Elina Beketova

April 12, 2024



The Ukrainian people’s resistance to Russia was planned long before tanks crossed the border, and they warn other Europeans to be ready to repel Moscow’s aggression.

The National Resistance Center trains and coordinates resistance movements in Ukraine’s occupied regions. Formed by Kyiv’s Special Operations Forces, it teaches nonviolent resistance, helps partisans, and has established underground communication channels.

“If you are an employee of the occupying administration, do not order new work materials until your current stock is completely depleted,” the center’s website says in one of thousands of recommendations of how to disrupt the occupation. “The slightest delay in the execution of routine work will mean a halt in administrative decisions.”

The website gives a wide range of advice on resistance alongside practical information, ranging from first aid for the victims of nuclear or phosphorus weapons to the best ways to disable a video surveillance camera.

Long before the full-scale invasion, preparations and learning were underway through hands-on workshops, online courses, and training manuals, according to Ostap, who works for the National Resistance Center. He didn’t provide further details of his identity for security reasons.

“One hundred thousand people have downloaded the manual on nonviolent resistance since the first days of the full-scale invasion,” he said. “This was across the whole of Ukraine, as people didn’t know how far the enemy would advance. We immediately understood we would need to convey the information to the whole population and prepare them as much as possible for resistance.”

The longer a territory is under occupation, the more difficult it is to resist, he said. The Russians’ counter-subversion regime and active special services make underground work difficult, particularly in areas that have been under Russian occupation since 2014.

Occupation goes through several stages which demand different responses, Ostap explained. When enemy troops first move in, cities experience chaos and there are rallies, as was the case in Kherson, Enerhodar and Melitopol.

After that, the occupying forces start to carry out raids as part of counter-subversion measures, detaining people who were active during protests, for example. Then the Russians start to send their special services into occupied areas.

“It is very difficult, as there are a lot of surveillance cameras, there are checkpoints,” Ostap said. “A new strategy involves buses, with 15 people in each, which they use to set up checkpoints anywhere. They check phones and other devices, they even try to see what you’ve deleted.”

Mobile communications are often blocked in the occupied territories and electronic warfare is intense. More conventional special operations are also conducted to infiltrate communities, spread distrust, and identify informants.

“A person-in-line is a typical FSB approach,” Ostap said. “Representatives in civilian clothes mingle with crowds, decry Russia’s faults to incite anti-Russian sentiment, then individuals who agree with them are identified and may eventually be detained.”

It’s hard to say the number of people who have been seized, as it constantly changes, he said. Sometimes the only indication that someone has been detained is that they go missing and then the Centre discovers they are being held somewhere in a basement.

The most important operations conducted by Ukrainian partisans are often those where there is interaction between the military and civilians, Ostap said. A series of seemingly minor events can have a significant systemic impact, he added.

The cumulative effect of distributing leaflets, painting graffiti, and making statements is crucial in undermining the morale of the occupiers, for example, while the Ukrainian armed forces are working militarily at the same time.

“It has become a trend. Many movements, many events,” Ostap told this author.

“The Russians can’t understand this. They are used to having everything under control, there is a clear vertical, there are instructions, there are decision-making centers,” he said. “It is not like that in our country, people have a desire to resist, they read, get information, and do it themselves.”

Even though it is very hard to transmit information from the occupied territories, residents still manage to do it, side-stepping the occupiers’ restrictions to help Ukraine’s armed forces. Ostap cites successful attacks on Russian positions in Crimea and Donbas as examples.

“There was a strike on Dzharylgach [in Kherson Oblast] after our people stole a flash drive with information about the training of Russians and their training ground,” he said. “We knew where and when there would be a crowd there and our forces struck with HIMARS rockets. It was possible because people transmitted the information.”

There is no typical Ukrainian partisan, he added. They come from all parts of the community and have a range of different life situations. He told the story of an old lady who decided to go to the neighboring village when her settlement was occupied.

“We asked ‘how will you go there if the road there is mined?’ She said ‘I saw where it was mined and I will go along a path that is not mined.’ We said it was dangerous, and she replied that everything would be fine,” he recalled.

“We lost contact, then after four days she contacted us from another village and transmitted information from there,” he said. “There is no age limit. If you want to resist you can.”

Ostap believes that one day Ukrainian territory will be liberated, though recognizes there are many further challenges ahead. He said other countries should abandon their “infantile” optimism that everything will be OK and prepare for more Russian aggression.

“Now we must always be with a sword, and every Ukrainian must understand how to play his part effectively,” he said. “The governments of other countries bordering Russia should understand this, they need movements, and centers, and should take off their rose-colored glasses and stop childishly believing that everything will be fine.”

“Ukrainians didn’t want this war, but it happened. Not because of us, but because of them,” he said. “Resistance centers must be developed and supported, and people prepared.”


Elina Beketova is a Democracy Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), focusing on the occupied territories of Ukraine. She worked as a journalist, editor and TV anchor for various news stations in Kharkiv and Kyiv.