provocation, exchange of information… Melitopol, the capital of the resistance in the territories occupied by Russia

“The liberation of Melitopol is the key to the liberation of the entire south of Ukraine.” The Ukrainian flag has been removed from Victory Square, but Ukrainian resistance still breathes on the streets of the city, which has been under occupation since early March. Since the occupation authorities were unable to conquer Zaporizhzhya, 130 kilometers to the north, they made Melitopol an unofficial regional capital. The city would now have a population of 55,000, compared to 155,000 before the war.

It is still possible to pass the national colors on the hastily pasted posters at the bend of the streets. Public space is sometimes reinvested at the urging of the Yellow Ribbon movement in several occupied cities. The letter “Ї”, which is unique to the Ukrainian Cyrillic alphabet and not in Russian, serves as a rally sign. “Our militants put up patriotic posters, share information about the enemy, distort and burn Russian propaganda material”Alex Svoboda, one of the movement’s coordinators, explains * to Franceinfo.

Letter "ï", not in Russian, is used as a symbol of resistance in the city of Melitopol.  (Yellow Ribbon Movement)

It is referred to as “yellow ribbon”. “political and civil resistance movement”. Because of the Russian occupation “Ukrainians may lose their property, their homes, their freedomAlex explains, but also their beliefs, lives and freedom of expression. That’s why we are fighting.” When asked about possible arrests of activists, he did not say anything about Melitopol. Some of its activists were arrested after demonstrations in Kherson. “The Russians released them after questioning them because there was no evidence of their involvement.”

The movement organized a rally on May 29 in Gorky Park in Melitopol. Dozens of participants waved the Ukrainian flag there. Since then, “Yellow Ribbon” also condemned the issuance of Russian passports to residents and the publication of Russian newspapers and media. During the so-called annexation “referendum”, the organization urged people to leave the door closed to election investigators and to ignore calls from Russian numbers.

Residents are also invited to report any “collaborators” of Russian forces using a dedicated mailbox. Sometimes, names with mobile phone number, home address and profession are thrown into the food found on franceinfo on social networks. “traitors” : “Not S… B…. (d.. July 19..) who criticizes students who chat or talk on the phone in Ukrainian, but we praise the education workers (…)”pointing to one of these messages, the occupation authorities imposed the Russian language on the school.

"We will continue to burn [la propagande] 'racist'"this poster is written in reference to a portmanteau word that confuses words "Russian" and "racism".  (Yellow Ribbon Movement)

Russian forces are constantly seeking information from the population, promising anonymity to informants. “Traitors should know that their crimes are known to the public. And Ukrainians should know that punishment is inevitable!” franceinfo justifies its interlocutor. The movement also claims to have collected personal information from the occupation leaders, including their personal addresses.

“The occupiers know that every Ukrainian can be both a partisan and an activist. As a result, they really fear for their safety.”

“Yellow ribbon” disobedience movement

On the Franceinfo website

In Melitopol, the “Yellow Ribbon” movement claims to have a hard core of 300-500 activists engaged in organization and coordination. Their actions are purposeful “psychological destabilization”Adrien Nonjon, a Ukrainian specialist at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco), explains.

Local occupier Vladimir Rogov said that in response, the security forces monitor civilian mobile phones. Readers will be surprised “promotional content [ukrainienne]for example, based on the current military situation in Telegram, it will first receive a warning and then fines. Ukraine also claims that Russian forces are searching buildings and their basements in Melitopol, looking for hiding places and weapons caches.

The resistance is also based on a secret network that carries out armed actions. “There are hundreds of active resistance fighters called partisans in the city”the exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov assures during a video interview with franceinfo. “It is difficult to say a more precise number”he admits, blurring elements that might betray his position.

The term “partisan” in Central and Eastern European countries, “designates militants who continue direct actions (assassinations, convoy attacks…)”, explains Adrien Nonjon. It can refer “civilian or long-serving members of the special forces”Ivan Fedorov says.

They have two missions, the mayor gives detailed information. First, they must provide all possible information about the whereabouts of Russian forces, collaborators and invaders.” This allows for a better understanding of supply lines and weapons depots and helps the general staff identify their targets. At the end of April, the “South” command thanked the resistance fighters of Melitopol after a successful attack on the railway bridge.

