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Putin’s Nightmare: A Ukrainian Guerrilla Movement Has Emerged

Russia Ukraine
Soldiers with the Ukrainian army’s 1st Battalion, 95th Separate Airmobile Brigade train with a DShK 12 mm machine gun during their training cycle at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center on the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine on Sept. 6. Yavoriv CTC Observer Coach Trainers, along with mentors from the Polish army and the U.S. Army's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, led the training for soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 95th Separate Airmobile Brigade during the battalion's rotation through the Yavoriv CTC. The 45th is deployed to Ukraine as part of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, an international coalition dedicated to improving the CTC's training capacity and building professionalism within the Ukrainian army. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric McDonough, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team)

A new front in the war for Ukraine: Ukrainian officials had announced in early April that they expected a full-scale Ukrainian guerrilla movement to emerge in the late spring. They were right. As the below list of recent partisan activity shows, Ukrainians in Russian-occupied territories have mobilized and embarked on the traditional forms of resistance: sabotage, assassinations, and propaganda.

I gathered the data from Ukrainian websites that explicitly identified the perpetrators of these actions as partisans. It is, of course, possible that Ukrainian special forces may have been involved in some of these actions; it is also likely that the data are incomplete, inasmuch as some actions probably went unreported. Even so, the number of guerrilla actions is impressive and bespeaks a trend toward ever-greater partisan activity.

The data indicate that most of the partisan activity is located in and around the city of Melitopol. This conclusion is corroborated by the Institute for the Study of War’s map of Assessed Control of Terrain in Ukraine and Main Russian Maneuver Axes.

But that distinction may not last long. The Berdyansk Partisan Army, whose size is unknown, has unleashed an extensive propaganda campaign on Telegram. It has disseminated slogans, provided advice to civilians regarding forms of resistance, and identified the names and addresses of collaborators. It has not, to date, engaged in any kind of active resistance.

It’s likely that Ukrainian partisan activity has affected the morale of Russian soldiers, close to 200 of whom have been victims of fatal knifings and shootings. Some Russians appear to think that learning a few words of Ukrainian may enable them to survive nighttime attacks. It’s also likely that several assassinations of pro-Russian Ukrainian civilians have dampened the spirits of actual and potential collaborators.

The real impact of the partisan movement will be felt if it spreads to most of southern Ukraine, intensifies its efforts, and—most important—coordinates its activities with the counter-offensive the Ukrainian armed forces, bolstered by deliveries of western heavy weaponry, are expected to launch in late July or August.

The Ukrainians expect their counter-offensive to be successful: they believe that their soldiers are better than their Russian counterparts and that their Western-made weapons will also be better than most of the increasingly outdated Russian equipment. If the guerrillas can strike the Russian lines from behind, while the army attacks from the front, the effect could be tantamount to an encirclement of the Russian armed forces.

Naturally, the Russian authorities will try to crack down on and neutralize the guerrillas. Indeed, they already have. Inasmuch as the local populations are almost uniformly supportive of the Ukrainian resistance movement, the authorities are unlikely to succeed, certainly in the short term. In any case, whether successful or not, a crackdown will divert needed resources from the front to the rear, thereby aiding the Ukrainian war effort.

List of Partisan Activities in Ukriane

May 25, leaflets appeared in Berdyansk, Tokmak, Melitopol, Velykiy Burluk: “Russian soldier, if you don’t want to be a Nazi of the 21st century, then leave our land! Otherwise, the fate of Hitler’s soldiers and a Nuremberg tribunal await you!”

May 23, Melitopol, railroad tracks were damaged and a shipment of weapons and ammunition was disrupted.

May 22, near Melitopol, radar stations were destroyed.

May 22, Energodar, Zaporizhzhya province, unsuccessful assassination attempt against the collaborationist mayor, Andrii Shevchyk.

May 18, near Melitopol, railroad tracks were destroyed and a military train was derailed.

May 18, Melitopol, grenade attack on military command post, followed by a gun battle.

May 17, Melitopol, two officers were killed.

April 30, Berdyansk, the Berdyansk Partisan Army declared: “Russian occupiers and their collaborators, you think you’ve established control over Berdyansk? You have no idea of the mouse trap you’ve stepped in. We, the Berdyansk Partisan Army, are already growing our forces and are ready to emerge from the shadows.”

April 28, Akimovka, Zaporizhzhya province, a railroad bridge was destroyed.

April 25, Kremenna, Luhansk province, the city council and police station were bombed, with many casualties.

April 22, Melitopol, another 30 soldiers were reported killed since April 12.

April 20, Kherson, pro-Russian blogger, Valerii Kuleshov, was killed.

April 16, Berdyansk, the Berdyansk Partisan Army maked its first appearance in Telegram. It defined itself as a “movement of engaged Berdyansk residents, who defend their city in the struggle against the Russian fascist occupier.”

