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How to survive a land invasion by the Red Army

This article is written with the citizens of Eastern and Southern Ukraine in mind. At the time of writing Russia's Red Army has amassed at Ukraine's eastern borders the troops necessary for a land invasion, led by tanks, and given the failures in diplomacy a land invasion seems virtually inevitable. Land invasions are very dangerous, particularly for the residents of cities that are invaded, and lots of people may die. That is all the more the case where, as in Ukraine, the government is announcing full resistance to the invasion and is threatening to call up men of serviceable age for fighting and resistance to the occupation. We are therefore looking at the possibility of street-fighting in every city the Russian army invades. Here are some guiding principles to help you stay alive if you live in one of those cities.


These lessons come principally from people with experience of ground war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of course the war in Bosnia was different, because unlike Ukraine the country is not flat. Therefore there was very little movement in the front lines, because hills and mountains meant substantial advancement was difficult to achieve. By contrast the Ukrainian war is likely to move very quickly, because the country is flat and Russia has a lot of tanks - that are very effective on flat territory.


If you are a member of the Ukrainian military


If you are a serving member of the Ukrainian military, abandon your post. The Russians will win this war because their firepower is so much greater than that of the Ukrainian army. There is no value in being another statistic or fallen hero. Take your civilian clothes to your post, then abandon your post and throw your military uniform and boots in a river or burn them. Throw automatic weaponry such as assault rifles in the river. The only weaponry you might consider keeping is a semi-automatic handgun and a combat knife. Even then do not keep them in your apartment. Hide them somewhere outdoors one night in a place that nobody else is likely to find them but you can obtain easy access to them if needed.


The reason for all these precautions is the following. Once the Red Army has taken your city, it may undertake a door-to-door search. If Ukrainian military equipment is found during a search, then the apparent possessor of such equipment may be taken away, placed in a prisoner of war camp, or shot. You do not want in your possession any item, even a pair of boots, that associates you with the Ukrainian military, or you are placing you and your family at jeopardy.


Mobile telephones


If these are Ukrainian military issue, or government issue, then assume that the Russian government has the telephone number on a list and may come looking for it. It is very easy to find mobile telephones these days; their location can be obtained by triangulating the data stored by mobile telephone masts. You don't want to be found with a Ukrainian government mobile telephone in your possession. You can throw it in the river; or you can tape it to the underside of a seat in a bus or on a long-distance train while charged with a full battery. The point is to make sure that the telephone is a long way from you.


By contrast you should have in your possession a regular Ukrainian mobile telephone with a SIM card without an ID, and you should have several battery packs. (Electricity may go down and you may want to contact friends and family to see how they are.)


Food and drink


As an army approaches a town or city, everybody starts panic-buying food. You need to get to the shops before others, to be able to buy what you want. The larger the city, the longer it will take to subdue. So a city of 500,000 people might take two weeks or so. You need at least two weeks of canned food that does not deteriorate without refrigeration (which might be lost if the electricity is cut off). You need lots of bottles of water, and you want fruit concentrate to dilute in the water so that you can drink it. Strong alcohol and benzodiazepine tablets might be useful, because you don't know how long you are going to be stuck indoors; and it can be very boring indeed. Have all the family's medications ready for the period during which you will possibly be stuck indoors.


Tap water, even if currently potable, may well cease to be so in the course of an extended invasion. The pipes may become cracked, at which point water may become poisoned. If you can find one, buy a water filter. Alternatively buy iodine tablets - but do not consume water cleaned with iodine for more than say seven days. Boil water. Only when water becomes completely non-potable do you start using bottled water.


Identification and ethnicity


Hide your Ukrainian passport, because it is written in Ukrainian. Hide it outside the apartment or on your person (see money, below). Assume that everything inside your apartment will be found by Russian soldiers or militias on a house-to-house search. After, as a Russian soldier, you have searched 500 apartments, you know people hide things and that is immediately where you go. Keep identification which is in the Russian language. Keep everything that looks Russian and discard everything that looks Ukrainian. If the people doing the searching think you are loyal Russian, the search probably won't be so bad. People are less likely to be taken away.


Obviously the people most likely to be taken away upon a search are men of fighting age. Consider moving them to Kyiv, or Lviv which are unlikely to be invaded. However do not move all the women and children. Kyiv and Lviv are likely to be overwhelmed with refugees; as a family you are much better off if you stay put than if you become a refugee which is an intolerable and potentially long-term nightmare


Leaving accommodation


Obey curfews. Establish what the curfews are by watching Russian television. Try not to go outside even outside of a curfew. There are no jobs to go to during an invasion: only empty food shelves and pharmacies. It is impossible to predict what will be going on during the occupation of a city. The first wave of invading soldiers are likely to be aggressive and may shoot anyone they are suspicious of on sight. The second wave, with luck, will be more in the mould of peacekeepers. But if your city has become notorious as a centre of rebellion, the secondary wave of troops may be trigger-edgy and may also be very aggressive.


