Ukrainian insurgents kill a Kremlin-backed politician in occupied Kherson, part of a wave of attacks.
Marc Santora and
- June 24, 2022, 9:05 a.m. ET
Ukrainian guerrilla fighters claimed on Friday to have killed a Kremlin-backed politician in the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson, the latest in a series of attacks aimed at destabilizing the occupation authorities.
Dmitry Savluchenko, the head of the Department of Youth and Sports for the region, was blown up in his car, according to both Ukrainian and Russian officials, in what appeared to be part of a growing insurgent movement fueled by public anger over worsening economic, security and humanitarian conditions as Moscow pushes to Russify the region.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russia-appointed administration, called the attack “a vile terrorist act.”
“The threats that come my way won’t break me and my comrades,” he said in a video address, sitting under a portrait of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “No matter what happens, even after us, Russia will be here, and our children will speak Russian.”
The Kremlin has portrayed the territory it has taken as stable and the people there as welcoming Moscow’s rule, lining up for Russian passports and condemning the previous Ukrainian authorities falsely as a gang of neo-Nazis. But Ukrainian officials say that residents are being coerced into taking passports and that prices have skyrocketed and many people are out of work.
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Ukrainians celebrated the assassination and said their resistance was growing.
“Our partisans have another victory,” Serhii Khlan, an adviser to the head of the Kherson region’s military administration, said in a Facebook post on Friday. “A pro-Russian activist and traitor was blown up in a car in one of Kherson’s yards in the morning.”
This week, the head of the Ukrainian intelligence agency, Kyrylo Budanov, said that Ukrainian insurgents had injured another Russia-backed official, Oleksiy Kovalyov, in the Kherson region. At least two more attacks on people working with the Russians in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were also reported this week.
The Russians did not acknowledge all of the attacks. They control access to seized territory, and reports of what is happening there often come from witness accounts relayed to Ukrainian officials. Many specific incidents cannot be independently confirmed, but they fit into a broader pattern described by witnesses who have spoken to The New York Times and other independent news media outlets.
The Ukrainians point to the documented atrocities committed by Russian forces in areas they briefly held in northern Ukraine as evidence of what Russian rule looks like. They are also eager to encourage attacks on Russian forces and their proxies.
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol who is an unofficial spokesman of Ukrainian resistance in his city, said at a news conference on Friday that rewards were being offered of up to $10,000 for the killing of top proxy leaders for Moscow.
“Our partisans start the hunting season,” Mr. Fedorov said.
Russia continues to fortify its defensive positions across the south while also taking steps to further integrate the territory with Russia. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, said on Thursday that any future peace talks with Kyiv would be based on the “situation on the ground” at the time when such negotiations would resume.
“There are liberated areas there,” Mr. Lavrov said in an interview with Belarusian state television. “The majority of the population cannot so much as think of returning under the control of the neo-Nazi authorities.”
The Ukrainian military’s Center for National Resistance said that with efforts to introduce Russian passports to the general public failing to draw a large number of takers, officials were forcing them on inmates at the Kherson Northern Correctional Colony.
Mr. Fedorov said that people in his home city had been told that they could not receive pensions or start a business unless they take a passport.
As much as 80 percent of the public in Melitopol is out of work, Mr. Federov said. And basic food staples are three times as expensive as in Ukrainian-controlled territories.
Anastasia Kuznietsova contributed reporting.