Richard Engel Lifts the Veil on Ukraine’s Secret Resistance in New MSNBC Special: ‘Fatigue Is Not an Option’

“If they lose this fight, they lose their country, they lose their lives,” the reporter tells TheWrap

NBC News

One year after Russian forces first invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian civilians are showing no signs of halting their resistance to the already-entrenched occupation, according to NBC News’ Richard Engel, who says that “fatigue is not an option” for Ukraine’s secret resistance.

“If they lose this fight, they lose their country, they lose their lives [and] they lose their homes,” the NBC News chief foreign correspondent told TheWrap, adding that Russia has destroyed any symbols of Ukrainian identity and engaged in campaigns of “extreme violence and repression” in occupied cities. “Russia set out to conquer this country, topple the government [and] put in its own government … Getting fatigue or losing morale isn’t an option for them.”

“On Assignment with Richard Engel,” which premieres Friday at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC and will stream on Peacock, centers on the civilian resistance that brought together Vlad, a car part salesman, Mykhailo, a taxi driver, and Nastya, a bartender, who covertly spied on the Russians in an attempt to liberate their occupied city of Kherson.

As Vlad, Mykhailo and Nastya successfully conducted their information-gathering and carried out several attacks without getting caught, Engel attributes their victory to working with a small, trusted circle — a practice that could have protected Sasha, another civilian who requested to use a pseudonym for the project but was ultimately forced to give up his conspirators after being jailed and tortured.

“Sasha’s biggest problem was that he started working with people he didn’t know, and once you start doing that, it opens up a whole world of problems,” Engel said. “This group was extraordinarily secretive, and they kept it very small, only talking to each other, and not letting anyone else in on it.”

While the two resistance groups don’t cross paths in the documentary, their parallel resistance, which concluded with the trio raising a toast to Kherson’s liberation while Sasha relocated to another city after following his jail time, showcase the perilous reality of resisting the ongoing violent occupation.

“Just because you stand up and want to resist, it doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed,” Engel said. “Do you only understand what risks they were taking when you saw someone who didn’t succeed, whose mission ended up being derailed and got caught?”

Whereas other documentaries might re-create an incident and bright back involved participants for the project, “On Assignment” was conducted under fire, following the occupation of Kherson from its attack through its day of liberation — a moment Engel recalls as outpouring of thankfulness as citizens tied flags around their necks like capes and expressed their joy.

“There was an outpouring of emotion, because people got their freedom back,” Engel said, noting that the “universal sensation” of freedom transported him to the liberation of Paris or another city whose brutal repression suddenly was gone. “You had this weight off your back, that’s more than just a weight because it was it was crushing you was beating you, it was oppressing you. So you had this oppressor removed.”

“On Assignment with Richard Engel – Ukraine’s Secret Resistance” premieres Friday, Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC and will stream on Peacock.