Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images
- Behind enemy lines, Ukrainian civilians are helping their country target Russian positions.
- In Kherson, local activists used Telegram to send photos and coordinates for Russian troops.
- “Our guys and girls are everywhere,” a Ukrainian official told The Wall Street Journal.
In Crimea, a Ukrainian car repairman went out drinking with Russian officers and then later shared the details of their conversations and the location of invading troops with his own country’s military. In occupied Kherson, a man who performed at weddings before the war said he had pivoted to planting explosives under Russian soldiers’ vehicles. And outside the city’s airport, a tech worker snapped photos of the enemy’s vehicles, collecting intelligence that was then promptly used to blow them up.
These stories were shared Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, which reported that regular Ukrainians, using simple tools like smartphones and the messaging app Telegram, have proven very useful to their country’s intelligence gathering processes. Ukrainian forces can act on the intel in under 15 minutes, putting fire on Russian positions.
“These people see Russian tanks moving, they see where troops go for dinner, where they party, where they do their laundry, and they share that information with us,” a Ukrainian security official told the news outlet. “Without them our army would have no way of knowing.”
Russian forces have felt the effects, and these everyday spies are becoming a priority for Russia. Its security and intelligence agents having raided the homes of suspected informants and imprisoned several on charges of espionage. The Journal said that few have been released, as civilians are rarely exchanged in Ukraine and Russia’s prisoner swaps.
Russia has also tried to infiltrate the Telegram channels being used against them.
In one case detailed by the Journal, a man who was arrested by Russia’s FSB tried days later to rejoin his online comrades, who by that time were requiring each member of their group to post a daily video to prove their identity and that they were not under duress. His face swollen and his hand shaking as he held a cigarette, the man claimed the background, which resembled a detention facility, was his grandmother’s home. He did not pass the test.
In a recent interview with the War on the Rocks podcast, Brig. Gen. Viktor Khorenko, the head of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces, credited local partisans with helping beat back Russia’s invading force, saying that they have given Ukrainian forces an advantage over the invading Russian troops.
“We know the terrain. We know the people. Our people actually helped us a lot,” Khorenko said during the interview.
When putting together teams to send to various places, “we try to find people and to integrate those people into those autonomous groups who know the local population and actually maybe were originally from those places, who have some relatives there, who have communication, who can be acting like a pathfinder,” he explained. “That was really a big advantage.”
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