Ukrainian Resistance Stories Revealed After Kherson Withdrawal


Kherson, Ukraine
CNN

Two Russian soldiers were walking along the streets of Kherson on a spring evening in early March, just a few days after Moscow. captured the city. The temperature that night was still below freezing and the electricity was out, leaving the city in complete darkness as the soldiers returned to camp after a few drinks.

When one stumbled, the other stopped to urinate on the side of the sidewalk. Suddenly, a knife was thrust deep into the right side of his neck.

He fell on the grass. A few moments later, the second Russian soldier, drunk and unsuspecting, suffered the same fate.

“I immediately finished off the first one and then caught up with the second one and killed him on the spot,” says Archie, a Ukrainian resistance fighter who described the scene above to CNN.

He says he moved on pure instinct.

“I saw orcs in uniform and I thought, why not?” Archie adds, using a derogatory term for Russians, as he walks down the same street. “There were no people, no light, and I seized the moment.”

The 20-year-old is a trained mixed martial artist with nimble legs and sharp reflexes who used to always carry a knife for self-defense, but never killed anyone. CNN is using his call sign to protect his identity.

“Adrenaline played its part. I had no fear, no time to think,” he says. “The first few days I felt very bad, but then I realized that they were my enemies. They came to my house to take it from me.”

Archie’s information was confirmed by Ukrainian military and intelligence sources who kept in touch with him and other partisans. He was one of many resistance fighters in Kherson, a pre-invasion city of 290,000, who Russia tried to bend but couldn’t break.

People in Kherson made their opinions clear shortly after Russia took over the city on March 2, taking to the main square for daily protests while wearing the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

But Kherson, the first major city and the only regional capital that Russian troops had been able to occupy since the beginning of the invasion, was an important symbol for Moscow. Disagreement could not be tolerated.

The protesters were met with tear gas and gunshots, the organizers and the more outspoken residents were arrested and tortured. When peaceful demonstrations didn’t work, the people of Kherson turned to resistance, and ordinary citizens like Archie began to act on their own.

“I was not the only one in Kherson,” says Archie. “There were many smart partisans. At least 10 Russians were killed every night.”

Initially alone, like-minded residents began to organize into groups, coordinating their actions with the Ukrainian military and intelligence agencies outside the city.

“I have a friend who we drove around the city with, looking for concentrations of Russian soldiers,” he says. “We checked their patrol routes, and then we passed all the information to the guys on the front line, and they knew who to pass on.”

The targets of the assassination were not only Russian soldiers. During the eight months of Russian occupation, several Moscow-appointed government officials have been targeted. Their faces were printed on posters posted throughout the city, promising retribution for their collaboration with the Kremlin in the psychological warfare that continued throughout the occupation.

Many of these promises have been kept: some of these officials have been shot dead and others blown up in their cars in incidents that pro-Russian local authorities have described as “terrorist attacks.”

Archie was arrested by occupation authorities on May 9 after participating in a Victory Day parade celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, wearing a yellow and blue stripe on a T-shirt.

According to Archie, he was taken to a local detention facility, which was turned over to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and used to torture Ukrainian soldiers, intelligence officers and partisans.

Igor says that while he was kept in this Russian detention center, he spent most of his time looking out the window, daydreaming about escaping the horrors inside.

“They beat me, electrocuted me, kicked me and kicked me with batons,” Archie recalls. “I can’t say that they starved me, but they didn’t give me much food.”

“Nothing good happened there,” he said.

Archie was lucky enough to be released nine days after being forced to record a video saying he had agreed to work with the Russian occupiers. His version of what happened at the facility was corroborated by Ukrainian military sources and other detainees.

But many others never left, according to Archie and other resistance fighters, as well as Ukrainian military and intelligence sources.

Igor, who asked CNN not to give his last name for his protection, was also held at the facility.

The Ukrainian flag now hangs over a detention center that Russian troops use to detain and torture Ukrainian soldiers, dissidents and partisans.

“I was held here for 11 days, and all this time I heard screams from the basement,” says the 29-year-old man. “People were tortured, beaten with sticks on the hands and feet, with cattle whips, even connected to batteries and beaten with electric current or water.”

Igor was caught transporting weapons and says that “fortunately” he was only beaten.

“I came after the time when people were beaten to death here,” he recalls. “I was beaten with a stun gun on my legs, used as a greeting. One of them asked why they brought me, and two more started hitting me in the ribs.”

Igor and other partisans helped the Ukrainian forces bombard this warehouse, where Russian forces had placed military equipment, and bombard it with artillery.

By his detention, Igor was able to hide the fact that he was a member of the Kherson resistance and that he was engaged not only in the transportation of weapons. Igor says he has also supplied intelligence to the Ukrainian military, an activity that would have drawn far harsher penalties.

“If we found something, saw something, (we) took pictures or filmed a video (and) sent it to the Ukrainian forces, and then they decided whether to hit or not,” he explains.

Among the coordinates he provided to the Ukrainian military is a warehouse in Kherson. “The Russian military kept 20 to 30 pieces of equipment here, there were armored personnel carriers, armored personnel carriers, Russians lived here,” says Igor.

The departing Russian troops quickly destroyed what was left of the valuable interiors, but the ruined building left traces of a heavy blow. Much of the roof has collapsed, the walls are shattered, and broken glass still covers much of the floor. The structure remained in place, but in some places its metal was damaged by the explosion.

Igor filmed this warehouse used by Russian troops by walking past it, pretending to make a phone call.  His information helped Ukrainian forces target and destroy him.

Igor used the messaging app Telegram to give the building’s coordinates to his military handler, whom he referred to as “smoke”. Along with the information, he sent a video that he secretly recorded.

“I turned on the camera, pointed it at the building, and then just went and talked on the phone while the camera was filming,” he explains. “After that, I deleted the video, of course, because if they stopped me somewhere and checked my videos and photos, there would be questions …”

He sent the information in mid-September, and a day later the object was fired upon by Ukrainian artillery.

The United States and NATO estimate that when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin expected its troops to be welcomed with open arms as saviors. Reality did not live up to expectations, not only in the territories where Moscow’s troops were driven back, but also in those that managed to be captured.

The attack on the warehouse that Igor helped with is one of many organized by Ukrainian partisans in Kherson, who work tirelessly and are in danger of disrupting Russian operations in the city.

Eight months after it was occupied by Russia, the city of Kherson is now back in Ukrainian hands, and the Muscovite armies are lagging behind, forced to retreat from the western bank of the Dnieper.

But despite winning here, Ukraine continues to face devastating missile strikes nearly everywhere on an almost daily basis, while Russian forces continue their offensive in the east.

Looking back, Igor, the father of a three-month-old daughter, says he was lucky he didn’t get caught.

“It was easy, but dangerous,” he explains. “If they had caught me filming this, they would have taken me and probably wouldn’t have let me get out alive.”