After three months of war in Ukraine, signs of actions carried out by partisans, Ukrainian guerrillas, in cities invaded by the Russians are becoming evident. The longer the conflict extends, the guerrilla actions will occur in parallel with the high intensity war between armies.
In the last week, one of the most classic actions of partisans – the derailment of a train – made Moscow officially recognize that guerrilla actions have been taking place in occupied cities.
The attack on the train line took place on Wednesday (25), according to a survey of the American think tank ISW (Institute for the Study of War). It links the Crimea region, invaded by Russia in 2014, with the city of Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the war, military analysts have speculated that, if Russia’s objective is to annex Ukraine, the war could extend for decades, due to the action of resistance movements. A similar scenario occurred at the beginning of this century in Afghanistan (2001-2021) – that time with the United States and its allies as protagonists of the invasion.
The formation of the Ukrainian resistance began in the middle of 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and separatists supported by Moscow took part of the oblasts (a kind of state) of Luhansk and Donetsk – region known as Donbas.
The government of Kyiv began to receive help from American and British “military consultants”: in practice, special forces operators. Among its specialties is entering friendly territory to recruit, organize and train fighters. A classic example is the American “green berets” who served in the Vietnam War.
These consultants helped the Ukrainian military to draw up plans and begin training ordinary citizens in guerrilla tactics, urban defense, sabotage, first aid, among other “disciplines”.
It is not known exactly how many citizens were trained, but the vast majority were incorporated into the so-called “Territorial Defense”, a militia formed by civilians who receive a brief military training. It is intended to act as military police and in the defense of buildings and facilities in the rear. But in practice, it is also receiving international volunteers and being sent to fight on the front line, shoulder to shoulder with the regular Ukrainian army.
But when the first Russian missiles began to fall on the main Ukrainian cities in February 24 the resistance movement took a much larger proportion. Inside the air-raid shelters, ordinary people began to organize spontaneously or with the help of the military to perform tasks such as collecting and distributing water, food and medicine.
When I arrived in Ukraine, four days after the beginning of the war, I have already met elderly people, women and teenagers organized into groups that produced homemade incendiary bombs (Molotov cocktails) and camouflage nets and also distributed food and hygiene products. There were a lot of logistical glitches and things seemed to be done in a hurry. The feeling is that, at least in the west of the country, people had been warned of the danger, but had not taken it very seriously in the previous months.
Escalating this move, President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law, banned all men of military age from leaving the country and said that anyone who wanted to have a weapon to defend Ukraine would receive it. This columnist witnessed dozens of people entering recruitment centers and hours later leaving there still in civilian clothes carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles in tow and ammunition magazines.
In parallel, the Ukrainian government began to launch internet sites where you can find detailed information for the resistance. They teach, for example, how to steal and drive a Russian tank, how to make smoke grenades, how to defend a street against an armored column, how to make trenches, barricades and loopholes for firing firearms – in addition to containing instruction manuals. of use of the most varied types of anti-tank missiles.
One of the sites also teaches the population to recognize Russian strategic equipment, such as radar systems, anti-aircraft defense and command structures (where the officers are located). The website shows how to relay the locations of these equipment to the Ukrainian government – so that they can be attacked by regular troops. But the website advises that, if the citizen feels safe to act, try to attack these equipment and places using Molotov cocktails.
By the way, in the streets of Zaporizhzhia, I came to see street signs and billboards with Detailed instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails and where to throw them when attacking an enemy tank. The street propaganda also had an intimidating effect, if Moscow troops managed to enter the city.
All this resistance preparation seems to have contributed to the Russians giving up the capture of the capital, Kyiv, in 4 March. I walked around the city at the time and saw the territorial defense techniques described on the website materialized practically on every corner. Not to mention the presence of the regular army and the Ukrainian air force.
But, unlike Kyiv, these defenses were not enough to prevent the Russians from taking several Ukrainian cities, such as, for example, Kherson , Melitopol, Energodar, Berdiasnk, Mariupol, Izyum, as well as hundreds of small towns and villages.
It is now, in these cities, that we will see whether or not the preparation for the guerrilla will bear fruit for Ukraine.
“After the conquests, the Russians will have to stabilize the cities, they will have to make the cities work. And then there will be the Ukrainian reaction, a low-intensity war, the war is far from over,” said military analyst Paulo Roberto da Silva Gomes Filho, army reserve colonel and author of Blog do Paulo Filho.
“In this stabilization phase, let’s say the Russians conquer the entire southern region of Ukraine, to cut off the country’s access to the sea. How will it go from there? Remembering Afghanistan: the United States conquered Afghanistan in months, but spent 19 years trying to stabilize and failed. They left and the Taliban returned to power”, he said.
This resistance started in the simplest way: with unarmed protesters taking to the streets of cities like Kherson or Melitopol to, in large volume, occupy streets and hinder the passage of military vehicles – in a kind of peaceful resistance. Russia’s reaction was to disperse the protesters with non-lethal weapons.
But simpler actions are also starting to happen, such as workers sabotaging equipment in factories or offices, damaging electrical networks or sabotaging Russian vehicles. Or even refusing to participate in censuses and surveys that can be manipulated by Russia to give the idea that the inhabitants of a certain city want to be “freed”.
According to a BBC report, when invading Melitopol, Russian soldiers would have been shocked to find they were not welcome. This is because Moscow promotes among its troops the false view that they are “liberating” Ukraine from a Nazi government (there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, in the Azov Battalion specifically, not in the government, but in the same way that there are in several countries. But I will not enter this discussion in this text, I leave it to the readers to debate in the comments box).
We are talking here about the portion dissatisfied with the Russian occupation, without discarding that a part of the population of the occupied cities approved or stayed indifferent to the invasion.
However, as I mentioned at the beginning of the text, in addition to peaceful resistance, violent actions by partisans have been taking place, at least since mid-March, according to the ISW.
A few days before the attack on the Crimean railway, the mayor forcibly put in office by Russia at Energodar, Andrey Shevchik, and his security guards were assassinated. a distribution box of electricity in the mayor’s mother’s building. All of them survived, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
Energodar is the city where the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is located, which was taken over by the Russians at the beginning of the campaign. In other episodes, Ukrainian partisans blew up bridges and ambushed Russian soldiers in the rear.
It is not possible to say who the partisans were who carried out the more complex actions. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of volunteers, mercenaries, blasters and professional soldiers from other nations fighting in Ukraine. And the Ukrainian army also has elite units (commandos), which could carry out such actions.
Furthermore, there is no verified data on the number of actions, but the Directorate of Military Intelligence of Ukraine stated that between 20 March and April Ukrainian partisans killed 70 Russian soldiers patrolling the occupied territories. This number is relatively small for the scale of the war – the Ukrainian government itself estimates that 100 Ukrainian servicemen are being killed a day in artillery attacks in the Donbas region.
In other words, all this leads us to to two main points: without discussing the merits of citizens’ right to defend themselves, Russia can claim that the entire Ukrainian population is an insurgent and thus try to justify attacks on civilians. They may be right in part, but many innocent people are already dying because of it.
The other point is that Russia will have to fight a long and bloody war if it wants to maintain control and end the resistance in the cities it has already invaded.