Espreso. Global

Russia's nightmare in reality: what is Ukrainian underground?

21 December, 2023 Thursday

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the resistance movement has been active in the occupied Ukrainian territories. These are Ukrainians who are not only waiting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but are also actively helping them to win

Espreso will tell more about what the national resistance is, how it operates, and the main underground movements. To prepare the article, the website spoke with a representative of the national resistance.

This article will tell you:

  • What is national resistance and what is its purpose?
  • How the Yellow Ribbon movement works;
  • About the women's underground movement Zla Mavka;
  • What is Atesh and what does it do?
  • How the underground struggle of Ukrainians affects the Russian Forces and how the Russians are trying to find partisans.

What is the national resistance?

The concept of national resistance is clearly defined in Ukrainian law. The components of resistance are territorial defense, the resistance movement, and the preparation of Ukrainian citizens for it.

In particular, at the end of February 2022, the Center for National Resistance, created by the Special Operations Forces to train, coordinate and scale up resistance movements to the occupation of Ukraine, began operating in Ukraine.

According to the Center's website, they carry out non-violent resistance, help partisans, collect information about the Russian troops, etc.

"It works as a complex. We communicate and interact with the guerrilla movement and the underground in the occupied territories. It is important to understand here that there are two directions of such struggle: violent and non-violent. The first one is what you often see in the news: eliminating the enemy, blowing up a car or a railroad, etc. Non-violent means psychological pressure on the Russians: posting leaflets, ribbons, passing on information that later materializes into successful defeats," explains Ostap, a spokesman for the National Resistance, in an interview with Espreso.

Sometimes such activities are coordinated with the Center, but mostly they are self-organized underground groups.

"The fact is that Russians have a clear vertical rule, for example, the FSB curator, who is the center of decision-making. When we launched the National Resistance Center, we created a different understanding in society. We showed what and how to do it, and people started to organize themselves. They are not directly tied to reporting or following clear instructions. And we are proud that we have managed to create a truly national resistance," says Ostap, adding that this tactic is also more effective in the context of security.

Ukrainians are aware of several such underground groups that inform the public about their activities through social media. In fact, there are more of them, but not all of them can disclose their existence and publish reports on their work.

As our interlocutor explains, the reason is, among other things, that disclosing the existence of underground groups in smaller populated areas threatens the lives of the members of this underground, as it makes them much easier for the enemy to track down.

Yellow Ribbon

The movement emerged in April 2022 in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. On April 27, activists of the movement held the Kherson is Ukraine rally. About 500 people took to the streets, four of whom were injured. This rally was the impetus for the development of the movement. Subsequently, yellow ribbons began to appear in Oleshky, Melitopol, Nova Kakhovka, Berdyansk, Yalta, Simferopol, Kerch, Donetsk, Luhansk, Henichesk, Alushta and other cities and villages of the temporarily occupied territories.

The movement managed to conduct more than one information campaign, including one against the so-called referendum, indefinite actions to return Crimea, a hunt for the invading forces (offering a reward for information), actions for Ukrainian Mariupol, etc.

After the liberation of Kherson, the movement declassified some of the heroes who desperately resisted the invading troops in Kherson. For example, Lilia. She hung yellow ribbons in Kherson when the Russian soldiers were patrolling the city and gathered a team of like-minded people, painted graffiti, glued leaflets and transmitted information to the Ukrainian Defense Forces.

In the first week of 2023, Yellow Ribbon distributed more than 500 patriotic leaflets in the temporarily occupied Crimea. The activists also called on residents of the temporarily occupied territories to join the movement, print and distribute posters, and send photos of the movement's activities to the Razom chatbot.

Currently, the movement continues to be active and successful in the occupied territories. In particular, yellow ribbons are active in Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk, and in the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia region: they hang Ukrainian symbols, burn Russian manuals, and collect information.

Zla Mavka 

The movement was formed on the eve of March 8, 2023, in Melitopol. According to open sources, it was founded by three friends. Over time, there were many participants in Crimea, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Only women are members of the underground movement.

"All the time during the occupation, we tried to show our resistance, helped other movements. And we always thought it would be cool to do something for women," says the co-founder of the movement. "The occupying Russian forces, I think, did not expect this from girls and women.”

In general, women collect information about the Russian army, paste leaflets, draw graffiti, and keep Mavka Diaries about life under occupation.

In addition to the information struggle, the underground women organize direct action:

"Sometimes we also have a so-called 'Mavka's kitchen' - we have the opportunity to deliver, so to speak, 'goodies' to the invaders, we add laxatives to them. And under the conditions of the "dry law" they are very much searching for strong alcohol," the movement member told Radio Liberty.

Some members of the resistance movement have been personally captured or have relatives who have been arrested or killed as a result of the occupation.

