Activities of Ukrainian underground: an interview with the coordinator of the Yellow Ribbon movement in the Kherson region

Yelizaveta Kamenieva
Activities of Ukrainian underground: an interview with the coordinator of the Yellow Ribbon movement in the Kherson region

Russians' fear and intimidation of Ukrainian activists forced them to hide while Russian troops were on the territory. Thus, Russian propagandists create a picture that everyone in the temporarily occupied territories is happy with Russia. On the contrary, people with a pro-Ukrainian position started a guerrilla movement - such a movement already exists in Crimea, in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions; such a movement was also in Kherson, which was liberated by Ukrainian troops on November 11. 

Sвідомі talked to the coordinator of the Yellow Ribbon movement in the Kherson region, Ivan. 

For security reasons, we mention only his first name. 

How did the movement begin?

In April, the occupation authorities wanted to hold a pseudo-referendum on creating the "Kherson People's Republic". Local activists decided to fight Russian propaganda, in particular, to disrupt the pseudo-referendum. 

"We were losing connection, so we could not constantly write that Kherson is Ukraine; we were not waiting for Russia here; we did not agree with the regime of the new "authorities". Then we started acting", - the man says. 

According to him, the activists wanted to give the locals hope in the form of a yellow ribbon, a symbol of Ukraine. So why was there no blue colour? It's simple - the Russians did not immediately understand what this movement meant, so they were in no hurry to suppress it. On the contrary, it allowed the organisation of the first protest when the participants, with the residents of Kherson, boycotted against the creation of the "Kherson People’s Republic".

How did you find like-minded people?

According to Ivan, they did not look for anyone purposefully. Instead, Kherson residents responded when the guerrillas hung the first 100 ribbons in the city. Some did not believe it was a Ukrainian movement and suspected that this was the work of the Russian secret service, luring patriotic Ukrainians. Others took pictures and shared them on social networks at their own risk. Coordinators, in turn, communicated with bloggers to explain that they were their own.

Ivan recalls the reactions of Kherson residents: "People talked about us on the street, supported us, helped us. It was nice to see a woman sitting on a bench and hanging her ribbon. It was a good sign for us." 

There were more and more movement participants: they bought printers, issued posters and hung them in different parts of the city. 

Later they found like-minded people in the temporarily occupied Melitopol, Enerhodar, Henichesk, Nova Kakhovka, Berdiansk, Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea. The coordinator says that people are intimidated in the temporarily occupied territories, but resistance to the Russian system has not disappeared. 

"We have to unite the population that supports national ideas. Today we have up to two thousand brave people in our team," Ivan says. 

Patriotic ideas

If there was no printer or paint, people drew encouraging inscriptions, "Armed Forces are close, Armed Forces are coming", the letter E, by hand. The idea of "Ї" is to have your unique sign. But they painted it only where the Russians were to annoy them and remind them of the resistance. 

"Initially, it was supposed to be the letter R - against the Referendum," Ivan explains, "but we abandoned this idea. The activists drew different letters and saw how they looked. When they stopped on the letter E, they realised it was perfect. The first such symbol appeared at the end of July at one of the schools.

Later, the flash mob "Tear off racism" started - an action to collect propaganda products from Russians. People collected leaflets, tore off ads from entrances, and tore down Russian flags. Thus, according to the coordinators, they cleared the cities of racism. Then they burned it and filmed it on the phone to send it to the chatbot "Together" and distribute it on social networks.

In case of inspection, each activist has two phones - one for work tasks and the other without contacts and symbols. Therefore, it is necessary to follow the principle of "take a picture - send it - delete it."  

Who are the movement participants?

Each city has its team. Kherson activists are 200 people, led by Lilia. They met in May. "She was a little afraid, she saw every person as a traitor, a potential threat, but she wanted to help," the movement coordinator recalls. Lilia was preparing posters, and ribbons, drawing graffiti, glueing leaflets and passing information about the location of Russians to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

One of the teams was led by Denys, an IT specialist. He did not want to leave his hometown, so he hung yellow ribbons and flags with the activists. On May 9, the boy joined the rally against the so-called victory parade with Soviet flags. Then Russians beat and kidnapped pro-Ukrainian protesters. People were locked in the cinema "Ukraine" and brutally abused. The FSB interrogated Denis himself for several days. 

Liberation of Kherson

When there was information that the Ukrainian military was close, the coordinator of the movement Yellow Ribbon posted in Telegram: "Kherson residents, here is a task for you". They urged people to take out all Ukrainian symbols they had at home. They had emblems of Kherson, Ukraine, the Armed Forces, the State Emergency Service, flags of the state and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

"When everyone came out, forming a single blue and yellow background, we were in a pleasant shock," says Ivan, "People had to hide everything carefully - under the linoleum, in the yard, under the tiles, deep in the closets. As long as someone doubted that Kherson remained a Ukrainian city, people risked their lives and kept at home items banned by the Russians.

According to Ivan, it is better to live without light, heat or water but in a free country. "The struggle continues, and raising flags is one of the achievements of our military. It is one of the necessary steps towards victory so that everyone could see - Ukraine in Kherson was and always will be", - the man comments.

After Kherson's liberation, the Yellow Ribbon movement members do not stop. On the contrary, they want to expand their geography and increase local groups to hundreds of people where there are dozens now. In the temporarily occupied territories, they continue to work covertly and accompany their posts in the Telegram channel with the following text: "To make the occupiers dream about our Armed Forces every damn night - let's pin yellow ribbons on all the streets! Together we will win!"