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How Ukrainian civilians risked their lives to help win the battle for Kyiv

The strikes against the incoming Russian formations prevented crucial reinforcements and supplies from reaching Kyiv from the east, leaving Moscow’s troops undermanned and undersupplied, said Ukrainian officials (Photo: Reuters)Premium
The strikes against the incoming Russian formations prevented crucial reinforcements and supplies from reaching Kyiv from the east, leaving Moscow’s troops undermanned and undersupplied, said Ukrainian officials (Photo: Reuters)
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Villagers shared Google map locations of Russian positions with Ukraine’s military, turning a highway into the stage for a major Kremlin defeat

NOVYI BYKIV (UKRAINE) : As Ukraine’s forces fought to repel Russian troops from the Kyiv region, Ukrainian villagers along Highway 7 battled in their own way: calling in Ukrainian artillery strikes on a vital lifeline that Russia had mapped out for its assault on the capital.

At great risk to themselves, the villagers shared tips and Google map locations with local authorities, turning the highway that runs between the Russian border and Kyiv into a big logistical defeat for Moscow. The intelligence they gleaned helped bring Ukrainian fire on numerous Russian units.

The strategy underscored fierce Ukrainian resistance as villagers put themselves and their homes on the front lines, turning quiet village life into an uneasy and sometimes deadly coexistence with Russian troops.

“Everyone here was doing all they could to get Russian troop movement across to our boys," said Natalia Mohilni, a homemaker in Novyi Bykiv, who had called in soldier locations in and around the village, where locals said the Russians had set up a mobile crematorium to discard the dead.

Ms. Mohilni’s own two-story house was shelled during exchanges, and a firefight with Ukrainian soldiers ultimately leveled the village’s main hospital, where Russian troops had stored ammunition and armored personnel carriers.

“No one wants the destruction, but we wanted the Russians even less," she said. “Not having a chimney means we need to wait to use the wood oven, but that’s fine."

The strikes against the incoming Russian formations prevented crucial reinforcements and supplies from reaching Kyiv from the east, leaving Moscow’s troops undermanned and undersupplied, said Ukrainian officials and defense analysts. By the end of March, Russia had decided its attempt to seize Kyiv had failed and repositioned its forces in the country’s east.

Russia’s most concentrated push on Kyiv came from the north, where successive columns of armor tried to take the capital. But the Russians depended heavily on a much longer supply route on Highway 7, a 230-mile route from the Ukrainian city of Sumy to near Kyiv. It was there that Ukrainian resistance deepened organizational problems the Russians were facing.

Military analysts say Russia’s military hadn’t overcome many of the logistical problems suffered by the Soviet Union-era Red Army. Over history, logistical problems have undermined many military campaigns, with armies facing tight budgets sometimes skimping on logistics to focus on new weapons and fighting forces.

One of the biggest battles fought around Highway 7 was around the Kyiv suburb of Brovary, where two regiments of Russia’s 90th Guards Tank Division were ambushed by Ukrainian antitank weaponry and artillery strikes that targeted the front and the back of the Russian column.

Tetyana Chornovol, a former Ukrainian lawmaker who fought Russian troops with antitank weaponry in the battle of Brovary, said the intelligence that villagers provided on the highway was crucial for artillery units.

Villagers who came under Russian occupation along this road in late February struggled to tell Ukrainian authorities about positions of Russians troops, artillery and tanks. Early in the occupation, Ukrainians called the point of contact they were most familiar with, the police.

“There were very professional divisions of Russian soldiers traveling between Sumy and Brovary, and these divisions tried to hide in forests and so the information was crucial," said Andriy Nebytov, police chief for the Kyiv region.

To streamline the process for Ukrainian defenders, the country’s Ministry of Digital Transformation launched chatbots on the popular Telegram messaging app that let Ukrainians share Russian troop locations online in a single database that went through the country’s Security Service. The capital’s Kyiv Digital app, which once helped people pay parking tickets and notify residents of temporary water cuts, was reconfigured to help users spot Russian troop movements and provide them to the military staff of the Armed Forces.

“The information was all given to the general staff and it was checked out, triangulated with other data and if the information was confirmed we would shoot to kill," said Oleg Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military expert. “The information was particularly important during the first weeks of the conflict when columns of armor were coming straight down the road."

In the following weeks, he added, the ability to stop fuel, water and food supplies helped degrade the performance of Russia’s troops around Kyiv.

The platforms gave instructions to provide “location, movement, volume of military equipment and personnel of the occupier." Others explained to villagers how to drop pins on Google maps to send into security services and reminded users to delete their messages to prevent being caught by Russian troops.

“Everything I had on my phone I deleted as soon as I sent it," said Natalia Yermak, a villager from Staryi Bykiv who said she used the app to inform on tanks traveling down the main street.

Others were less lucky.

In mid-March, 15 Russian servicemen broke into the nearby house of Viktoria Andrusha, who had been sending the types and numbers of Russian armor to a Ukrainian police officer, her father said. She was detained on March 24 and hasn’t been heard from since, he said.

By the time the Russians pulled back from their attempt on Kyiv they had already been convinced they were surrounded by enemies.

Galina, a retiree from the village of Priputny, which was on a route for Russian troops going into and pulling out of the Kyiv region, said Russian troops, as they were leaving, commandeered her house, where dozens stayed the night in the beds, the floors and in the yard.

“When they left, they set it on fire and left behind a blaze," she said.

 

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