“People can, for example, upload images and geolocation data to Telegram.”

Adrien Nonjon, Ukraine specialist, researcher at Inalco

On the Franceinfo website

“We had relays in every village”Interviewed by France 24, the mayor of a district in the Kherson region explains. “Boys climbed buildings with binoculars, watched the movements of Russian troops and reported to the army, and then they bombed.”adds resident Svetlana, who also expresses her views.

If possible, proponents are also on a mission to take action themselves to disrupt supply chains. “That’s why you can often see the destruction of railways and bridges”comments by Ivan Fedorov. They destroyed three or four of them.”

“Our supporters must make the lives of the invaders and collaborators as difficult as possible. Of course, this is a very dangerous mission in these occupied territories.”

Ivan Fedorov, exiled mayor of Melitopol

On the Franceinfo website

Last week, a bomb exploded in front of the headquarters of the “ZaMedia” group, which has become a relay of Russian propaganda. According to the report of the occupation authorities, 6 people, including a child, were injured. Ivan Fedorov assures that the partisans are not involved in this. In this case, the exiled mayor prefers to resort to settlements between the occupation administration and the FSB. But there were supporters in the past “sure” said that he organized attacks with explosives.

For example, in early September, the occupation authorities reported an attack on the headquarters of the pro-Russian movement. A car parked in the parking lot of the police station, as well as the cars of a municipal education worker and a Ukrainian who joined Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party, were also stuck. A supporter who stated that the bomb was placed under the driver’s seat met this spring New York Times (english). The engine exploded as soon as it started, but the man survived his injuries.

Investigators at the scene of an explosion near the local Ministry of Internal Affairs in Melitopol, Ukraine, occupied by Russian forces on June 12, 2022.  (ALEXEI KONOVALOV / TASS VIA SIPA)

“During the so-called referendum [d’annexion]many supporters also went to the houses of their collaborators who wanted to support the fake ballotIvan Fedorov says, and destroyed the offices of the United Russia party in Melitopol. All this is part of the missions of the resistance.”

“If the Russians thought that everyone would welcome them with open arms, they are very wrong.”

Ivan Fedorov, exiled mayor of Melitopol

On the Franceinfo website

These actions pushed the Russian troops aside. “They kidnap many residents, deport others and become increasingly aggressive in the occupied territories.”the mayor observes. “Their main goal, of course, is to suppress the supporters, but they can’t do it.”

Guerrilla networks have a prominent presence in the organization chart of armies. “Although we often have difficulties with the network and the Internet, there is a great cooperation between all these elements”, continues Ivan Fedorov. In late January, before the war even started, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law on national resistance, specifically allowing the army to equip and train civilians. “Therefore, they form a second front line with urban guerrilla warfare techniques and weapons management.”comments Adrien Nonjon.

The Center of National Resistance (CNR), which depends on the army’s special forces, encourages civil disobedience, including armed disobedience. He also oversees the publication of an underground newspaper, Gazeta Sportiv (“Agenda of Resistance”) and several guides, including instructions for the perfect resistance fighter or tips for burning down a police station with a Molotov cocktail (links in Ukrainian). CNR sometimes provides advice on how to defuse an abandoned tank.

The publication of these textbooks and the desire to train civilians is not a new phenomenon in Ukraine. “Society has been under brutal tension since 2014 through war and revolution”, summarizes Adrien Nonjon. Since the beginning of the conflict in Donbass “A number of organizations originating from Ukrainian nationalist movements”, trained civilians in the use of weapons in training camps. “PDFs have also been published on social networks (VKontakte, Facebook…) to learn how to disassemble a weapon or create a Molotov cocktail.”

For several months now, American experts from the Institute for the Study of War have been demonstrating this parallel activity on an interactive map of Ukraine. (english). It remains to assess the real importance of partisan actions in the operational balance of forces. If they have a role “It is important to lead the Armed Forces of Ukraine”This “it’s too early” to judge their results, emphasizes Adrien Nonjon. However, they are a sign of it in Ukraine. “It is a whole nation that is fighting”.

Assumed name at the request of the relevant person.

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