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Russia Ramps Up Pressure on Civilians in Occupied Ukraine - The New York Times - 02.05.23

Wary of Ukrainian partisans and anticipating a counteroffensive, Russian authorities have “reinforced” counterintelligence units in occupied territory, Ukraine says by Marc Santora

Russia is ramping up pressure on civilians in occupied parts of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials, whose forces have stepped up their assaults behind enemy lines ahead of a widely expected counteroffensive.

The assault could prove a critical opportunity after 14 months of war, not just for Ukraine to regain territory but also for it to try and persuade its Western allies to send still more weapons and aid. Anticipating the campaign, and still recovering from their costly and stumbling winter offensive, many Russian forces have shifted into defensive positions.

Despite its staggering losses, Russia still controls a large swath of Ukrainian territory. But Ukrainian forces have repeatedly struck Russian positions far from the front, and on Tuesday the Russian authorities reported more shelling and — for the second day in a row — an explosion that derailed a freight train in the Russian border region.

The Russian authorities in occupied territory, wary of strikes by Ukrainian partisans and special forces, have imposed strict new measures on civilians. Most recently, they have “reinforced” counterintelligence units and are restricting travel between towns and villages, Ukraine’s military high command said Tuesday.

Last week, the Kremlin decreed that anyone in occupied territory who did not accept a Russian passport could be relocated from their homes, an edict that has sown confusion and fear among residents, according to the Ukrainian military and local officials.

The State of the War

  • Escalating Attacks: Signs of an imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive are mounting as both sides step up military strikes and Russian forces move into defensive positions.

  • Stuck in the Mud: The unusually wet ground this spring is one obstacle that the Ukrainian military, for all of its ingenuity, is finding difficult to overcome as it prepares for a counteroffensive.

  • Russia’s Refuseniks: Hundreds of Russian men have faced criminal charges for refusing to fight in Ukraine. That has not stopped others from going to unusual lengths to avoid battle.

  • The Pope’s Secret ‘Mission’: After a three-day trip to Hungary, Pope Francis said that the Vatican was involved in a secret “mission” to stop the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Undercover Russian security officers have also started working in crowded public spaces to track down members of the Ukrainian resistance, according to the National Resistance Center, a Ukrainian government agency.

The plainclothes officers often initiate conversation “to find ‘disloyal’ citizens,” the agency warned. Ukrainians who “take the bait are forced to continue to collaborate with the Russian occupation regime,” it said.

It is virtually impossible to independently verify much of what happens in Russian-occupied territory, because independent journalists, humanitarian groups and international observers are rarely granted access by the Russian authorities.

But the Kremlin has made no secret of its efforts to absorb the regions into Russia.

Even before President Vladimir V. Putin announced in September the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces, a move widely condemned as illegal, Russian forces enacted measures to Russify the internet and other elements of daily life like school curriculums and currency.

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Russia Ramps Up Pressure on Civilians in Occupied Ukraine - by Marc Santora for The New Yo
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Victoria Kim contributed reporting from Seoul.

Marc Santora is the international news editor based in London, focusing on breaking news events. He was previously the bureau chief for East and Central Europe, based in Warsaw. He has also reported extensively from Iraq and Africa. More about Marc Santora

A version of this article appears in print on May 3, 2023, Section A, Page 6 of the New York edition with the headline: Russia Tightens Pressure on Civilians in Occupied Areas. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

A Russian police officer at a polling station during a September referendum in the Luhansk People’s Republic. It is controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Credit...Associated Press

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