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

Russia’s terror forced Ukrainian activists in the temporarily occupied territories to hide. Thus, Russian propagandists could create a picture that everyone is happy with Russia. On the contrary, people with a pro-Ukrainian position started a guerrilla movement – such a movement exists in Crimea, in the temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions; such a movement had also been active in Kherson, before the city was liberated by Ukrainian troops on November 11.

Journalist Yelizaveta Kamenieva talked to the coordinator of the Yellow Ribbon movement in the Kherson region, Ivan. For security reasons, we mention only his first name.

Photo: Yellow Ribbon

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 mobile connection. We could not just constantly write that Kherson is Ukraine; that we were not waiting for Russia here; that 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. Why didn’t they use blue color? It’s simple – the Russians did not immediately understand what this movement meant, so they were in no hurry to suppress it. It made it possible to organize the first protest when when the participants 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, at the same time, communicated with bloggers to explain that they were on the Ukrainian side.

Ivan recalls the reactions of Kherson residents: “People talked about us on the streets, 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. 

Posters with the Yellow Ribbon and different Ukrainian cities.
Photo: Yellow Ribbon

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 Russia’s system has not disappeared. 

“We have to unite the population that supports national [Ukrainian] 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” or the letter “Ї” (among all Slavic languages, the letter can be found only in the Ukrainian alphabet) – by hand. The idea of “Ї” is to have your unique sign. It was painted only where Russians would see it, both to annoy them and to 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 various letters and saw how they looked. When they stopped on the letter “Ї”, they realized it was a perfect choice. 

Letter “Ї” on the poster. Photo: Yellow Ribbon

The first such symbol appeared at the end of July at one of the schools. Later, the flash mob “Tear off rashism” started. People collected leaflets, tore off paper announcements, and tore down Russian flags. Thus, according to the coordinators, they cleared the cities of rashism. They burned propaganda products and filmed it on the phone, sent to the chatbot “Together” and distributed on social networks.

In case of inspection, each activist had two phones – one for work tasks and the other without any 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 Liliia. 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. Liliia was preparing posters, and ribbons, drawing graffiti, gluing 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 together 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 “Ukraine” cinema and brutally abused. The FSB interrogated Denys for several days. 

Liberation of Kherson

When the information about Ukrainian military getting closer to the city appeared, the coordinator of the Yellow Ribbon movement 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, blue-yellow flags, 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 floor, in the yard, under the tiles, deep in the closets. People risked their lives and kept at home items banned by the Russians.

Kherson in the first days after liberation.
Photo: Volodymyr Zelenskyy

According to Ivan, it is better to live without electricity, 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 – Kherson was and always will be Ukraine,” – the man comments.

After the liberation of Kherson, the Yellow Ribbon movement members do not stop. Instead, 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 see our Armed Forces in the nightmares every damn night – let’s pin yellow ribbons on all the streets! Together we will win!”

Translated by Oleksandra Sobol