To unmask a Russian “infiltrator”, the inhabitants of Kiev make the suspects pronounce the word “palyanytsa”, the name of a traditional Ukrainian bread, which no Russian can pronounce correctly.
The trap of the word palyanytsa, which in Russian means strawberry, never fails and is as old as the Soviet wars.
At checkpoints manned by armed volunteers, the method also has its modern version. For a week, the suspect has been asked where the nearest branch of “Monobank” is located, an online bank that precisely has no branches.
Pasha, a taxi driver from Kiev, invented his own. She starts singing the hit “Oleinïi, Oleinïi” 100% Ukrainian and very recent. “One starts and waits to see if the other can continue,” he explains to AFP.
The country lives in a climate of maximum suspicion in the midst of this first phase of the war dominated by the search for Russian “saboteurs” sent by Moscow or acting from within to help the enemy, according to the Ukrainian government.
In social networks, images of “civilian” saboteurs appear every day.
On February 26, the bodies of three men dressed in Ukrainian uniforms, shot to death, were presented to AFP at the site of the attack as Russian infiltrators disguised as local soldiers.
Since last Thursday, in the city of Irpin, northwest of Kiev, a few kilometers from the Antonov military airport where the paratroopers were flown in Russian helicopters, many strange things have happened.
The population says they live in fear of attacks by a redoubt of Russian forces who, according to residents, remain in the forest and attack civilians.
“It’s people who look like the ones here, but they start shooting at the residents,” explains one resident, Andrïi Levanchouk, a bank employee.
Deployed in the sector to contain these mysterious infiltrations, Viktor Chelovan, collaborator of the Ukrainian Minister of the Interior, head of the “Lance” special forces unit, assures AFP that the population “makes accusations” and that they deal with saboteurs “.
According to Commander Chelovan, some groups of “sabotage” are made up “of Russian special operational forces that try to destabilize daily life in our towns and cities, as well as military bases.”
He mentions the presence of cells of the Russian special services and the GRU (military intelligence) “already implanted here before the war” and in charge of “helping to prepare the invasion”.
According to him, another group is made up of “intelligence agents whose sole objective is to kill various Ukrainian leaders,” he says.
In 2014, the Ukrainian defeat in Crimea, annexed without resistance, was partly caused by the accession to Russia of two Ukrainian commanders, who surrendered all their ships to the enemy forces.
Since then, Ukraine says it has purged its ranks, from the military to intelligence.
“The Russian espionage network was installed years ago. We have not eliminated it yet, there is a lot of work to be done,” National Security Adviser Oleksiy Danilov told Wall Street on February 22, before the start of the Russian invasion. Journal.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior floods the press with photos of captured Russian “infiltrators” every day, like that man arrested with explosives in his bag in a Kiev shopping center.
According to Mykola Beleskov, a military analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kiev, Russia “tries to combine air strikes with artillery by way of infiltrator commandos, which are usually a means of supporting a very slow advance of its troops.”
In Kiev, “wreckers” are seen everywhere. They are said to spread mines in the meadows at night and mark the roofs of some buildings. These recurring rumors, impossible to confirm, feed paranoia.
Ibrahim Ibrahim Shelia, 19, a student, who stayed in the city to defend a residential tower where some families stayed from a trench, has already made his assessment.
“In that neighborhood, I think there are at least 10% of saboteurs,” that is, “traitors,” pro-Russian Ukrainians from the country or those nostalgic for the Soviet Union and “Great Russia,” he said.