Kherson’s elected Ukrainian mayor, Ihor Kolykhaiev, was arrested on Tuesday, according to pro-Russian officials in the city, hours before the region’s Russian-backed government announced plans for a referendum.
Kolykhaiev’s arrest came amid increasing efforts by the Russian-appointed authorities in the region to rid the region of Ukrainian associations.
An official of the Kherson Region Interim Administration, Kateryna Gubareva, confirmed that Kolychaiev had been detained. Kolychaiev remained in the city throughout the occupation, although Russian-backed authorities removed him from office.
Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-backed deputy head of the Kherson region’s military-civilian administration, said Kolykhaiev had “acted as a benefactor” but “did everything possible to ensure that some people continued to believe in the return of neo-Nazism,” reiterating claims echoing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unwarranted justification of the war. Stremousov also claimed without providing evidence that Kolykhaiev “stole millions and gave people a penny”.
The first report about Kolykhaiev’s detention came from his adviser, Halyna Liashevska, who posted on Facebook on Tuesday that he had arrived “at one of the municipal institutions where the remaining employees of the city administration worked. As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by armed Russian guards.”
“They confiscated hard drives from computers, opened all the safes and searched for documents,” Liashevska said. “All the while, Kolychaiev was held in a separate room in handcuffs under armed guard. After the search, Kolychaiev was put on bus Z and taken away.” Z is the letter on many Russian vehicles in occupied parts of Ukraine.
Liashevska added: “I am sure that Kolychaiev’s arrest is related to his refusal to cooperate with the occupying authorities. A few days ago, Kolychaiev received a letter from the ‘newly appointed’ mayor inviting him to to discuss the future ‘organization’ of interaction.’ Because he refused to meet, he was threatened with arrest.”
On June 13, Kolychaiev said he and the heads of several city departments were still in the city and continuing to work for it after the man the Russians appointed as regional governor, Hennadii Lahuta, said that Kolychaiev had made the wrong choice by stay in Kherson.
Serhii Khlan, an adviser to the chief of Kherson’s civilian military administration, told DailyExpertNews that Kolykhaiev had an ambivalent relationship with the Russian occupation.
“For a while, the Russians even let him sit under Ukrainian flags,” he said.
Khlan said the occupation authorities then insisted that officials contract with the Russians and be paid in rubles. “Kolychaiev had a choice: either sign the betrayal of Ukraine and eventually cooperate openly with the occupiers, or refuse to cooperate,” he said.
Kolychaiev had remained in office for more than two months after the Russian invasion. In April, he told Ukrainian television: “I have no information about the so-called Kherson People’s Republic. Representatives of local authorities in Kherson are at their workplace in the city administration.”
Kolykhaiev’s arrest followed a visit to Kherson on Monday by a member of the Russian parliament, Alexandr Boroday, a former prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Boroday said he left “with an ambivalent impression, because we understand that somewhere the city belongs to us, of course, and somewhere not entirely ours.”
“There is our mayor in Kherson, and there is also the pro-Ukrainian mayor. The mayor of Kiev is meeting and our mayor is meeting,” he said, adding: “It seems there is a government with Vladimir Saldo [the Russian-appointed mayor]but at the same time, Kherson leads a very double life.”
Boroday said the city was peaceful, “but it’s not entirely clear whether our power is there or not. And this needs to be done as soon as possible,” he said.
Within 36 hours of Boroday’s visit, pro-Russian authorities announced plans for a referendum on the Kherson region’s accession to the Russian Federation.
Some officials in Kherson previously detained have been released. On Wednesday, a non-governmental organization, the Association of Cities of Ukraine, said the heads of two Kherson communities — Oleksandr Babych of Hola Prystan and Ivan Samoilenko of Stanislav — have been released from captivity.
Ukrainian authorities said earlier this month that “more and more people” [in Kherson] refuse to cooperate with the occupiers and local employees.”