A Russian proxy leader in charge of a town in Ukraine’s occupied Zaporizhzhia region has been killed by a car bomb, the latest in a growing list of Kremlin-appointed officials to be offed as the Moscow tries to strengthen its grip on stolen territories.
Ivan Sushko, the head of Mykhailivka in the Zaporizhzhia region, was blown up when a bomb planted underneath the seat of his vehicle by unknown assailants detonated, according to Vladimir Rogov, a representative of the local Russian-proxy administration.
Rogov announced on Telegram that Sushko was rushed to a hospital in critical condition after the blast, but he succumbed to his injuries there. The death of Sushko—who reportedly made his living as a toastmaster at weddings and Santa Claus before being appointed to run Mykahilivka in April—comes just a day after local authorities said another Russian proxy leader survived a similar assassination attempt.
Igor Telegin, the Russian-appointed deputy head of domestic policy for occupied Kherson, was reportedly taken to a hospital with wounds all over his body after his car was hit by a radio-controlled bomb planted on the side of the road late Monday. But local authorities insist he is still “alive and well” with “no complications.”
At least two other officials appointed to run the “new” Russian-controlled administrations have been killed in recent weeks. Vitaly Gura, an official in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region, died on Aug. 6 after he was shot near his home, local authorities said. Dmitry Savluchenko, another official in Russian-controlled Kherson, was killed in late June by a car bombing that the Kremlin called a “terrorist act.”
Russian proxy leaders have blamed Ukrainian forces for the killings, though Ukrainian authorities say they believe an underground network is actively fighting Russia’s takeover by plucking off Russian-backed officials one by one.
The latest killing came as Ukrainians celebrated Independence Day and the U.S. announced nearly $3 billion more in military aid, exactly six months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, unleashing devastation and airstrikes as Russian troops tried but failed to seize the Ukrainian capital and install new leadership.
“Half a year ago Russia declared war on us. On Feb. 24, all of Ukraine heard the explosions and shots. And on Aug. 24, the words Happy Independence Day were not meant to be heard. On Feb. 24, they told us, ‘you have no chance.’ On Aug. 24, we say, Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech Wednesday.
“The enemy thought we would meet them with flowers and Champagne. Instead, they received funeral wreaths and Molotov cocktails.… The occupants believed a [Russian] parade would be held in the center of our capital within a few days. Today on [the main street] it’s possible see that parade…. Burned up, ruined and destroyed” Russian military equipment, Zelensky said.
Pledging “no compromises,” Zelensky vowed to take back all the territory seized by Russian forces.
“Don’t want your soldiers to die? Free our land. Don’t want your mothers to cry? Free our land,” he said.
Russia, meanwhile, spent the Ukrainian holiday trying to spin its military setbacks in the country. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, at a meeting with defense officials, acknowledged a slowdown in Moscow’s territorial gains but claimed it was a deliberate move to “prevent victims among civilians,” Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
British intelligence said Russia has made “minimal progress” in the east of Ukraine after naming that region as its new priority once it realized a full takeover had failed.
“Operationally, Russia is suffering from shortages of munitions, vehicles, and personnel. Morale is poor in many parts of its military and its army is significantly degraded,” the Ministry of Defense said in its latest assessment.
Amid fledgling military operations in Ukraine, Russia has also begun to ramp up its attacks on critics of the war at home. Yevgeny Roizman, the opposition politician and former mayor of Yekaterinburg, on Wednesday became the latest opponent of the war to be tossed in jail for supposedly “discrediting” the Russian army. Roizman joins at least 200 other people who now face criminal charges for speaking out against Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine.