Ukrainian guerrillas claimed on Friday they killed a Kremlin-backed politician in the Russian-held southern region of Kherson, the latest in a series of attacks aimed at destabilizing the occupation authorities.
Dmitry Savluchenko, the head of the region’s Youth and Sports Department, exploded in his car, Ukrainian and Russian officials said, in what appeared to be part of a growing insurgency fueled by public anger over deteriorating economic, security and humanitarian conditions as Moscow pushes to Russify the region.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-appointed administration, called the attack “a despicable act of terrorism”.
“Threats that come to me will not break me and my comrades,” he said in a video address, seated under a portrait of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. “No matter what happens, even after us, Russia will be there, and our children will speak Russian.”
The Kremlin has portrayed the territory it took over as stable and the people there as welcoming the Moscow regime, queuing for Russian passports and falsely condemning former Ukrainian authorities as a bunch of neo-Nazis. But Ukrainian officials say residents are being forced to take passports and prices have skyrocketed and many people are out of work.
Ukrainians celebrated the assassination and said their resistance was growing.
“Our supporters have another victory,” Serhii Khlan, adviser to the head of the Kherson region military administration, said in a Facebook post on Friday. “A pro-Russian activist and traitor was blown up in a car at one of the construction sites in Kherson in the morning.”
This week, the head of Ukraine’s intelligence agency, Kyrylo Budanov, said Ukrainian insurgents injured another Russian-backed official, Oleksiy Kovalyov, in the Kherson region. At least two other attacks on people working with the Russians in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were also reported this week.
The Russians did not recognize all the attacks. They control access to seized territory and reports of what happens there often come from testimonies passed on to Ukrainian officials. Many specific incidents cannot be independently confirmed, but they are part of a larger pattern described by witnesses who spoke to The New York Times and other independent media.
Ukrainians cite documented atrocities committed by Russian forces in areas they briefly held in northern Ukraine as proof of what Russian rule looks like. They are also keen to encourage attacks against Russian forces and their proxies.
Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol who is an unofficial spokesman for the Ukrainian resistance in his city, told a press conference on Friday that rewards of up to $10,000 were being offered for the murder of the principal agent of Moscow in Melitopol.
“Our supporters are starting the hunting season,” Fedorov said.
Russia continues to fortify its defensive positions in the south while taking steps to further integrate the territory into Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said Thursday that any future peace talks with Kyiv would be based on the “situation on the ground” when those talks resume.
“There are liberated areas there,” Lavrov said in an interview with Belarusian state television. “The majority of the population cannot even think of returning to the control of the neo-Nazi authorities.”
The Ukrainian Army’s National Resistance Center said that with efforts to introduce Russian passports to the general public not attracting large numbers of takers, authorities were imposing them on inmates of the northern penal colony of Kherson.
Mr Fedorov said residents of his hometown were told they could not receive pensions or start a business unless they took out a passport.
Up to 80% of Melitopol’s population is out of work, Federov said. And basic foodstuffs are three times more expensive than in the territories under Ukrainian control.
Anastasia Kuznietsova contributed report.