How the Ukrainian Resistance Movement Responded to Russia

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Analysis: it is clear that the civil resistance has proven to be of great help to the Ukrainian military forces in the war against Russia

In recent weeks, there have been many signs that a growing resistance movement is emerging in Ukraine in response to the ongoing Russian invasion. As part of this, there has been photographic evidence (difficult to confirm) that some Ukrainian resistance fighters found inspiration in the 1984 film Red Dawn.

Some readers may recall this classic B-movie in which a ragtag team of teenagers, who named themselves the Wolverines after their high school mascot, engaged in a resistance movement against a Russian invasion of United States. In the 1980s horror movie canon, it still has a lot to offer. From today’s Ukraine, we see photographs of knocked-out Russian tanks and vehicles with the word “Wolverines” daubed on them in white letters, seemingly an example of popular culture being introduced to the contemporary battlefield.

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From BBC News, meet the Ukrainian ‘shadow army’ working behind Russian lines to liberate Kherson

Whether the current generation of Ukrainian fighters is indeed inspired by a nearly 40-year-old movie is debatable. What is certain is that the spirit of resistance is deeply rooted in Ukrainian DNA. During World War II, there was a large partisan movement in Ukraine. Often referred to collectively as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, there was an array of partisan groups, many of which emerged from Ukrainian nationalist political movements.

Over 300,000 fighters served in Ukrainian partisan groups during the war and engaged in campaigns against German, Soviet and also Polish forces. Some partisan units were involved in antisemitic activities and ethnic cleansing of Poles from Ukrainian territory. It is estimated that more than 150,000 Ukrainian partisans died during the war.

Given this historic tradition of partisan warfare, it is perhaps unsurprising that the modern Ukrainian military provided resistance training to members of its territorial forces and the civilian population as tensions rose after 2014. .

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Brendan O’Connor program in February 2022, Channel 4 News’ Lindsey Hilsum explains how the invading Russian forces met heavy resistance from Ukrainian troops and citizens

This training extended to the publication of “guerrilla guides” according to the models established during the Second World War. These tips covered how to engage in varying levels of resistance activity, low-level actions such as sabotaging vehicles, interfering with street signs, engaging in intimidating graffiti campaigns, and generally being a tough civilian at within the occupied community.

Higher up the resistance ladder, modern telephone technology greatly facilitates intelligence gathering, and footage captured through covert filming can be sent back to Ukrainian army command posts. Along the same lines, basic communications equipment can facilitate the transmission of Russian troop locations to Ukrainian artillery targeting teams.

Even civilian drone equipment is extremely valuable in this space. One of the emerging trends in this new paradigm war is how everyday technology can create a true force multiplier. Last Sunday (July 31), a drone attack took place during Russian Navy Day celebrations at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol in Crimea. Early indications would suggest it was a civilian drone that had been weaponized with a small amount of explosives and launched from Sevastopol itself.

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MSNBC’s Ken Dilanian reports on the effectiveness of Ukrainian ‘cheap drones’ after the weekend’s successful attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet HQ in Crimea

The attack injured several Russian personnel and is a prime example of how small resistance groups are using readily available drone technology. In cyberspace, we can also see significant activity developing that fits into broader patterns of resistance, although it is difficult to quantify currently how much of this cyberactivity is taking place.

At the higher end of the resistance warfare spectrum, there is actual kinetic combat, and evidence suggests that Ukrainian resistance fighters engage in small-scale but highly targeted operations. There were attacks on Russian vehicles and troops and these used weapons that had previously been hidden or transported across lines into Russian-occupied areas.

One of the activities of the resisters has been to identify those who have decided to cooperate with Russian forces and there have been attacks against individuals identified as “collaborators”. We also know that some urban warfare experts have traveled to Ukraine to share their expertise with frontline troops and territorial forces.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week, DCU’s Donnacha Ó’Beacháin on the latest developments in the war in Ukraine

There are traditionally three distinct groups at play within resistance movements. First, there are members of the local population who have decided to stay and resist the occupation, quite often focusing on intelligence gathering and using tactics on the lower end of the resistance spectrum.

Second, members of local territorial forces and police can blend into the population and function as “remaining” units. Their activities tend to be more kinetic and have often been planned before the conflict erupts. During the Cold War, the deployment of “remainder” units was an important part of NATO’s defense planning. Finally, it is also usual to try to support the two cohorts above by inserting special forces teams in the occupied zone. It would seem that these three groups are currently operating in Ukraine in the occupied territories.

For resisters, this kind of activity is obviously high risk. Historically, casualties among resistance and partisan groups have been high. There is growing evidence of Russian counter-partisan activity and reports of the rounding up of suspects and their subsequent interrogation, torture and execution.

Many armies are now considering how the spirit of resistance could be encouraged as part of a larger defensive plan in the future.

One of the main locations of resistance activity has been the city of Kherson, which is currently the target of a developing Ukrainian counteroffensive. As the fighting for Kherson intensifies, we can expect increased resistance activity and Russian countermeasures. Ultimately, this is another facet of a failed military strategy: no sane military commander would devise a plan in which the descent into the visceral realm of resistance and counter-warfare resistance was a possibility.

The sphere of resistance operations has seen a conversation develop in recent years. For example, after 2014, some Nordic and Scandinavian countries started a national conversation focused on building societal resilience while discussing the possible future need for a concept of national resilience. Arguably, there has been a lot of this type of resistance/insurgency activity in the various conflicts of the early 21st century and we have seen examples of it in Iraq and Syria. What is new is the emergence of this type of military activity in a European context and many armies are now considering how the spirit of resistance could be encouraged as part of a wider defensive plan. in the future.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ



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