A car bomb killed at least one person Friday night in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials, highlighting the reach of the war far beyond the front lines as Ukrainian partisans aim to undermine their occupiers.
The explosion took place in Mykhailivka, a town in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine. The targeted vehicle was carrying “four Kremlin supporters,” said Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor in exile in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, about 30 miles south, on the messaging app Telegram.
Vladimir Rogov, an official of the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia region, confirmed the attack in a Telegram post, saying the bomb killed a “local businessman” named Sergei Didovoduk and injured two others.
The attack came as Ukrainian troops were preparing for a highly anticipated counteroffensive that analysts said would take place in southern Ukraine. Kyiv forces may be aiming to sever the land route linking Russia to Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, according to Western analysts and officials.
“We are ready,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal published on Saturday.
Many are riding on the back of the impending counteroffensive, especially after Russia recently captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Meanwhile, partisan attacks like the one that occurred on Friday night have become a staple in the occupied areas as Ukrainian rebels target the Russian military and so-called Russian collaborators.
Mr Rogov described Mr Didovoduk as a member of the local civil society who “regularly feeds neighbors in need in his cafe for free”. According to Mr Rogov and unverified footage after the attack posted on social media, Mr Didovoduk died in his Soviet-built Niva, a simple sports utility vehicle.
Ukrainian officials suggested cafe Mr. Didovoduk, Hetman, was frequently visited by Russian soldiers and occupation officials.
The cafe is named after the customary title of the Cossack head of state who existed in Ukraine in the 17th and 18th centuries and played a major role in the founding of modern Ukraine.
Mr Didovoduk is registered to compete for Russia's governing party in the upcoming local elections, said Mr Rogov. The Kremlin has pushed ahead with plans to hold local elections in September in four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Russia last year, a bid to legitimize the move despite the shifting boundaries of areas under Russian control.
Ukraine denounced elections in the annexed territories – Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Luhansk and Donetsk – as sham.
Mr.'s murder Didovoduk also raises questions about the legality of partisan attacks under the internationally recognized laws of war, including whether partisans are considered combatants.
The Ukrainian partisans say they are civilians and the legal basis for their activities is governed by Ukrainian law, not the laws of war which include a ban on soldiers targeting civilian officials. But under international law, civilians become combatants when they begin to take part in hostilities.