Ukrainian authorities track down Russian collaborators, but cases not always clear

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Zelensky said in April that “justice will be restored. Anyone who has become a Gauleiter can register to live somewhere in Rostov-on-Don”, Russia.

From Mariupol to Enerhodar, the Russians were able to find Ukrainians willing to become local officials, although in many cases their competence was questionable.

Most of those accused of collaboration are still beyond the reach of Ukrainian prosecutors. But around 40 former officials and others have already been tried under strict laws enacted shortly after the invasion. Some have been found guilty of providing military intelligence to the Russians.

Prosecutions continue – but not all cases are clear. Local officials in areas overrun by Russian forces have often faced an unenviable choice: try to protect and represent the people who elected them – or leave quickly. The southern region of Kherson provided many examples of this dilemma.

Chaos in Kherson

At the start of the invasion, Russian troops invaded Kherson. Many regional officials – policemen, security service agents, politicians – quickly left.

But Ilya Karamalikov, a member of the Kherson city council, remained. Now he faces treason charges.

The six-page indictment, which CNN has obtained, alleges that Karamalikov “performed actions aimed at undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability” of Ukraine, “passing from side of the aggressor country of the Russian Federation during martial law, and assisting its representatives in subversive activities against Ukraine.”
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His lawyer, Mikhail Velichko, strenuously denies the charges and says Karamalikov is to be commended for staying in his post and trying to keep order in the city in the chaotic days following the invasion.

“All security forces and the regional administration were evacuated in advance. Kherson was abandoned,” Velichko said. “This not only led to the absence of the Ukrainian authorities in the regional center, but also endangered the safety of the residents of Kherson, who were left to fend for themselves.

“Civilians cannot resist brutal armed force,” Velichko told CNN. “Yes, many are collaborating. And many are simply refusing and waiting for Kherson to be unoccupied. Many teachers, for example, refused to work. The mayor refused to work.”

Nearly two months later, Karamalikov was arrested after crossing into Ukrainian-held territory while leading his family out of Kherson. He was detained in the security services building in Kryvyi Rih, and Velichko claims to have suffered physical abuse and torture. CNN has asked for a response to the claim from Ukrainian authorities.

Karamalikov is still being detained and accused of providing the occupation authorities with confidential information, such as the personal data of Kherson law enforcement officials, politicians and activists.

Velichko says that’s ridiculous. “The military registration and enlistment office had complete lists: with addresses, names, telephones and functions of people. Lists of all employees of the territorial defense of the Kherson region. There are lists of servicemen, as well than civilians. It was all open,” he said.

Prosecutors also allege Karamalikov assisted in the evacuation of injured Russian servicemen and helped them find food and rehabilitate.

Russian army soldiers stand next to their trucks during a rally against the Russian occupation at Svobody (Freedom) Square in Kherson on March 7, 2022.

The municipal guard

On February 25, the day after Russian troops crossed the border, Karamalikov posted on Facebook a call for volunteers for a municipal guard to maintain order and prevent looting, as well as organize humanitarian aid. .

A resident, who asked not to be identified, told CNN: “They defended the city against marauders, every day they caught someone.”

Indeed, the mayor of Kherson Igor Kolykhaiev, who also stayed behind, declared on March 20: “There is no more police, no more prosecutors, no more judicial system in the city… There are looters in the city there are attempts to fight them. The city guard protects Kherson around the clock from looting.

Karamalikov himself posted on Facebook: “The ‘City Guard’ of Kherson – the only authority in the city today. Tasks: patrol the streets of the city, fight looters, illegal trade, street and domestic violence.”

Velichko says his client inevitably had to deal with the new authorities. One of Karamalikov’s calls, intercepted by Ukrainian security services, illustrates his embarrassing position. Volunteers had arrested a Russian deserter, according to his lawyer. Detaining him while Kherson was under occupation could have resulted in severe reprisals, so Karamalikov decided to surrender him and made contact with the Russian forces.

Dismissing claims that he was on good terms with the Russians, an associate said premises in the city of Kherson belonging to Karamalikov were searched by Russian forces on March 24. Two weeks later, the pro-Russian Telegram channels claimed the “city guard” in Kherson. was engaged in looting and accused both Kolykhaiev and Karamalikov of covering up the racketeering.

Karamalikov decided to move his family out of Kherson. When he did, on April 14, he was stopped by Ukrainian police at a checkpoint.

According to documents reviewed by CNN, the case against Karamalikov rests largely on the account of a senior security service officer who left Kherson before the Russians arrived and was later removed from his post by presidential decree. .

Some regional officials say they received little guidance from Kyiv on how to handle the occupation. Kherson City Mayor Ihor Kolykhaev said, “We continue to work remotely with city council specialists, deputies, and we are still waiting for a response from the president’s office.” Kolykhaev is still in the area but was ousted from his post.

Traitor or hero?

Marina Peschanenko, who knows Karamalikov well, believes that he was unfairly accused. “Ilya, together with Mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev, did everything to make the city work. And this without the support of the government of Kyiv,” she said.

In such desperate times, she says, there are few good options. “Act at your discretion, choose the solutions you consider best for the city. And in this extreme situation, all decisions are correct,” she said.

Petro Andrushenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, echoes this thought. “It is important to remember that working for the occupiers in the humanitarian field is not essentially collaboration,” he said last month, shortly after the self-declared breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic took control of the city. “There will be retaliation, but only for true collaborators.”

But it is not clear that security services and prosecutors will see the situation in the same light, and that worries some who are struggling to provide essential services in Russian-occupied areas. CNN spoke to a senior official at a state-run drugstore chain in Melitopol, also in the south, which cooperated with the Russians. “Should we close all the pharmacies and flee?” this person asked CNN. “Leave the inhabitants of the occupation without medical care and without medicine? What solution does the government offer us?”

This person asked not to be identified for his own safety but added: “There is a shortage of medicines in the city, but the closure of the network of pharmacies will lead to an even greater decrease in these. There is no right decision, any choice will be wrong. If you stay, you are a collaborator. If you leave, then you have abandoned your citizens without medical assistance.

Among the other professions concerned are teachers in the occupied areas. Deputy Justice Minister Valeria Kolomiets told the Ukrinform news agency that “educators are responsible for their actions – and if they start spreading propaganda in educational institutions, saying example that there is no occupation, then they are breaking the law”.

In Kherson, teachers were under great pressure to teach a new “Russian” curriculum. Some were threatened in April, according to local activists, with a blunt message: “Either give us the keys and documents or we’ll send you ‘to rest’ in the basement”.

Others have been sent to Russian-occupied Crimea to follow the Russian curriculum, according to Ukrainian officials.

There is also evidence in Kherson that those detained were forced to sign a “Ukrainian regime sentence” and apply for a Russian passport, according to Kherson MP Serhii Khlan, as well as people who spoke to CNN after they fled. the region.

Such examples show that it is often difficult to distinguish between who is actively collaborating and who is trying to navigate a risky and unpredictable existence.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk acknowledges the dilemma, but the government is not giving ground. “Don’t take a Russian passport,” she said late last month. “I know it might not be easy, but in the long run Russian citizenship will cause you more problems than benefits.”

In Kryvih Rih, one of the most important trials for the collaboration – that of Kherson city council member Karamalikov – is expected to begin in the coming days.

Velichko, his lawyer, is sure that his client will be exonerated, despite the series of charges brought against him.

“Traitor? Or Hero of Ukraine? He asked. “For me as his lawyer and for many concerned residents of Kherson, the answer is obvious: Ilya Karamalikov is a hero.”


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