Fighters from a Ukrainian special operations local defense unit got so fed up with being stopped and searched by police, that they, possibly illegally, temporarily took over a police checkpoint at gunpoint.

 The Sep. 29 confrontation took place on a main road north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. While Moscow’s forces fire rockets into Kharkiv regularly, Kremlin troop incursions from the Russian border some 22 kilometers distant are rare.

In a video widely shared on Ukrainian social media, two 4x4 vehicles drive up to a police checkpoint on the city’s outskirts on Friday afternoon. Men in military fatigues carrying handguns and automatic rifles exit the vehicles and order police to lie on the ground.

A police bodycam recorded voiceover hears one of the men demand to speak with the checkpoint commander, and then tells the senior police officer that his unit, 0458, should not be subjected to police inspections.

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In an angry voice, the leader of the group is heard to say: “We train every day, so that you guys can stand here in peace. So that you guys can do your job, and so that [Russian] saboteur groups don’t come here. You guys should f**king help us! And not search for enemies in our unit! Do you hear me?”

All conversation is in Russian, the language most frequently used in east Ukraine. One of the interlopers drives off in a pickup.

One of the men appears to be sporting the unit patch of a group called Kraken, a previously civilian volunteer unit recruited in Kharkiv at the start of the war. The formation’s best-known victories came during Ukraine’s dramatic liberation of the Kharkiv region last September.

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Currently, the Kraken group is a 100-200 man contracted special forces unit directly subordinate to the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR). While some Kraken members are dispatched to operate in other areas, the unit’s main mission in 2023 has been securing territory north and east of Kharkiv.

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The unit named in the video, 0458, is associated with Kraken, and Ukrainian media overwhelmingly reported it was members of that special forces unit that had threatened to kill police at the checkpoint on Sep. 29.

Neither Kraken nor its main public spokesman have responded to Kyiv Post requests for comment or issued a public statement on the incident at the time of publishing.

A Kharkiv regional police statement on Oct. 1 did not name the unit involved, describing the assailants simply as armed men. The account they gave of the altercation said:

“On September 29, around 15:00, four SUVs drove up to one of the roadblocks on the way out of Kharkiv. Men in military uniform came out of them and threatened with firearms the whole assembled unit [at the checkpoint], which includes policemen, border guards, national guardsmen, and a representative of the military service of law and order.”

Kharkiv’s prosecutors have opened an investigation into alleged violations of the law banning threats or violence against law enforcement officers, the police statement said.

“The task of the police is to help our soldiers defend our country, to ensure respect for the legislation of Ukraine. We should not have untouchables. We urge everyone, without exception, to respect the laws of Ukraine,” the statement said.

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Public reaction seemed heavily in favor of the gunmen with a small minority voicing pro-police views. Most posters on pro-Ukraine platforms, particularly those associated with raising funds to support the military, complained about unduly lengthy waits at police checkpoints that hinder persons and vehicles performing important work supporting the war effort. They also said that in any case men with combat tasks at the front shouldn’t be harassed by cops.

The Ukraine Front Lines volunteer support group in a typical comment said: “The Kraken unit's conflict with the police at the checkpoint in Kharkiv oblast …was due to the fact that the boys went to shooting training every day, and the cops constantly searched them every day, the boys got tired of it. Get these cops out of the checkpoints, deploy the military!”

The right wing and aggressively Ukrainian nationalist platform ukrain1an news reported local police had appeared to single out Kraken vehicles and fighters for extended roadside inspections, and claimed that HUR-associated operators have the lawful right to ignore police commands.

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“Kraken fighters acted within the limits of their structure. I repeat that the police do not have the right to inspect the vehicles of the HUR. No one can guarantee that there is no traitor in the ranks of the police, while every fighter of the Central Intelligence Agency undergoes regular checks…Before writing about ‘permissiveness’ and ‘armed sheep’, civilians should first learn the context, and before that they should not open their mouths.”

Russian state-run media leaped on the incident and spun it as evidence of conflict between Ukraine’s security structures and “proof” the country is lawless, the television channel RT calling it “An attack on Kharkiv police.”

Since Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine hundreds of armed groups only informally associated with the Ukrainian military have helped defend the country and, in some cases, have been key to defensive victories. Eighteen months later, most fighters in those groups have returned to civilian life or joined conventional military units.

Currently, Ukrainian volunteer military units that are able to trace their lineage unbroken straight back to volunteer days at the start of the war and are still operating, are rare. Where they are, strong leadership, a large contingent of fighters with pre-existing military skills, and generous funding from civilian donors have been the main factors helping units like Kraken to stay in the field. 

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Comments (3)

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JMiguel
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Kraken, Ukraine Wagners.

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Alexander
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A simple ID check should have been sufficient.

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DANIEL LASHKOFF
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"TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT"

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