Guerilla warfare and targeted assassinations: Inside Ukraine's partisan resistance

25 June 2022

2:53 AM

25 June 2022

2:53 AM

Dmytro Savluchenko was one of Moscow’s useful idiots: a Ukrainian advocate of Russkiy Mir (or ‘Russian world’), Putin’s idea of a kind of reich of Russian-speaking peoples. Back in 2014, when the Russian army stormed the Donbas region, Savluchenko
campaigned for Kherson (an area bordering Crimea) to join Russia. More recently, Savluchenko has served as a senior official in the Russian-installed administration of Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region. His career ended this morning, when he was killed by a car bomb.

His killing marks the start of a new phase in the war: guerilla warfare and targeted assassination. ‘Our partisans have another victory…a Russian activist and traitor was blown up in a car in one of Kherson’s yards in the morning. This will be the case with every traitor’, said Serhiy Khlan, an adviser to the Kherson Military Administration (part of the Ukrainian government).

So was this a special forces hit job? Or gangsterism? Denis Kazansky, a Ukrainian journalist, published photos after the explosion, saying that there has been plenty of looting and that ‘the possibility of criminal showdowns cannot be ruled out… the ‘parade of explosions’ that is now taking place from Melitopol to Kherson is not always the work of the Security Service of Ukraine. Bandits and robbers willingly settle scores with each other, since it is very convenient to attribute all these murders and explosions to Ukrainian saboteurs.’

Savluchenko is not the first person in Kherson to be targeted in this way. On 18 June, an explosion happened near the car of Yevgeny Sobolev, who was appointed by the Russian authorities as the head of the Penitentiary Service. Before the occupation, he held the position of head of the Ukrainian penal colony No. 90, a prison in Kherson. Sobolev survived the blast, but he was hospitalised with serious injuries. Nobody claimed responsibility for the explosion, but Russian media pointed the finger at Ukrainian saboteurs.

When Russian troops occupied Crimea they went on a heart-and-minds drive, building roads and renovating property. In Kherson, they tried to offer Russian passports and food but soon found it futile. The response of one Ukrainian old woman to a Russian soldier – ‘put sunflower seeds in your pocket so they grow when you die’ – has become a popular phrase that sums up the spirit of resistance. There are popular videos, too, like the man who jumped on top of a Russian tank during the a protest declaring that ‘Kherson is Ukraine’.

Meanwhile, the Russian occupiers have used tactics of repression: they shot dead unarmed civilians who tried to stop an armoured convoy of Russian troops in Kherson.

The partisan resistance fighting back against Russia is, for now, a mix of special forces and pro-Ukrainian locals. It’s not an analogy everyone will welcome, but the recent history of Afghanistan and Iraq showed how insurgency can dislodge even the best-armed militaries from foreign territory. As an anti-occupation tactic, insurgency has proved effective over the last two decades. Ukraine is fighting to stop Putin taking territory, but also to stop him keeping it. It now falls to Ukrainians to see how this tactic can stop Russia taking hold of the lands it seized.

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