Ukrainian resistance grows in Russian-occupied areas

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — In a growing challenge to Russia’s control over occupied areas of southeastern Ukraine, guerrilla forces loyal to Kyiv are killing pro-Moscow officials, blowing up bridges and trains and helping the Ukrainian military identify targets. key code.

The growing resistance has eroded the Kremlin’s grip on those areas and threatened its plans to hold referendums in several cities as a step toward annexation. for Russia

“Our goal is to make life unbearable for the Russian occupiers and to use any means to derail their plans,” said Andriy, 32, coordinator of the guerrilla movement in the southern Kherson region.

Andriy, a member of the Zhovta Strichka, or “Yellow Ribbon” resistance group, spoke to The Associated Press on the condition that he not be fully identified to avoid being tracked by the Russians. The group takes its name from one of Ukraine’s two national colors, and its members wear ribbons of that color to mark potential targets for guerrilla attacks.

Ukrainian troops recently used a US-supplied multiple rocket launcher known as HIMARS. to attack a strategic bridge on the Dnieper River at Kherson, cutting off the Russians’ main supply link. The city of 500,000, taken over by Russian troops early in the war, has been inundated with resistance pamphlets, threatening Moscow-backed officials.

Just before the attack on the bridge, leaflets appeared saying, “If HIMARS can’t do it, a partisan will help.”

“We are giving the Ukrainian army precise coordinates for various targets, and the guerrilla help makes the new long-range weapons, particularly HIMARS, even more powerful,” Andriy told AP. “We are invisible behind Russian lines, and this is our strength.”

As Ukrainian forces intensify attacks in the region and recapture some areas west of the Dnieper River, guerrilla activity has also increased.

They coordinate with the Special Operations Forces of the Ukrainian Army, which helps them develop strategies and tactics. Those forces also select targets and create a website with tips on how to organize resistance, set up ambushes and evade arrest. A network of weapons caches and secret hideouts was established in the occupied areas.

Bombs have been planted near administrative buildings, in officials’ homes and even on their routes to work.

An explosive planted in a tree went off as a vehicle carrying Kherson prison chief Yevgeny Sobolev passed by, although he survived the attack. A police vehicle was hit by a shrapnel bomb, seriously injuring two officers, one of whom later died. The deputy head of the local administration in Nova Kakhovka died of his injuries after being shot over the weekend.

Guerrillas have repeatedly tried to kill Vladimir Saldo, the head of the Russian-backed temporary administration of the Kherson region, by offering a reward of 1 million hryvnias (about $25,000). His assistant, Pavel Slobodchikov, was shot dead in his car, and another official, Dmytry Savluchenko, was killed by a car bomb.

The attacks have prompted Moscow to send anti-guerrilla units to Kherson, Saldo said.

“Every day, special Russian units detect two or three caches with weapons for terrorist activities,” Saldo said on his messaging app channel. “Weapon seizures help reduce the threat of sabotage.”

At the beginning of the occupation, thousands of residents held peaceful protests. But the Russian army quickly disbanded them and arrested the activists, radicalizing the resistance.

Wedding photographer-turned-activist Oleksandr Kharchikov, 41, from Skadovsk, said he was beaten and tortured after being arrested in a Russian security raid.

“The Russians tortured me for a long time. They beat me with a baseball bat, pricked my fingers with pliers and tortured me with electric shocks,” Kharchikov said in a telephone interview. “I had a concussion and a broken rib, but I didn’t give them any information and that saved me.”

Kharchikov spent 155 days under Russian occupation until he escaped.

“The repressions intensify. They are creating unbearable conditions for Ukrainians, making it increasingly difficult to survive under Russian occupation,” he told the AP.

The Russians were offering 10,000 rubles ($165) to anyone who applied for Russian citizenship to strengthen their control over the region, he said.

Moscow introduced the ruble, installed Russian cellular networks and cut off Ukrainian television in the area. Giant screens showing Russian television broadcasts have been placed in major city squares.

Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov, who also spent a long time in Russian captivity, told the AP that nearly 500 Ukrainian activists were detained and many tortured. Some disappeared for months after his arrest.

In May and June, guerrillas blew up two railway bridges in Melitopol and derailed two Russian military trains, Fedorov said.

“The resistance movement pursues three goals: to destroy Russian weapons and the means of supplying them, to discredit and intimidate the occupiers and their collaborators, and to inform the Ukrainian special services about enemy positions,” he added.

Russia responded by stepping up patrols and carrying out regular raids looking for suspected guerrilla ties. During such raids, they go through phones and arrest those who have Ukrainian symbols or photos of family members in military uniforms.

“In a mopping-up operation, the Russians seal off the entire neighborhood, stop traffic to and from it, and methodically move from apartment to apartment. If they find any Ukrainian symbols or any links to the Ukrainian military, they put all the family members in a filtration camp,” Fedorov said.

“At best, people are told, ‘Get out of here if you’re against Russia,’ but it also happens that some people go missing,” he said.

Of Melitopol’s pre-war population of 150,000, more than 60,000 people have left.

Pro-Moscow officials are preparing for a possible referendum on Melitopol and other occupied areas joining Russia, conducting security raids and handing out Russian passports.Fyodorov said.

“We will frustrate the Russian referendum. We will not allow voting under the barrels of Russian weapons,” he said, adding that no more than 10% of the population sympathize with Moscow, and half have fled.

The guerrillas have tied yellow ribbons on the buildings where the vote will take place, warning residents that they could be targeted by bombs during the vote.

The resistance ranges from radical activists to teachers and pensioners who sing Ukrainian songs in parks and secretly wear yellow and blue ribbons.

“The Russians expected to receive flowers, but they were faced with the fact that most people consider themselves to be Ukrainians and are ready to offer resistance in various ways, from gathering information to burning and blowing up the occupants,” Oleksii Aleksandrov said. that he owned a restaurant in the southern port of Mariupol.

In a recent gesture of defiance in Mariupol, a young man wrapped in a Ukrainian flag was standing on a street next to the theater destroyed by Russian bombs. The photo spread in the Ukrainian media and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy greeted him in an address to the nation.

“It was a very brave thing to do, and I would like to thank you for your action,” Zelenskyy said. “This man is one of many people who are waiting for the return of Ukraine and will not accept the occupation under any circumstances.”

Although pro-Moscow sentiment is strong in the industrial heartland of Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking Donbas, a guerrilla movement has sprung up there as well.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said six Russian soldiers were injured last month when guerrillas blew up their vehicle in the city of Sievierodonetsk shortly after it was seized. They have also attacked railways, disrupting shipments of ammunition and other Russian supplies.

“The guerrillas have acted quite successfully,” Haidai told the AP. “Not only have they handed out flyers. They have also destroyed infrastructure facilities. It helps a lot to stop Russian attacks and advances.”

Observers say the guerrilla movement varies by region and that it is in both sides’ interest to exaggerate its scope.

“The Russians do it to justify their crackdowns on the occupied territories, while the Ukrainians seek to demoralize Russian forces and extol their victories,” said Vadim Karasev, head of the Kyiv-based think tank Institute for Global Strategies. “It’s hard to believe the stories about Ukrainians feeding Russian soldiers poisoned cakes, but sometimes myths work better than facts.”

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Yuras Karmanau reported from Tallinn, Estonia.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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