© Reuters. The stays of the Ninel Lodge, a resort taken over by Russian safety officers that was hit by the Ukrainian navy on October 5, are seen in downtown Kherson, Ukraine November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Landay/File Photograph


By Jonathan Landay and Tom Balmforth

KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian intelligence wished affirmation final autumn that officers of Russia’s Federal Safety Service (FSB) overseeing the occupation of Kherson had been staying in a small resort on a again avenue of the southern port metropolis.

The duty was assigned to Greenback: the code title for a civilian who had been secretly offering focusing on coordinates and knowledge on enemy operations in Kherson and the encircling area, the operative mentioned.

Reuters held intensive interviews with Greenback and two different members of the underground partisan community in Kherson after the town was captured in early November.

Their separate accounts present a uncommon window into how data and sabotage operations had been coordinated with Ukrainian intelligence companies behind enemy traces, operations which might be nonetheless ongoing elsewhere in Ukraine.

Whereas Reuters couldn’t corroborate the precise occasions they described, two U.S. officers mentioned that such operations by an underground of intelligence operatives, ex-soldiers and amateurs helped hasten Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson – one of many largest setbacks for the Kremlin in a conflict that marks its first anniversary on Feb. 24.

Greenback, who declined to offer his title for safety causes, mentioned he started driving by the Lodge Ninel – Lenin spelled backwards – together with his spouse, a fellow operative who’s a part of the community and makes use of the code title Kosatka, Ukrainian for killer whale.

The gun-toting safety males they frequently noticed outdoors the resort satisfied the couple that FSB officers had been staying inside; Greenback mentioned he texted his observations to his handler on the Safety Service of Ukraine (SBU).

Ukraine’s SBU and Russia’s FSB didn’t reply to requests for touch upon Greenback’s account or different partisan operations. The protection ministry additionally didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Earlier than daybreak on Oct. 5, an enormous explosion ripped by way of the resort, based on Ukrainian media stories and regional lawmaker Serhii Khlan, who wrote on Fb (NASDAQ:) that two FSB officers and 7 Russian navy officers died.

“I obtained an SMS (textual content) that mentioned, ‘Take a look and see how the Lodge Ninel is doing,'” recalled Greenback, who took Reuters to view the shattered hulk. “I went over and reported again: ‘There is no such thing as a extra Lodge Ninel.'”

Reuters was unable to assessment the textual content message. Greenback and different partisans say they frequently deleted their chats and social media for safety causes.

Greenback and Kosatka obtained decorations from Ukrainian Protection Minister Oleksii Reznikov inscribed with thanks for “cooperating with the armed forces,” based on {a photograph} seen by Reuters dated Dec. 1 by which the inscriptions are seen. Mart and Kolia, the opposite two members of their four-person cell, had been additionally adorned by Reznikov, Greenback mentioned.

Requested about resistance operations in occupied territory, an official from Ukraine’s Principal Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) mentioned “the native inhabitants is supportive,” declining to offer particulars of particular actions.

Operations to focus on Russian safety personnel and disrupt their plans are persevering with throughout swathes of japanese and southern Ukraine held by Russia and its allies, based on a number of Ukrainian and Russian-installed officers in addition to members of the Kherson partisan cell.

The Institute for the Research of Struggle additionally says Ukrainian partisan warfare is being waged in Melitopol, Tokmak and Mariupol within the south and Donetsk and Svatove within the east.

Serhiy Haidai, the exiled governor of the japanese Luhansk province which has been underneath Russian management since final June, mentioned partisans there have been conducting sabotage operations there and assaults on suspected Russian collaborators.

In an interview on Jan. 23, he credited partisans with a current assault on a railway line that Russia’s navy was utilizing to move troops and tools. He declined to offer additional particulars for safety causes and Reuters couldn’t independently affirm partisan involvement within the assaults.


Risking arrest, interrogation, torture and loss of life, partisans in Kherson hung Ukraine’s blue-and-yellow nationwide colours on bushes and relayed Russian positions on Google (NASDAQ:) Earth and different on-line maps to Ukrainian safety officers, Greenback mentioned.

Vitalyi Bogdanov, 51, a regional council member, mentioned that throughout the eight-month Russian occupation, he collected and relayed to legislation enforcement authorities in Kyiv data later used to launch investigations into suspected collaborators.

“We had been in a position to begin a really huge variety of felony instances,” he mentioned. He declined to offer additional particulars as a result of the investigations had been ongoing.

Kolia, a part of the 4-member Kherson cell, mentioned that the group was informed by its handlers to not use firearms as a result of data was a stronger weapon.

Different partisans took up arms.

Alexei Ladin, a lawyer in Russian-occupied Crimea, informed Reuters he was defending two Ukrainians held there, accused by the FSB of violent assaults towards the Russians.

Pavlo Zaporozhets served within the Ukrainian military from 2014-17 and joined Ukraine’s GUR navy intelligence throughout the occupation of Kherson, Ladin mentioned.

Zaporozhets was arrested whereas trying to assault a Russian navy night time patrol and faces as much as life imprisonment on prices of worldwide terrorism, Ladin mentioned.

