Kyiv says 1 million Ukrainian troops being marshalled for southern counterattack
KYIV – On June 24, a car explosion killed a Moscow-installed official in Russia-occupied Kherson, a port city along the Dnipro River located 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Kyiv.
Dmytro Savluchenko was the collaborator, and he headed the department of family, youth and sports of the civilian administration that the occupying forces had established.
He was affiliated with the now-banned Party of Sharia, a pro-Russian party run by blogger Anatoliy Shariy who was detained in Spain in May at the request of Kyiv authorities on suspicion of treason. Mr. Savluchenko was also the founder of the Nova Rus (New Rus) youth group and took part in pro-Russian rallies in the city in 2014 when Russia initially invaded the country.
His assassination is part of a coordinated resistance movement involving residents of the southern occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia and the “defense apparatus,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence (HUR), told The Ukrainian Weekly.
The collaborator’s death is part of a series of car and building explosions and assassinations. The resistance has hung pro-Ukrainian leaflets in the region, teachers have said they will not teach the Russian curriculum and former government officials said they do not want to cooperate with the Russian occupying authorities.
It’s a combined effort between various security agencies and military units whose cooperation with local so-called partisans have prevented Russian forces from gaining full control of the two partially occupied regions.
Significant parts of both the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions fell into Russian hands just days after Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine on February 24. Those regions include the vital port cities of Berdyansk, Melitopol, Zaporizhia and Kherson.
Immediately, the Ukrainians resisted by first staging pro-Ukrainian protests before the invaders started shooting warning shots into the air and abducting civic leaders in the cities.
So, members of the resistance went underground and leaflets and posters started to appear in the major regional cities. Their messages included warnings about Russian attempts to hold sham referenda to consolidate its occupied southern territories.
Some posters were forthright in urging citizens to make Molotov cocktails and toss them at occupied administrative buildings. Others had written messages that threatened local collaborators with punishment, while some gave ominous notification to Russians that Ukraine’s armed forces are approaching Kherson, for example.
Soon, Russians started to be killed. Car explosions were recorded and blasts were seen at government buildings.
The vehicle belonging to the Russian-imposed head of the Chornobayivka Administration in Kherson Oblast was blown up on June 22. The collaborator, Yuriy Turulov, was not injured.
The roadside blast left the official with “light injuries,” reported Serhiy Khlan, an adviser to the Kherson regional military administration.
Another person who escaped death the same day was expelled member of parliament and Russian collaborator Oleksiy Kovalyov. His car exploded in Kherson region, but he is believed to have survived the blast.
Three Russians at a Kherson café were shot at by unknown assailants on June 20. Two were killed, while third was wounded and taken to a hospital in Ukraine’s occupied Crimean Peninsula, the Ukrainian Operational South Command reported.
In the Zaporizhia regional city of Melitopol, an explosion occurred near the Interior Affairs building occupied by Russian forces. Andriy Shevchyk, the head of the “self-organizational council” in Enerhodar – home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant – was injured during a blast at the entrance of his residence.
Combined, these incidents are part of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call for the nation to take all efforts to resist Russia’s war on the country and its people. The actions taken by the various security and military elements, as well as the citizens in occupied territories, have since been enshrined into law by the Verkhovna Rada, Mr. Yusov said.
He said a recent special operation in the Kherson region to rescue five captives and other undisclosed missions “wouldn’t have been so successful without local support.”Mr. Yusov was referring to a raid on a Russian-held building in a rural area of the region on July 12 that resulted in a soldier, former police officer and three civilians being freed. Using “21st-century technology” to evade restrictive Russian electronic measures, the local partisans sent coordinates of enemy targets to the Ukrainian military, he added.
The Special Operation Forces afterward released a video of the operation, saying that, Russians “are deprived of sleep … by Ukraine’s resistance movement … [and]there will come a time when the world will find out about the special operations carried out by our partisans.”
“Everybody is participating both in a passive or active way. … It’s an expansive array of civilians who help us … and they are displaying awesome heroism,” Mr. Yusov said. “The Russians feel their [the resistance]presence and they’re not content with this.”
Paying a price
As the resistance movement ramps up, Russian authorities have rounded up hundreds of perceived threats to its occupation of the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions.
As of July 8, some 400 Ukrainian civilians have been kidnapped, 163 of whom are in Russian captivity in Zaporizhia Oblast, according to Oleksandr Staruk who heads the region’s military administration.
Hennadiy Lahuta, head of Kherson’s regional military administration, said in June that 600 residents of the oblast are held captive and that about 400,000-500,000 Ukrainians remain under occupation.
“The resistance is conducted under dangerous conditions – they [local residents]are risking their lives, but they know they are risking their lives to free their territory,” Mr. Yusov said.
The closest resemblance the resistance has to past movements is perhaps to the French Resistance under Nazi German occupation during World War II, said Glen Grant, senior expert for the Baltic Security Foundation in Lithuania.
He told The Ukrainian Weekly that, just like Ukrainians risk their lives while innovating with technology by evading Russian muffling communication methods, the French “would type and quickly use radios and hide them again … because the Germans were looking for them. … This is really risky for anybody.”
What Ukrainians are doing to send coordinates to and communicate with the military “is unique,” he added.
Part of the effectiveness of the coordinated resistance is that the Ukrainians “still have relatively functional communications,” Mr. Grant said.
Kyiv authorities have announced that a massive counteroffensive is being planned to retake its southern provinces by deploying up to 1 million personnel.
So far, U.S.-provided high-precision multiple-launch rockets systems, known as HIMARS, have proven effective in striking high-value targets, such as command posts, as well as ammunition and oil depots.
In a periodical situational report on the war, Mick Ryan, a strategist and former Australian Army major general, said on July 10 that, “while Ukrainian partisans [in the south]corrode Russian morale, and Ukrainian counterattacks slowly regain territory in Kherson, holding the south is the second element of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s theory of victory because it slowly strangles Ukraine economically.”
Whereas, the HIMARS and other Western provided hardware have proven effective, Ukraine faces the challenge of going on the offensive against fortified Russian positions in the south where there is mostly open terrain.
After almost five months of being on the defensive with incremental counterattacks to regain land in the south, Ukrainian forces need to recalibrate their thinking to regain lost territory, said Mr. Grant.
Since a Ukrainian offensive will be “a head-to-head battle,” he said, success will rely upon a leader who has “the qualities” of famed U.S. Gen. George S. Patton, one of the most famous military commanders of World War II.
That leader “should not be dismayed by anything and drive hard and follow the wind,” Mr. Grant said.
However, whoever leads the southern counteroffensive should be “entrepreneurial” because Ukraine would no longer be “defending,” he continued. The forces involved might need to “use more volunteers instead of the regular army” because the task “requires a different brain, one that takes risks.”
To succeed in the large-scale operation, “fast-moving, small and light vehicles” would have to be employed “to put the fear of god into the Russians, get behind them and force them to run away,” Mr. Grant added.
For that to happen, sufficient logistical support “close to the front” is needed without “pause” so that the enemy “can’t get acts together and face you again,” he said.
Asked how the local partisans would be engaged in such an operation, he said the main task is to “kill railway,” because Russians heavily rely upon the use of trains for their logistical system.
Earlier this month, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) issued a daily war report enumerating the various railway strikes in and around Melitopol.
“Ukrainian partisans are increasingly targeting Russian rail lines” in Melitopol, the ISW said.
“Ukrainian partisans blew up a railway bridge about 25 kilometers north of Melitopol between Novobohdanivka and Troitske on July 7, likely further obstructing Russian resupply efforts from Crimea to the Zaporizhia Oblast front line,” the report said.