Traitor or hero? Ukraine finds it tough to identify Russian collaborators

Zelensky mentioned in April that “justice will be restored. Everyone who became a Gauleiter can register to live somewhere in Rostov-on-Don,” in Russia.

From Mariupol to Enerhodar, the Russians have been in a position to discover Ukrainians prepared to develop into native officers, although in lots of circumstances their competence has been questionable.

Most of these accused of collaboration are nonetheless past the attain of Ukrainian prosecutors. But about 40 former officers and others have already confronted trial below stringent legal guidelines enacted quickly after the invasion. Some have been discovered responsible of offering army intelligence to the Russians.

Prosecutions proceed — however not all circumstances are crystal clear. Local officers in areas overrun by Russian forces have incessantly confronted an unenviable selection: strive to defend and symbolize the individuals who elected them — or go away rapidly. The southern area of Kherson has offered many examples of this dilemma.

Russian troops guard an entrance of the Kakhovka power plant on the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine on May 20, 2022.

Chaos in Kherson

In the early days of the invasion, Russian troops swept into Kherson. Many regional officers — police, safety service officers, politicians — left swiftly.

But Ilya Karamalikov, a metropolis council member in Kherson, stayed. Now, he faces prices of treason.

The six-page indictment, which CNN has obtained, alleges that Karamalikov “performs actions aimed at harming the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability” of Ukraine, “by switching to the 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 costs, and says Karamalikov is to be recommended for staying at his put up and making an attempt to maintain order within the metropolis within the chaotic days after the invasion.

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

“Civilians can not resist brute armed drive,” Velichko told CNN. “Yes, many collaborate. And many merely refuse and look forward to Kherson to be de-occupied. Many academics, for instance, refused to work. The mayor refused to work.”

Nearly two months later, Karamalikov was arrested after crossing into Ukrainian-held territory, as he was bringing his family out of Kherson. He was held at the security services’ building in Kryvyi Rih, and Velichko claims he suffered physical abuse and torture. CNN has requested a response to the claim from Ukrainian authorities.

Karamalikov is still detained and has been accused of giving the occupation authorities confidential information, such as the personal data of Kherson law enforcement officers, politicians and activists.

Velichko says this is ridiculous. “The army registration and enlistment workplace had full lists: with addresses, with surnames, with telephones and positions of individuals. Lists of all staff of the territorial protection of the Kherson area. There are lists of army personnel, in addition to civilians. All this was open,” he said.

Prosecutors also allege Karamalikov assisted in the evacuation of wounded Russian military personnel and helped them find food and rehabilitation.

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

The municipal guard

On February 25, the day after Russian troops rolled across the border, Karamalikov posted an appeal on Facebook for volunteers for a Municipal Guard to keep order and prevent looting, as well as organize humanitarian aid.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, told CNN: “They defended town from marauders, daily they caught somebody.”

Indeed, the mayor of Kherson Igor Kolykhaiev, who also remained behind, said on March 20: “There isn’t any police, no prosecutor’s workplace, no judicial system left within the metropolis….There are looters within the metropolis, there are makes an attempt to combat them. The Municipal Guard protects Kherson across the clock in opposition to looting.”

Karamalikov himself posted on Facebook: “The ‘Municipal Guard’ of Kherson — the one energy authority within the metropolis right this moment. Tasks: patrolling the streets of town, preventing looters, unlawful commerce, road and home violence.”

Velichko says his client inevitably had to deal with the new authorities. One of Karamalikov’s calls, intercepted by the Ukrainian security services, illustrated his awkward position. Volunteers had detained a Russian deserter, according to his lawyer. Holding him while Kherson was under occupation could have brought harsh retribution, so Karamalikov decided to hand him back and established contact with Russian forces.

Rejecting claims that he was on good terms with the Russians, one associate said that premises in Kherson city owned by Karamalikov had been searched by Russian forces on March 24. Two weeks later, pro-Russian Telegram channels claimed the “Municipal Guard” in Kherson was engaged in looting and accused both Kolykhaiev and Karamalikov of covering up racketeering.

Karamalikov decided to get his family out of Kherson. When he did — on April 14 — he was detained by Ukrainian police at a checkpoint.

According to documents reviewed by CNN, the case against Karamalikov has relied largely on the account of a senior officer in the security services who had left Kherson before the Russians arrived and who was subsequently dismissed by presidential decree.

Some regional officials say they have received little guidance from Kyiv about how to deal with the occupation. The mayor of Kherson city, Ihor Kolykhaev, said: “We proceed to work remotely with the City Council specialists, deputies, and we’re nonetheless ready for a response from the President’s Office.” Kolykhaev is still in the region but has been ousted from his post.

Traitor or hero?

Marina Peschanenko, who knows Karamalikov well, believes he has been unfairly accused. “Ilya, along with mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev, did every little thing to make sure that town functioned. And this was with out help from the Kyiv authorities,” she said.

In such desperate moments, she said, there are few good options. “Act at your individual discretion, select the options that you simply take into account the very best for town. And on this excessive scenario, any choices are appropriate,” she said.

Petro Andrushenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, echoes that thought. “It is essential to keep in mind that working for the occupiers within the humanitarian sphere shouldn’t be primarily a collaboration,” he said last month, soon after the separatist, self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic took over administration of the city. “There might be retribution, however just for actual collaborators.”

But it’s unclear that the 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 with a senior official in a state-run pharmacy chain in Melitopol, also in the south, who has cooperated with the Russians. “Do we’d like to shut all of the pharmacies and run away?” this person asked CNN. “Leave residents within the occupation with out medical care and with out medicines? What resolution does the federal government supply us?”

This person asked not to be identified for their own safety but added: “There is a scarcity of medication within the metropolis, however the closure of the pharmacy community will lead to even fewer of them. There isn’t any proper determination, any selection might be unhealthy. If you keep, you’re a collaborator. If you permit, you then deserted your residents with out medical help.”

Among different professions affected are academics in occupied areas. Deputy Justice Minister Valeria Kolomiets told information company Ukrinform that “educators are liable for their actions – and if they begin to conduct propaganda in instructional establishments, saying for instance that there isn’t a occupation, then they’re breaking the regulation.”

In Kherson, teachers have been put 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 paperwork, or we’ll ship you ‘to relaxation’ within the basement.”

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

There is also evidence in Kherson that those detained have been coerced into signing a “condemnation of the Ukrainian regime” and applying for a Russian passport, according to Kherson deputy Serhii Khlan, as well as people who talked to CNN after fleeing the region.

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

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk recognizes the dilemma, but the government is not ceding ground. “Do not take a Russian passport,” she said on the finish of final month. “I do know it might not be simple, however in the long term, Russian citizenship will create extra issues for you than advantages.”

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

Velichko, his attorney, is sure that his client will be vindicated, despite the raft of charges against him.

“Traitor? Or hero of Ukraine?” he asked. “For me as his lawyer and for a lot of involved residents of Kherson the reply is clear: Ilya Karamalikov is a hero.”

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