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Ukrainian agency, urging removal of road signs, posts fake photo with a colorful message for Russia

Russian troops move toward Ukraine on the road near Armiansk, Crimea, on Friday. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) (Stringer/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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As Ukrainians resist Russia’s invasion of their nation, their government said Saturday it is planning to remove road signs in hopes of confusing Russian troops — and encouraging citizens to help.

Ukravtodor, the government agency responsible for Ukraine’s national road system, announced the move on social media while sharing a fake photo of a road sign echoing the sentiments many hold toward Russian troops.

The photo of the blue road sign was altered to state, “Go f--- yourselves,” in three different ways.

“Let’s help them get straight to hell,” the agency wrote on Facebook. “Ukravtodor calls on all road organizations, territorial communities, local governments to immediately begin dismantling nearby road signs.”

A spokesperson with Ukravtodor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

The advisory comes as outgunned Ukrainian forces are holding onto their capital and other cities amid attacks by Russian forces in recent days. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the fate of the nation is “being decided right now” and that Ukraine is “successfully repelling” attacks in Kyiv. Ukraine’s health minister said that a total of 198 Ukrainians have been killed in the fighting, while another 100,000 citizens have fled to Poland, with at least as many displaced internally.

Ukrainian forces hold Kyiv amid fierce fighting as Russian advance slows

Leaders throughout Ukraine have pleaded with citizens and other nations to support them in the fight. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko begged other nations to immediately intervene against the assault that he said has killed civilians. Vladyslav Atroshenko, mayor of the northern city of Chernigov, has called upon able-bodied civilians to take up arms to defend their city.

“People, men, with weapons, capable to protect with your own weapon our city, please come to the place of deployment to receive your instructions,” he said in a video shared on Facebook. “Today, all that we can, for the organization of the defense of the city — we won’t give up the city to anyone.”

As fighting continues on the ground, travel on the nation’s roads has grown increasingly precarious. Klitschko, who has urged people to stay in shelters for protection from potential air raids, said that movement within Kyiv would continue to be restricted because of roadblocks. In the western city of Lviv, cranes moved huge concrete blocks onto roads leading into the city Saturday. Volunteers filled and stacked sandbags in an attempt to fortify Lviv, once considered a safe haven, against a Russian attack.

Some researchers tracking troops and shelter for civilians have used Google Maps as a tool for visualizing the military action in recent days. In the hours following the initial invasion Thursday, data on Google Maps showed road closures near the northeastern city of Kharkiv and traffic stalled because of closures of roads out of Kyiv. Through Google Maps, which analyzes phone movements to estimate road traffic, researchers were able to estimate when civilians in cars were probably being stopped at roadblocks, while military vehicles passed.

On Google Maps, tracking the invasion of Ukraine

Ukravtodor has also used Google Maps to alert citizens about Russian forces on the roads. The agency announced Friday that the government had created a specialized bot system using Google Maps to report x-shaped marks that officials say Russian troops are putting on the roads. The agency wrote that the system, which involves Ukrainians taking photos of the marks, can “convey information about the relocation of enemies.”

“Our efforts are now aimed at helping the peaceful population. Women, children, elderly and sick people … need a safe way to the shelters,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Alexander Kubrakov said in a Saturday statement posted to Facebook. “Our team is developing routes to bypass places where fighting and shelling are taking place, and direct the transport of civilians away from danger.”

Ukravtodor is urging all Ukrainians to “block the enemy by all available methods!” Some of the methods listed by the agency include burning trees, burning tires and building barricades against the Russian forces.

“The occupant must understand that he is not expected here and will be resisted on every street, every road!” the agency wrote on social media. “Let them be afraid to even look in the direction of our cities! Together to victory! The occupier will be destroyed!”

The fake sign photo capturing real Ukrainian anger spread widely on Facebook, shared nearly 40,000 times as of Saturday. On social media, users posted both real and fake photos of signs in roads, businesses and towns telling Russian forces to “f--- off.”

Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian journalist and executive director of the Netherlands-based outlet Bellingcat, tweeted on how the road agency had taken its call to remove signs “one step further” by also sharing the fake photo.

“The … sign is clearly their illustrative joke, not real street signs (for now at least),” Grozev wrote.

Rachel Lerman and Loveday Morris contributed to this report.