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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The current Ukrainian government has no right to a condescending attitude towards collaborators

Photo: People's protest in occupied Nova Kakhovka
Source: Sudovo-Yurydychna Gazeta

While Ukraine continues its strategic defense operation, exhausting the offensive potential of the Russian Armed Forces, the aggressor country is establishing new rules of life in the occupied southern territories. There are attempts at ideological treatment, cleansing of the local population disloyal to Russia and preparations for the introduction of the ruble zone. Similar processes were organized by Russia in ORDLO 8 years ago.

The vast majority of the local population opposes the Russian occupation and the newly imposed order, in Kherson citizens are still going to rallies, which the occupiers are brutally suppressing. However, among the pro-Ukrainian population, Russia still finds local collaborators and establishes fake leadership. For example, self-proclaimed "acting mayor" Oleksandr Saulenko appeared in occupied Berdyansk. Oleksandr Saulenko is registered within the Berdyansk district from the Union of Left Forces political party, which advocates the “neutral status of Ukraine”[1] and is absolutely not popular among the local population. Pro-Russian elements who failed to help Russia occupy and declare the city part of the so-called "DPR" in 2014, have also begun to return to Berdyansk. In Kherson city council, the occupiers appointed Volodymyr Saldo as a so-called "head" of the Kherson Regional State Administration, Oleksandr Kobets as a "head" of the Kherson City Administration, and Kostiantyn Ivashchenko a member of the OPZZH party, as the "head" of the occupation administration in ruined Mariupol. In general, a large number of deputies from Medvedchuk's “Opposition Platform For Life” party sided with the enemy. In Mariupol, they not only supported the occupiers, but acted as informants for the enemy army and effectively corrected the shelling of critical civilian infrastructure.[2] Similarly, during a large-scale war, a number of clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate confirmed their status as Russian agents.

During wars, there are always citizens who betray their homeland and work for the enemy. However, in the first three months of the war, there was a lack of reaction from the authorities to the support of Russian occupation forces. On the one hand, the Ukrainian leadership noted the patriotism of those who defend Ukraine in the occupied territories. And such people are the vast majority. Even those who were marked by pro-Russian statements before February 24, 2022, defended Ukraine after facing the realities of the Russian world.

On the other hand, potential collaborators did not see examples of public and severe punishment by the Ukrainian authorities for cooperating with the occupiers, which would be an additional deterrent and a clear signal. The first such case of retaliation for treason took place on April 20, 2022 in the city of Kherson, where a colleague of local collaborator Kirill Stremousov, Valery Kuleshov, was shot dead. The second punitive act took place in the town of Kreminna, Luhansk region, when a gas explosion occurred in the city hall of the captured city during a meeting of the occupation administration. According to Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration, this happened due to “non-compliance with security measures.” [3] Thus, the Ukrainian leadership did not confirm the involvement of Ukrainian special services in the liquidation of traitors. On April 26, 2022, in his next address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy nevertheless drew attention to the issue of responsibility of collaborators and stated: "We will identify and bring to justice every war criminal and collaborator”. The next day, April 27, 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeated his message, emphasizing that the collaborators have no future.

In 2014, many pro-Russian politicians managed to escape punishment. Despite the adopted law "On the Purification of Power", the fifth column continued its activities and spread anti-state political influence until the implementation of the initiatives of Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2020 in the form of closing pro-Russian channels, and then - anti-oligarchic initiatives and privatization of stolen state property. Having learned from the experience, the current Ukrainian leadership has no right to make a second mistake. After the victory over the invaders, the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine must be eradicated and punished in accordance with the current legislation. This applies to political parties, pro-Russian TV presenters, journalists, bloggers. First of all, it is worth to mention Viktor Medvedchuk's “Opposition Platform for Life party”, some of its deputies have already rebranded the party, as they did back in 2014; as well as Evgeny Muraev's “Nashi” (“Ours”), and the media, experts and organizations associated with these parties.

Ukrainian citizens remain unprotected in the occupied territories. Russia is pursuing a policy of so-called "DENAZIFICATION" by eroding Ukrainian identity in these territories. "Denazification" in practice is the destruction of the Ukrainian people. Monuments are being destroyed, Ukrainian symbols are being torn down. Inspections of civilians are being carried out in the occupied territories. At first, they used to take place at checkpoints, now a person can be stopped on the street, military check the phones and the presence of tattoos on the body. Accordingly, men get undressed in search of a tattoo containing Ukrainian symbols. Russia ensured exclusively Russian television and radio broadcasting, Anti-Ukrainian propaganda leaflets are distributed, and events are held to honour Russian-Soviet figures, such as celebrating Vladimir Lenin's birthday.