March-April 26, Kherson province, 80 soldiers were reported killed.

March 20-April 12, Melitopol, 70 soldiers were reported killed during nighttime patrols.

Early March, Kremenna, Luhansk province, the collaborationist official, Vladimir Struk, was killed.

There are also reports of partisan activity in Crimea. According to a Ukrainian official, “Today we see in the Crimea the appearance of local partisans who slash the tires of cars with Russian symbols, write slogans on park benches, and distribute pro-Ukrainian leaflets.”

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”

Written By

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. bill

    May 29, 2022 at 11:17 am

    Shock And Awe are one thing. Holding onto real estate is something else.

  2. Alex died Inna drone strike

    May 29, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    It won’t be long before russians will be shot dead by 70 year old women in Ukraine, and only rhen will they realize what they’ve done.

    God loves dead russians.

  3. Stefano

    May 29, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    “Pro-Russian media blogger shot and killed in Kherson.”
    Mmm I think that any european court world sentence to jail those partisan for committing omicide.
    Even in war you cannot simply kill the one you don’t like

    • Tokyo Woes

      May 29, 2022 at 5:18 pm

      we beg to differ. especially in war you can pretty much do what ever you wish within the ‘confines’ of the current ‘fluid’ morality in which you float.

  4. Mykhailo

    May 30, 2022 at 3:22 am

    Today there was also an attempt on the pseudo-governor of the Zaporizhzhia oblast in Melitopol, it is unknown if he is hit or not, however his daughter was just hospitalized with sharpnel wounds

    • Mykhailo

      May 30, 2022 at 3:24 am

      Correction, not daughter but niece

  5. mhjo

    May 30, 2022 at 11:45 am

    This is going to be a very hot summer. One country invades the other and gets weaker by the month. The invaded gets stronger by the month and receives lend lease material in great numbers from the US…. how did a scenario like that end the last time?

    • Exnavynuke

      May 31, 2022 at 10:13 am

      Exactly.

      This is happening at a time when the US military is experiencing a nadir in morale and effective combat training we haven’t seen since the 1930s at least. Make no mistake, the Davos crowd is trying to get America (even more) actively involved in this war. Lots of our boys and girls will be killed due to incompetent leadership; and I’ve got no confidence the current administration will fire generals and admirals until they get ones that can win.

      In closing, I work with several young men and am proud of my service. However, I’ve been actively suggesting they not join the military at this point in time. My advice is to wait and see until four or five months after we enter a hot war before deciding. Turns out my advice matches those of the other oldsters in their lives. Take that for what you will….

  6. Begemot

    May 31, 2022 at 2:28 am

    Ukraine is winning.
    Russia is losing.
    The battle line slowly moves west.

  7. Bertram

    May 31, 2022 at 10:47 am

    Good show!
    Next step will be for partizan activity to cross the Russian border. Begin assassinating Russian officials within Russia. Bomb facilities and assets supporting the transport of supplies for the invaders.
    Show Russian officials and supporters that they are not safe, even on their side of the border.

    The cost to continue this illegal invasion is Russian blood, in increasing quantities.

  8. Basilio

    May 31, 2022 at 11:49 am

    Ukraine officials announce a lot of weird things – like Ukrainian troops surrounding Moscow and reaching Ural, or Russian soldiers astonished by street lights or paved roads which they see for a first time.

    As for guerilla – well, Putin fixed the first Khrushchev’s mistake and returned Crimea. There was another mistake back in 1955, when some 50000 Ukrainian nazi supporters were released by Khrushchev. Looks like it’s time to fix this mistake as well.

    • BG Davis

      June 6, 2022 at 12:00 pm

      @Basilio – we get it. Russian fascism is good in your book. You even write like a Russian bot would, complete with errors in basic English. It’s so funny that you think Ukrainian officials are making the weird announcements you mention. If you believe that they are, well, seek help. If you don’t believe that they are, well, that doesn’t say much good about you, does it? You can’t win.

  9. Steve

    May 31, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    Duh here. Statfor Intelligence predicted this over 7 years ago. As a Special Forces operative I am not the least bit surprised. What did the Russian Army think it was going to get with a stretched supply line from the DNR to Kherson/Crimea?

  10. Ellie Kesselman

    June 6, 2022 at 10:41 am

    What was Russia thinking? There’s no way Putin could or even should want to occupy all of Ukraine indefinitely.

    What is the US thinking? Yes, that’s me, watching inflation and high prices and potential of another foreign war loom over us. We’ve already sent 1/3 of our stockpile of Javelins to Ukraine but they want fighter jets. Zelensky has spoken of his plans for the war in 2023. What?

    Russia doesn’t seem to realize that tanks require infantry support. Yes, you are correct: Stratfor foresaw this awkward Russian invasion back in 2014-2015. I’m probably stupid for not anticipating how enthusiastic the US would be in its level of proxy participation.

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