On a spring evening in early March, just days after Moscow, two Russian soldiers were walking down a street in Kherson. Captured the city. The temperature that night was still below freezing and the power was out, leaving the town in total darkness as the soldiers headed back to camp after drinking some wine.
As one stumbled, the other stopped at the edge of the floor to relieve himself. Suddenly, a knife was thrust deep into the right side of his neck.
He fell on the grass. Moments later, another Russian soldier, drunk and unconscious, suffered the same fate.
“I finished the first one right away and then I grabbed the second one and killed him on the spot,” says Archie, a Ukrainian resistance fighter who described the scene above to CNN.
He says he went on pure instinct.
“I saw the orcs in uniform and I thought, why not?”, added Archie, using a derogatory term for Russians walking down the same street. “There were no people or lights and I captured the moment.”
The 20-year-old is a trained mixed martial arts fighter, with quick feet and reflexes, who previously always carried a knife for self-defense, but has never killed anyone. CNN is referring to it by its call sign to protect its identity.
“Adrenaline played its part. I had no fear or time to think,” he says. “The first few days I felt terrible, but then I realized they were my enemy. They came to my house to pick me up.
Archie’s account was backed up by Ukrainian military and intelligence sources who handled communications with him and other supporters. He was one of many resistance fighters in Kherson, a city of 290,000, before the attack. Russia Tried to bend but could not break.
The people of Kherson made their views clear shortly after Russia seized the city on March 2, taking to the main square for a daily protest with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.
But Kherson, the first major city and the only regional capital that Russian troops were able to capture from the start of the offensive, was an important symbol for Moscow. Dissent could not be tolerated.
Protesters were fired with tear gas and bullets, organizers and outspoken residents were arrested and tortured. When peaceful protests didn’t work, the people of Kherson turned to resistance, and ordinary citizens like Archie started taking action on their own.
“I wasn’t the only one in Kherson,” says Archie. “There were a lot of crafty supporters. At least 10 Russians were killed every night.
Initially solo operations, like-minded residents began organizing themselves into groups, coordinating their operations with the Ukrainian military and intelligence outside the city.
“I have a friend with whom we used to walk around the city looking for gatherings of Russian soldiers,” he says. “We checked their patrol routes and then gave all the information to the guys on the front line and they knew who to pass next.”
Russian soldiers were not the only target of murder. During the eight months of Russian occupation, many government officials stationed in Moscow were targeted. Their faces were plastered across the city on posters promising revenge for their collaboration with the Kremlin, a psychological war that continued throughout the occupation.
Many of those promises were fulfilled, with some of the officials shot dead and others blown up in their cars in what pro-Russian local authorities described as “terrorist attacks”. Described
Archie was arrested by occupation authorities on May 9 after attending a Victory Day parade celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II wearing a yellow and blue stripe on his T-shirt.
According to Archie, he was taken to a local pre-trial detention facility that was taken over by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and tortured Ukrainian soldiers, intelligence officers and supporters.
“They hit me, gave me electric shocks, kicked me and beat me with sticks,” Archie recalls. “I can’t say they starved me, but they didn’t give me much to eat.”
“Nothing good happened there,” he said.
Archie was lucky enough to be released after nine days and forced to record a video agreeing to work with the Russian occupiers. What happened in his account has been confirmed by Ukrainian military sources and other detainees.
But Archie and other resistance fighters, as well as many others, never left, according to Ukrainian military and intelligence sources.
Ihor, who asked CNN not to reveal his last name to protect himself, was also held at the facility.
“I was kept here for 11 days and during that time I heard screaming from the basement,” says the 29-year-old. “People were tortured, beaten in the arms and legs with sticks, cattle prodded, even tied to batteries and electrocuted or doused with water.”
Ahur is caught carrying the weapon and says that “luckily” he was only killed.
“I arrived after people were being beaten to death here,” he recalls. “I was stabbed in the legs with a taser, they use it as a greeting. One of them asked what I was brought for and two of them started hitting me in the ribs.
Through his detention, Ihor managed to hide that he was a member of the Kherson resistance and that transporting weapons was not his only job. Ihor says he also provided intelligence to the Ukrainian military – an activity that would have led to a much more brutal punishment.
“If we find something, see it, (we) take a picture or a video (and) send it to the Ukrainian forces and then they will decide whether to kill it or not,” he explains.
Among the contacts he made to the Ukrainian military is a warehouse inside the city of Kherson. “The Russian military had 20 to 30 vehicles here, armored trucks, armored personnel carriers, and some Russians lived here,” Ihor says.
Departing Russian forces hastened to hollow out the precious interior, but the ruined building bears the marks of a violent strike. Most of the roof has collapsed, the walls are crumbling and broken glass still covers much of the floor. The structure remains in place but its metal has been destroyed in some parts by the blast.
Ihor used the Telegram messaging app to relay the building’s coordinates to his military handler, whom he called “Smoke.” Along with the information he sent a video that he secretly recorded.
“I turned on the camera, pointed at the building and then I talked on the phone while the camera was filming,” he explains. “After that I deleted the video, of course, because if they had stopped me somewhere and checked my videos and pictures, there would have been questions…”
He sent the information in mid-September and, just one day later, the facility was hit by Ukrainian artillery.
The United States and NATO have speculated that when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin expected its forces to be hailed as saviors, to be greeted with open arms. Reality failed to live up to expectations, not only in areas where Moscow’s forces had been pushed back, but also in areas it had managed to capture.
The strike at the warehouse that Ihor helped organize was one of many carried out by pro-Ukrainian activists within Kherson, working tirelessly and under the threat of disrupting Russian activities within the city.
Eight months after the Russian occupation, the city of Kherson is now back in Ukrainian hands and Moscow’s forces are on the back foot, forced to withdraw from the western bank of the Dnipro River.
But despite the victory here, Ukraine faces almost daily devastating missile attacks from almost everywhere, all as Russian forces continue to push east.
Looking back, Ihore, father of a three-month-old daughter, says he was lucky not to have been caught.
“It wasn’t difficult, but it was dangerous,” he explains. “If they had caught me making a film like that, they would have taken me in and probably wouldn’t have let me out alive.”