After a wave of protests, the Russians kidnapped local activists and continue to kidnap representatives of democratically elected authorities. For example, in the Kherson region alone, hundreds of people were abducted during the occupation, including 35 amalgamated hromadas heads. 17 of them were released, many are still in captivity. It is significant that every time the Ukrainian authorities report on exchanges, the number of civilians who have been released is noted. At first, the Kremlin refused to exchange civilians for military men, relying on the Geneva Convention, according to which such criminal practices are prohibited. Although it is worth noting that the occupant country has repeatedly violated this international legal document. Iryna Vereshchuk reported about this situation in early April. “I constantly ask negotiators from the Russian side: should we also capture Russians around the world to put them up as an exchange fund? But we are not terrorists or pirates, so we will not act like that,” she added.[4]

The kidnapping of civilians is another evidence of Russia's terrorist actions and an argument to recognize it as a state sponsor of terrorism. In addition to the notorious crimes in the Kyiv region: kidnapping of activists and public figures, torture and rape, in the South of Ukraine, occupants began to steal cultural property as well as grain transported in large volumes to the territory of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In particular, rashists removed cultural heritage from Mariupol museums, incl. a collection of paintings by Ukrainian artists who lived during the Russian Empire: Ivan Aivazovsky and Arkhip Kuindzhi. After the Second World War, russians took the art objects that the Nazis had taken out from Ukraine and sent to the collections of Moscow and St. Petersburg museums. That is, the Ukrainian cultural heritage is again stolen by rashists, as in the last century. The export of grain also involuntarily recalls the crimes of the past. Firstly, when chernozem was exported from Ukraine during the Second World War. And secondly - the export of food in order to create an artificial famine of the 20s, 30s and 40s. History repeats itself.

In the south of Ukraine, humanitarian centers were blocked[5], and activists were prohibited to supply the necessary goods. As a result, there is an artificial shortage and everyday products rose significantly in price. A large number of citizens lost their jobs, the occupiers forcibly suspended business activities. Because of this, people who have no savings have to sell things to be able to feed themselves and their children. The situation has not yet become critical, however, in the near future Ukrainians in the occupied territories may suffer greatly due to lack of work and shortage of food and medicine.

An even greater crime of Russia is the deportation of Ukrainians to Russia. According to the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Lyudmila Denisova, as of April 24, more than 878,000 Ukrainians had been deported to Russia from the occupied territories.[6] This also applies to orphans, in particular those who lost their parents in Mariupol. These actions are a planned policy that gained momentum last year. Russia is a country with gradually declining population, while its Slavic part is shrinking compared to the Muslim one. That is why last year the mass passportization of ORDLO started, resettlement programs were created in order to send Ukrainians from the occupied territory to the North and beyond the Urals. The Law on Repatriation was actively discussed, which would allow replenishing the population with Belarusians and Ukrainians, who are easier to assimilate. After a full-scale invasion, this policy took another form of deportation of the Ukrainian population, as it was in Stalin's time.

In the current situation, Ukraine cannot rely on international organizations. At the end of March 2022, the Red Cross took the dubious initiative to open a representative office in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, for the people of Ukraine deported by Russia from the occupied Ukrainian territories. After that, the head of the organization Peter Maurer visited Moscow, where he held talks with Sergei Lavrov in a friendly atmosphere. Meanwhile, Ukrainians organized the evacuation of residents, including from the Kyiv region and Mariupol by the efforts of volunteers and the government. The UN has also demonstrated its inability to uphold the organization's founding principles. As of April 30, no green corridors have been created in the war zone. Those corridors that are agreed with Russia at the government level are constantly disrupted by the occupiers, as a result, the lives of citizens during the evacuation are in a constant danger. The cruise missile attack on Kyiv while General Secretary Antonio Guterres was in the capital demonstrates the real attitude of the Russian leadership to the United Nations. Therefore, the question arises why the aggressor state, which has repeatedly violated the UN charter, is still a member of the organization and the Security Council? And it becomes clear that diplomacy, which is not backed by force, does not work in relation to Russia.

The power component is currently determining. Citizens of Ukraine will be able to feel safe only after deoccupation, which is possible only through military means. Nevertheless, it is necessary to push international organizations to do everything possible to fulfill their fundamental tasks and help protect Ukrainians in the occupied territories. Life there is getting harder every day, and until the Armed Forces liberate the South and East of the country, much depends on the activities of non-governmental actors. At the same time, efforts should be made to bring the Russian leadership and Russian soldiers to justice. The crimes of rashists in Ukraine cannot be left unpunished.

1. «Викрали 35 голів ОТГ». У Херсонській області за час окупації зникли сотні людей з проукраїнською позицією — голова ОВА, 27/04/2022,
2. Хто такий псевдомер Бердянська, який пішов на співпрацю з російськими військовими, 23/03/2022,
3. Гайдай про вибух у мерії Кремінної: загинуло дуже багато окупантів та колаборантів, 26/03/2022,
4. Росіяни згодні міняти військових лише на військових, а цивільних - лише на цивільних, - Верещук, 06/04/2022,
5. У Бердянську окупанти заблокували роботу гуманітарного центру, 06/04/2022,
6. Олексій Олександров, «Фільтраційні табори, вивезення до Росії та зґвалтування. Інформація від омбудсмена України», 24/04/2022,