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Ukraine’s Insurgents Could Break Russia’s Invasion

Russian T-80 tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Ukraine is resisting Russian occupation: As anyone with knowledge of unconventional warfare knows, it is one thing to take territory, it is quite another to hold it. Especially when the populace is so willing to take an active role in removing the occupying force

And despite Russian disinformation reports – to the world as well as to its own people – they have vastly underestimated not only Ukraine’s willingness to resist militarily but also how difficult it will be to effectively hold the territory it currently occupies inside of Ukraine. 

Ukrainian resistance fighters made three separate assassination attempts against pro-Russian proxy leaders put in place in the Kherson region in the past two weeks. U.S. officials believe that this is not just related to Kherson but to the entire region and that a resistance movement is growing. 

Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, said that Russia is facing “rising partisan activity in southern Ukraine,” which will further challenge Russia’s ability to hold the ground it has thus far taken in the invasion. It will stretch a Russian military that has already been stretched thin because of the massive casualties taken since the war began four months ago. 

Most U.S. and Western analysts believe that the Russians don’t have enough troops to occupy the southern Ukraine territory that it has seized and still keep up operations aimed at moving toward the port of Odesa. Especially with the operations in eastern Ukraine which look to secure the large town of Lysychansk in the industrial heartland of the Donbas. 

Kherson and Melitopol Remain A Hotbed of Resistance Activity: 

The Russian military took Kherson in the early stages of the Ukrainian invasion and despite their efforts to remove any semblance of Ukrainian governance, the Ukrainians continue to resist. The “Russification” of the city via banks, mobile phone operators, and central political influence, as well as the control of the news, are only seeming to drive Ukrainians farther from Russian influence. 

As soon as they took the city, the Russians began collecting a “database of Nazis” and former and current government officials were arrested, killed, or simply disappeared. Kherson’s mayor, Ihor Kolykhaev kept the world informed on what life was like under Russian occupation via his Telegram channel app posts. 

But he too was arrested shortly after arriving at the municipal office building where he continued to work even after being ousted by the Russians and replaced by Vladimir Saldo, a “kleptocrat” who is found to own vast amounts of property in Ukraine, far beyond his means. 

It soon became clear that Russia was abandoning the talk of Kherson becoming part of the “People’s Republics” that were being installed elsewhere, and they intend on annexing Kherson and the surrounding areas into the Russian Federation. The proxy government announced that they would hold a referendum to join Russia. No date has yet been announced. 

In another tactic out of the Stalinist playbook, the Russians are confiscating food stocks so that the people are dependent on Moscow to survive. This, and the purges of government officials, have not pacified the populace but drove its people to resist. Many locals voted with their feet and have fled. Others have taken an active role in resisting. 

Peaceful protests that began soon after the Russian occupation were dispersed by Russian military forces. This led to more passive forms of resistance. Many hospital workers refused to go to work so that they wouldn’t have to treat Russian soldiers. Then the assassination attempts and other partisan activity began.

More than 200 Russian soldiers have been killed in nighttime attacks on isolated troops. There have been numerous guerrilla attacks in the region. Attacks on Russian troops and proxy leaders are also occurring in the city of Melitopol, a crucial town that links the newly occupied lands with the Crimea territory that Russia annexed in 2014. 

Ukrainian Reforms Are A Big Factor in the Resistance: 

When the Crimea territory was annexed in a quick Russian incursion in 2014, the Ukrainian Army performed poorly, due to massive corruption and the overall weakness of the state. But government reforms changed that. 

By decentralizing the government, local communities took a more active role in their day-to-day governance. The military went through a massive modernization and training upgrade. By moving toward the West, the training of the military toward a more modern force was plain to see once the Russians invaded a few months ago. 

One other factor was the Ministry of Defense creating what it called the Territorial Defense Force. These were local militias formed at the local community level and were charged with defending their home villages, towns, and cities. These localized militias have captured the attention of Taiwan which is now creating similar units to combat a possible Chinese invasion.  

Back in May, President Zelensky replaced the head of its Territorial Defence Forces, Yuriy Halushkin with Major General Ihor Tantsyura. No reason was given for the change. 

“The explosive growth of the structure, especially in conditions of intense combat, is a huge experience, with mistakes and achievements. There are successes and, unfortunately, losses,” the ministry said in a released statement.

Part of the modernization program was the doubling in size of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces. And the unconventional-warfare mission set is where much of the Ukrainian resistance has borne fruit. 

Russia believed, and told its troops, that the Ukrainians would “welcome them with open arms.” That was a serious miscalculation. The U.S. and other Western analysts knew that the Ukrainians would resist and the pieces were in place for a serious insurgency if they tried to occupy the land. 

Russian commanders didn’t learn from their bloody lessons in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and despite their “filtration camps,” the will to resist remains. 

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.