Behind enemy lines, Ukrainians tell Russians ‘You’re never safe’

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – They sneak into dark alleys to plant explosives. They identified Russian targets for Ukrainian artillery and long-range US-supplied missiles. They blew up railway lines and assassinated Ukrainian officials they considered collaborators with the Russians.

Swiping across the front lines, the guerrilla fighters are known in Ukraine as partisan, and in recent weeks they have played an ever more prominent role in the war, rocking the streets of the country. Russian forces by delivering humiliating blows to areas they occupied and deemed safe.

Increasingly, Ukraine is waging war against Russian forces entering Russian-controlled areas, even by using elite military units, as noted on Tuesday with a massive explosion at a Russian ammunition depot in occupied Crimea, or by the deployment of an underground network of partisan guerrillas.

Last week, Ukrainian officials said partisans had a hand in a successful attack on a Russian airbase, also in Crimea, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. It destroyed eight fighters.

“The purpose is to let the occupants know that they are not at home, that they should not settle down, that they should not sleep comfortably,” said one guerrilla fighter, on the condition that, for security, he is identified only by his codename, Svarog, after a pagan Slavic fire god.

In recent days, the Ukrainian military has let Svarog and several other special forces present for face-to-face or online interviews, hoping to highlight the growing partisan threat to Russian forces. and signaled to Western donors that Ukraine was also successfully pooling local resources in the war, now nearly six months old. A senior Ukrainian military official familiar with the program also detailed the operation of the resistance.

Their accounts of the attacks cannot be fully verified but are consistent with reports in the Ukrainian media and with descriptions of Ukrainians who have recently fled areas occupied by Russia. occupied.

Svarog and I met over lemonade and cheesecake at a Georgian restaurant in Zaporizhzhia, a city controlled by Ukraine, about 65 miles east of the occupied town of Melitopol, which he operates. north.

He speaks with deep knowledge of partisan activities, providing a rare glimpse into one of the war’s most hidden aspects.

Ukraine’s military began training partisans in the months before the invasion, when Russia concentrated its troops near the border. The effort has paid off in recent weeks as Ukrainian forces hit a counterattack in the south.

Insurgency activity is now on the rise, as resistance fighters sneak into areas they know intimately, using car bombs, landmine traps and targeted killings with pistols – and then infiltrate. into the local population.

Before the war, Svarog occasionally attended weekend training with the Right Sector and the National Corps, an offshoot of the Azov movement, both affiliated with paramilitary units in Ukraine. They are just two of dozens of organizations that are organizing military training for civilians across Ukraine during the eight-year war with Russian-backed separatists.

Svarog said he was one of the trainees in these public programs. Behind the scenes, Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces are formulating a more structured and secretive program that includes instruction on sabotage and explosives as well as storage of an arsenal in case of a Russian attack.

After the invasion, Svarog said, he was led to a storage facility in a depot outside Melitopol, where he found high explosives sheets, detonators, Kalashnikov rifles, a grenade launcher and two The pistol is equipped with a silencer.

Melitopol, the southern Ukrainian town where Svarog operates, has since emerged as a center of resistance. He recounts the careful encirclement of the targets, followed by the attacks.

According to the town’s exiled mayor, Ivan Fedorov, by Saturday, partisans had attacked with explosives for seven days in a row, who had boasted of the achievement to the Ukrainian media as part of the official welcome. openly accept partisan activities.

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The attacks went on for several months. In one attack this spring, Svarog said, he and several members of a cell in Melitopol snuck through town at night to trap a car in the parking lot of a police station. controlled by Russia.

Carrying line cutters, duct tape and fishing lines, the fighters moved through the courtyard and back alleys to avoid Russian checkpoints.

They first cut an electrical wire, lit up a street light, then dashed into the darkness where they placed a bomb, wrapped in duct tape with the adhesive side facing out, into a wheel well. The fishing line is attached to both the inside of the wheel and a fuse, the rig for which the bomb explodes as the wheel spins.

“Whoever drives that car will be a traitor,” Svarog said. “Nobody there keeps public order.” The bomb killed one policeman and injured another.

During a strike last week, he said, his cell jammed the traffic of Oleg Shostak, a Ukrainian who joined the United Russia political party in Melitopol. The rebels targeted him because they suspected he had fabricated propaganda to appeal to local residents.

Svarog, who said he was not involved in this particular mission, said his team placed a bomb under the driver’s seat of the vehicle, which is designed to explode when the engine is on.

Mr. Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, said Mr. Shostak was injured in the blast but survived. The attack was reported separately by Ukrainian authorities and described by evacuees who left Melitopol through a checkpoint for Ukrainian territory on Sunday.

The people targeted survive or die in the attacks, the parties say, is less important than the signal they send with each attack: You are never safe.

Separately, two parties operating in occupied southeastern Ukraine and interviewed by video call described an offshoot of an underground organization called Yellow Ribbon, which specializes in nonviolent actions such as broadcasting propaganda. simple and spray paint graffiti.

According to a senior Ukrainian military official, bases on Ukrainian territory where special forces are trained are constantly moved to avoid detection. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military information.

Each force has a different role, the official said: scouting a target, gathering intelligence about a target’s movements and carrying out an attack. The individual cells were kept separate and unknown to each other, for fear that a detained Party member would reveal his identity when questioned.

Two entities in the military are responsible for monitoring activities behind enemy lines, the official said: the military intelligence agency, known as HUR, and the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine. An interagency task force oversees the activities of both intelligence agencies and branches of the underground Special Operations Forces, what is known as the Resistance Movement, or Rukh Oporu in Ukrainian.

The official described a poisoning in the Zaporizhzhia region that killed about 15 Russian soldiers and the sabotage of a grain elevator in the Kherson Region that prevented Russian forces from stealing 60,000 tons of grain. No activity can be independently verified.

Partisans were also behind an explosion on Saturday that disabled a railway bridge connecting the city of Melitopol with Crimea, halting the supply of military equipment to the Zaporizhzhia region.

“They are scary people, these Ukrainian partisans,” the official said. “But they are only scary to the occupiers.”

And for those the partisans see as traitors.

According to Svarog and another party using the nickname Viking, those who agree to work under the Russian educational program are collaborators, considering police officers, city and regional government employees and teachers agree to work under the Russian educational program. They say they do not view doctors, firefighters and utility company employees as traitors.

Teachers are a focus now, with schools expected to open in September.

“The Russians want to teach according to their program, not the truth,” says Viking. “A child is easily influenced by propaganda and if brought up in this program, will become an idiot like a Russian,” he said. “A teacher who agrees to teach according to the Russian curriculum is a collaborator.”

The partisans will not attack teachers, he said, but have sought to publicly humiliate them in leaflets they often post on power poles with dark warnings to collaborators, as part of of the psychological activity of the guerrillas.

An announcement was made recently with the names and photos of principals planning to open schools in September, he said.

It simply says: “Collaborating with the Russians, will be profitable.”

Yurii Shyvala contributed reporting from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, and Michael Schwirtz from Odesa.

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