Atesh movement

This movement has a slightly different format of struggle. It is a military guerrilla movement that operates not only in Ukraine but also in Russia, and its agents are mobilized into the Russian army for subversive activities.

It was created in September 2022 by Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Most of the movement's operations are concentrated on the Crimean peninsula. In addition to violent resistance, the movement's members are actively engaged in propaganda and gathering information about the enemy.

Direct action activities in 2023:

- On February 10, 2023, Atesh claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed two Russian soldiers and hospitalized two others in occupied Nova Kakhovka.

- On March 12, 2023, the Center for National Resistance reported that Atesh had blown up a railroad between Abrykosivka and Radenske, located in the Kherson region.

- On March 14, 2023, an Atesh representative stated that he had killed the deputy head of the military administration of Nova Kakhovka as a result of a bomb explosion.

- On April 27, 2023, members of the group claimed to have killed two Russian soldiers in the village of Velyki Kopani.

- On May 6, 2023, the guerrilla organization claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt on Zakhar Prilepin.

In addition, agents monitor the movement of the Russian military, identify their headquarters and warehouses, and conduct subversive activities in the structures of the Russian army in Russia. For example, on December 14, Atesh reported a raid on a Russian Guard military unit in Moscow. The information they found has already been passed on to the Ukrainians for processing.

On December 19, agents obtained classified information about the failure to produce Kh-32 missiles.

On December 20, the movement announced that it had reconnoitered the Tula Arms Plant to obtain valuable documents and reduce Russia's military potential.

In general, the movement's Telegram channel reports almost daily on the work carried out by the guerrillas.

The Atesh warrior's oath:

I swear with my blood and my soul to be faithful to the ideas and ideals of the Atesh movement, to fight for the Ukrainian state, to fight against all enemies of our state, and in this struggle I will spare neither my time nor property, and if necessary, my life. I swear to bring the victory of our state over the enemy closer by all means, even if I have to take an enemy oath to deceive the enemy. I swear to strictly execute the orders of my superiors and to be a loyal comrade-in-arms. Glory to Ukraine!

"The occupying forces are very afraid of us. This is a fact". How the underground struggle of Ukrainians affects Russians

According to the spokesperson for the National Resistance, the invading troops are very afraid of the Ukrainian underground. The Ukrainian National Resistance has managed to unite both civilian and military sectors in the struggle, which has a positive impact on the effectiveness of Ukrainian guerrilla warfare.

"The invading Russian forces are very afraid of us. This is a fact. I'll give you my favorite example: when a collaborator, a representative of the occupation authorities or a Russian soldier sees leaflets threatening him, especially when these threats are supported by successful operations of the resistance movement (a car is blown up, a traitor is killed), then he compares the facts. Namely, that in the territories they occupy, there is support from the civilian population for Ukrainian partisans, and there are Ukrainian underground groups that work effectively. In other words, the civilian and military sectors are working together: there is both a threat and an action. Without this symbiosis, it would be difficult for the military," comments Ostap.

He also emphasized that life under occupation is very different from the life of civilians in the government-controlled territories, so it is difficult to talk about the mood of the population, referring to opinion polls that cannot be conducted there. However, the underground feels the support of people.

"No one there will speak their minds out loud, and we ask people to do the same. I can only say one thing, we feel the support of the population, we know it is there and it inspires us to fight the fight we are fighting. People often risk their lives to pass us some information," the spokesman commented.

He also spoke about the actions that the occupation authorities are trying to take to identify the Ukrainian resistance movement.

"First of all, it is the strengthening of the counter-sabotage regime. It also means increasing the number of mobile groups that conduct raids in search of the underground, increasing checkpoints, checking cell phones and gadgets, mobile checkpoints, which is an innovation: two cars that can accommodate up to 15 people and can be placed anywhere in the city and deploy a checkpoint where people are interrogated. Raids are systematically conducted in houses, basements, and garages," he says.

In addition, electronic warfare is intensifying: the Russian troops are installing special devices in civilian areas to track the transmission of information. In addition, they are installing video cameras in cities, which can be observed in Crimea, Berdyansk, and Melitopol.

The most recent successful guerrilla operations

On December 15, in Melitopol, the Resistance Movement successfully sabotaged and blew up a railroad train that was transporting ammunition and fuel from Crimea to Melitopol and Dniprorudne.

The controlled explosion damaged the railroad and a diesel locomotive with cars. The explosion itself occurred at 8 a.m. right under the noses of Russian FSB officers.

This is the eleventh successful railroad sabotage in 2023. The previous train was successfully blown up on October 13.

On December 16, in Mariupol, guerrillas of the Mariupol Resistance movement blew up the car of a Russian military officer of a Caucasian unit. Along with the officer.

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