(CNN) — Although the resistance of the Ukrainian army against the Russian invasion is well documented, recent days have also seen increasing disobedience by civilians in Russian-held territories of Ukraine. In the south of the country, especially, there have been multiple protests in the areas where the Russian troops have arrived.
At least several hundred people gathered in downtown Kherson on Saturday to protest the Russian occupation of the Black Sea port.
A video of the demonstrations showed people entering Kherson’s main square despite the occasional volley of gunfire. It is not clear where the shots are coming from, but a small detachment of Russian soldiers is seen guarding the Regional Council building.
Protesters chanted “Ukrainia,” and the biggest cheer came when a young man waving Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag climbed into a Russian troop carrier.
A man who attended the protests managed to send a video stream to CNN, in which he said in broken English: “People want to show that Kherson is Ukraine, and that all brave people go to this meeting, not afraid of the Russian military”.
This Sunday there was another demonstration in Kherson. Videos of this demonstration suggest it was smaller but no less determined. An older woman stared into the camera on a video and said in a low voice: “Let’s save our country! Let them all die, along with Putin.”
This weekend’s protests in Kherson were the largest and latest in a growing wave of clashes in the few Ukrainian cities of any size that Russian forces have taken.
They may be a signal to Russian commanders who are already having a hard time breaking down Ukrainian military resistance. And, despite the risk, this civil disobedience is being urged from above.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Facebook message: “Everyone who can defend their city must continue to fight. They must. Because if everyone leaves, then whose city will it be?” .
And this Sunday, hundreds of people heeded Zelensky’s call and participated in marches throughout the Kherson region, close to Russian-controlled Crimea.
In the town of Nova Kakhovka, a crowd cheered as an elderly woman brandished a broom and dustpan to welcome Russian troops. Two men climbed onto a plinth to raise the Ukrainian flag in front of the town hall.
Video later surfaced showing smoke rising from the crowd amid the sound of gunfire. The Ukrainian Interfax news agency said five people had been injured after Russian forces opened fire – apparently above the heads of protesters – and used stun grenades.
It seemed that almost everyone in Kherson was out on Sunday. In Novooleksiika, hundreds of people sang the national anthem and shouted “Ukraine stands above everything” as they drove down a country road.
And in Kalanchak, closer to Crimea, hundreds of people sang the national anthem and shouted “Ukraine stands above all” as they walked down a country road, generations of locals united in national solidarity.
They then unfurled a huge Ukrainian flag and harangued heavily armed, masked Russian soldiers. The women shouted, “Get off our land, we don’t need you! Get off our land.”
Anti-Russia protests, often involving a few dozen people, have been taking place since the middle of last week, from Berdyansk on Ukraine’s southern coast to Konotop, hundreds of miles to the north between Kyiv and Kharkiv.
When the Russian military arrived at Konotop, a small crowd rushed at a Russian military vehicle, shouting insults. One of them climbed onto the hood of the vehicle and got out as it drove away. In Berdyansk, a crowd sang the Ukrainian national anthem in front of the town hall, which was occupied by Russian troops last week. The most daring civilians confronted the soldiers in a truck, who seemed bewildered.
Individual acts of defiance are going viral in a country where the Internet and mobile communications remain largely untouched, much to the surprise of most. The images have spread rapidly through Telegram and Facebook: short and uneven clips in which the bravery of the protesters is appreciated.
These are scattered examples, and do not represent organized resistance. But they show genuine defiance and opposition to the new order that Russian forces are trying to impose as they take more territory.
The dilemma for the occupying forces is finding local officials willing to work under their direction to maintain services in towns and cities where food and medical supplies are in short supply. The Russians seem unprepared to install local administrations.
In most cases so far, Russian troops have kept a low profile in the face of civilian protests. They have stood firm but have not reacted. But not always. In a city in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern region of Luhansk, residents took to the streets of Novopskov on Friday.
“Get out of here! War and death are after you,” they chanted.
They went out again on Saturday, when Russian troops shot a man in the leg and fired volleys into the air to disperse a crowd approaching their position.
What is not clear is whether the Russians can control the cities they are beginning to occupy and at the same time try to advance through this vast country. Russian forces are already experiencing supply problems, according to US officials. Crushing the Ukrainian military resistance and subduing an emboldened population would be a difficult task.