Generally older women, and then older men, are the prime candidates for people who should leave the accommodation to do the daily shopping (where that is possible). They should dress in a rough, simple way. They are the categories of people that edgy Russian soldiers are least likely to find threatening. They should go out alone, with a shopping bag or trolley and nothing more except a wallet and mobile telephone. Use WhatsApp locator to follow family members as they go to the shops and back; it will reassure you.


When walking through an occupied town or city, walk slowly. Do not run anywhere; a soldier may shoot you simply because you are running. Engage with the soldiers. "May I walk this way? I am going to buy bread." If the soldiers permit you to do so, stay within reasonable proximity of heavy armour. Stay on the main streets. Who knows what's going on on the minor roads. There might be street fighting, as soldiers pursue resistance fighters. The most senior occupying military officials, who are most likely to prevent abuses by occupying soldiers, will be on the main streets. Just walk up and down those streets calmly and slowly, and in an orderly way, obeying all instructions given to you by members of the occupying forces.


If you start seeing the streets filled with Ukrainian people you've never seen before, then there is the possibility that the city is being infiltrated with resistance fighters. Generally this is very bad; in such circumstances you should not leave your accommodation at all and you should be ready for a long wait.


Moving cities


Even now, it is too late to move comfortably. You will become a refugee, and you will be living in very bad accommodation. Only young men of fighting age should consider fleeing, because they are most at risk of abuse or murder by the incoming Russian troops, as well as other people with sensitive government jobs that might attract Russian attention. If you are moving cities, do it alone. Moving groups of people is very difficult.


One exception to this is that you could move to Crimea, if you have access to accommodation there. Crimea will remain entirely calm, if somewhat militarised, during the Russian invasion. It is an ideal to place to wait, if you can afford it.


Once war begins, territory already taken by the Russians (i.e. to the east / south of where you are) will have Russian soldiers manning the roads every 20 to 30 kilometres. You need a very good story and documentation to head in that direction.


Just before the war begins, there will be Ukrainian troop build-ups on all major roads.


As the occupation proceeds, the local Police will be asked by the Russians to keep the peace. It will be very useful to know whether the local Police intend to cooperate with the occupation. If they do not, then your town or city is going to become lawless and dangerous.


If you have a vehicle, keep it working but do not use it. When travelling round your city, use public transport. People using public transport are far less likely to suffer harassment by the occupying forces than are people driving. Hide your car, down a back alley or in a garage, and with tarpaulin over it. The use of a vehicle is reserved for exiting your city in a hurry if things become too dangerous.


Stay where you are until things are stable, and then decide whether you want to move and if so where and how to do it.


Money


Get your money (a) out of Gryvnas and into any other currency; and (b) out of domestic banks and into foreign banks or cash. Any currency is better than the Gryvna right now, which may be subject to inflation. Banks may close; or they may strictly limit withdrawals. Debit and credit cards may stop working.


Obviously the most suitable sort of money is Euros, US Dollars or any other hard currency, in cash. Your local currency is about to become the Russian ruble, so that may be a useful currency to hold too.


Hide money outside your apartment, if you have the guts to do that; otherwise hide it on your person, placing it in a sealed plastic envelope and cellotape it to your leg. (That is one way of hiding your passport as well.)


Heating


If the electricity fails, then you will need an alternative source of heat at least for the months of February and March. Consider buying a small wood or kerosine stove; it would be useful to have a chimney.


Stay in contact with neighbours


You may wish to share necessities with neighbours; maintain constant good relations with them. Encourage them to send their young men to Kyiv or Lviv, as such people simply attract attention.


You and your neighbours should be all be aware of the risk of looting. People in a common building should be on guard for looters. Do not open the door to anyone except the Ukrainian Police or the Russian military. (They can both shoot their way in, so there is no point trying to resist.) Looting by dislocated and dispossessed fellow countrymen is the point at which you may be pleased you kept that handgun on you.


Conclusions


City invasions by foreign armies are dangerous events. Staying indoors and not opening the door to anybody; and staying in contact with your immediate (not ones on the other side of the city - what they are experiencing may be completely different), are the most reliable strategies. Speak to nobody except family, friends and people in your building. Stay calm. Occupying soldiers are reassured by calm, while they are unpredictable in the face of excitement or unpredicted events. Ensure you are not part of any undue excitements.


Finally, good luck. Whatever the geopolitical outcome of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, your priority is to keep yourself, your family and your friends alive (in that order). Do not think that you want to be a hero and sacrifice your life in the midst of a geopolitical confrontation between Russia and the West in which Ukraine is stuck in the middle. Dead heroes are soon forgotten by history. A true hero keeps themselves and their loved ones alive amidst the most extreme of situations.