He mentioned Zaporozhets was being held in a detention facility in Simferopol and that he and his consumer attended a preliminary court docket listening to within the Russian port metropolis of Rostov-on-Don by video hyperlink on Feb. 2. The court docket ordered Zaporozhets’ switch to a facility in Rostov, Ladin mentioned.

In response to an FSB account seen by Reuters, Zaporozhets, then 31, was arrested in Kherson by FSB officers on Could 9 carrying two grenades, a fishing line and two plastic bottles that he had made into do-it-yourself bombs.

Zaparozhets informed his questioners he was contacted by a Ukrainian GUR handler codenamed Optium and agreed to hold out his orders for 30,000 hryvnias ($800) a month, based on the FSB case paperwork seen by Reuters.

Ladin mentioned the FSB account was primarily based on testimony obtained when his consumer was tortured throughout questioning and confirmed Reuters a replica of a handwritten word from Zaporozhets dated from final August by which he described being overwhelmed and subjected to electrical shocks whereas in custody.  

Whereas some particulars concerning the FSB account had been true, Ladin mentioned, the FSB falsely accused Zaporozhets of intentionally focusing on civilians in addition to the night time patrol. The navy motion was meant to be carried out throughout the curfew with intention of avoiding civilian casualties, Ladin mentioned.

Ladin mentioned the “optimum resolution” could be an alternate of Zaporozhets and one other consumer, Yaroslav Zhuk – who was arrested in Melitopol in June and accused of setting off a home-made bomb – for Russian POWs held by Ukraine. Zhuk denies attacking civilian targets, Ladin mentioned.

The FSB has declined to acknowledge Zaporozhets as a Ukrainian serviceman eligible for a prisoner swap, saying they may not confirm a doc introduced by the protection confirming his standing, Ladin mentioned. Within the case of Zhuk, Ladin says his consumer is a combatant lined by the Geneva conference; the FSB has not accepted the designation.

Reuters was unable to talk to the 2 detainees immediately.


Greenback, Kolia and Mart – one other member of the cell – mentioned they felt compelled to withstand the Russian takeover of Kherson as a result of there was no organized protection of their metropolis when the Russians attacked on Feb. 24.

Greenback and Mart’s first overt bid to confront the Russians got here on March 1, they mentioned, once they drove a truck loaded with concrete blocks towards the Antonovskiy Bridge, a essential entry level to the town, aiming to gradual Russia’s advance.

    They rotated as a result of they feared the invaders already had been within the metropolis, they mentioned.

    Greenback thought of his choices: set up a civil disobedience motion, take up arms or collect intelligence.

    Buddies put him in contact with an SBU officer. Greenback and Kolia, who had been outdated mates, agreed to gather and relay data on the Russians and construct a community of retired cops, former SBU officers, pensioners, and others, they mentioned.

Kolia, a seasoned hunter who knew the Kherson countryside, solicited data from native villagers, together with an aged lady who would depend Russian convoys as she milked her cow.

Between reconnaissance forays, the pair would meet sources in a espresso store to assemble intelligence.

Over the summer season one farmer gave Kolia the place of a Russian truck-mounted missile launcher generally known as a Tochka-U across the village of Muzykivka, about 12 km (7.5 miles) north of Kherson. Greenback mentioned he handed on the data.

    The following day the farmer reported to Kolia that there was solely a gap within the highway the place the truck as soon as stood, Greenback mentioned. Reuters couldn’t independently affirm the assault.

    Greenback’s spouse, Kosatka, recruited her personal community of informants, he mentioned. Kosatka declined to remark for this story.


    On the identical time, Mart pursued an impartial intelligence gathering effort, visiting individuals dwelling close to the Kherson Worldwide Airport in Chornobaivka on April 10 and urging them in individual and over Telegram chats to ship him details about Russian troop actions. He codenamed his five-person cell Miami. Reuters didn’t view the chats, which Mart mentioned he deleted.

Russian forces in March had established their headquarters throughout the three-square kilometre airport complicated, which was repeatedly bombed by Ukrainian forces.

Kyiv mentioned giant numbers of Russians troopers had been killed, together with at the least two generals, whereas plane and ammunition shops had been additionally destroyed. Moscow withdrew its navy {hardware} in October.

    As Russian losses mounted, some members of the cell Mart had recruited grew over-confident and started taking better dangers, mentioned Mart and Greenback.

    When the Russians arrested 4 of the Miami members on the finish of August, Mart feared they’d give him away. Reuters was unable to find out what later occurred to the 4 members.

    Mart fled to Vasliyevka village in Zaporizhzhia  province, the one checkpoint the place Russians allowed Ukrainian civilians to cross into Ukrainian-controlled territory, after which made his technique to Kyiv.

    Regardless of the liberation of Kherson, Greenback mentioned he and Kosatka would proceed aiding the resistance till Ukrainian troops get well Crimea, the place the couple owns an residence.        

     “The top of the conflict for me shall be after I transfer again into my residence,” he mentioned.

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