Battle for the Donbas: Why Putin Should Fear the Ukrainian Resistance

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They gathered the explosives necessary from private contacts. “Khrustalnyi is a mining town,” says Zhemchugov. “I knew how to make bombs even as a child.” He and his fellow fighters didn’t sign contracts with the Ukrainian military until after eight months, thus becoming agents.

He says he planned and executed 30 successful actions until he kicked the trip wire of a mine during an operation on Sept. 28, 2015. Russian soldiers found him badly injured. He was blinded and doctors had to amputate both of his hands. He was held as a prisoner for around a year and was interrogated and tortured numerous times. He was ultimately released as part of a prisoner exchange. Then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko awarded him the country’s highest honor: Hero of Ukraine.

Wear Inconspicuous Clothing and Always Remain Calm

Zhechemchugov has since learned to live with prostheses, and doctors in Cologne, Germany, later succeeded in restoring sight in one eye and removing shrapnel from several parts of his body. He shows what he now does to make himself useful on his smartphone. Under the hashtag #ResistanceMovement, he explains in a YouTube broadcast on the Ukrainian Military Television channel, for example, how to put Russian trucks out of operation (by putting sand in the tank). He also writes rules of conduct for partisan fighters: wear inconspicuous clothing and always remain calm, no matter what.

Several Ukrainian security agencies are responsible for resistance activities, including the military intelligence service (HUR) and the special operations forces (SSO). Individual resistance groups such as Yellow Ribbon or the Berdyansk Partisan Army provide information via Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the messenger service Telegram — as well as collecting information themselves.

According to one SSO employee, only five to 10 percent of those involved communicate at all with Ukrainian agencies. Others resist by closing their stores when Russian soldiers approach, or by distributing leaflets threatening Russians and collaborators with death. Resistance also includes placing bounties on collaborators or refusing to issue Russian passports, thereby preventing announced referendums in the occupied territories.

A kindergarten teacher from Kherson shares how people there are following strict rules in their daily lives. “We only speak about the resistance in our closest circle,” she says. The daycare worker regularly telephones with her son, who lives abroad in Europe, and has a network of contacts in Kherson.

Her son confirms her account during a phone call over an encrypted connection. “When I receive information, I immediately pass it on to a friend in the Ukrainian army,” he says. “He then passes it on to the intelligence service.” He also carries out research assignments. “Sometimes they ask for specific information, and then I call around until I have it.”

He recalls how a shipment of Russian tanks arrived in Kherson. He reported it and they were destroyed a short time later by Ukrainian artillery. A special forces official confirms that reports from citizens on the ground “are as important in target selection as, say, satellite imagery.”

The occupiers are aware of just how great the danger from the resistance is. In Kherson, they are now taking increasingly brutal action against the partisan fighters. They have reinforced their checkpoints and intensified the manhunt since a precisely executed air strike against their command center in the city center in early July. “They’ve been panicking for a while,” says Max, a 20-year-old designer who fled the area a month ago and will only provide his first name out of fear for family members who still live in the region. According to public figures, 600 people have already been arrested, an activist says. “But there are probably many more.”

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