors have swirled that referendums will be held in occupied areas to join Russia, with observers noting that any such votes are likely to lack legitimacy.

While in the initial weeks of the occupation there were defiant protests in Kherson, Russian forces cracked down by arresting activists and conducting checks and raids.

However, the resistance movement has not been quelled but has changed its tactics.

The Yellow Ribbon movement has been spreading pamphlets, flyers, and a newspaper in occupied areas protesting against possible referendums.

Yellow ribbons or graffiti have been placed on administrative buildings where voting would be held, the group said on its Telegram channel. Some reports have suggested that the symbols are meant to warn civilians that the sites might be targets for bombing.

“I think what you’re going to see, and what you’re probably seeing, is a lot of passive resistance to that sort of occupation,” Cancian said. “So far, it hasn’t had a major operational impact. But it does indicate that the Ukrainians are not willing to become part of Russia.”

An imminent counter-offensive might take a heavy toll

A successful counter-offensive to take Kherson would be difficult but would be a massive boost to Ukraine.

Cancian noted that offensive operations are much harder than defensive operations and will require a level of skill that it is not clear the Ukrainians possess.

Some Western and Ukrainian officials have expressed concerns that they do not have enough soldiers and weaponry for a successful offensive and that it would be likely to take a heavy toll.

However, Ukrainian politicians and military officials have continued to signal their plans to take back the occupied territories.

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, last month asked residents of Kherson to evacuate the city and the surrounding region if possible.

“Please, go because our army will definitely de-occupy these lands,” she said, according to The New York Times. “Our will to do so is unwavering.”