Hunting for Russian “collaborators” in Kherson
“Move! Show your hands, take out your documents!”: Police armed with Kalashnikovs target two people who have just arrived in their boats on a beach on the banks of the Dnieper in Kherson, southern Ukraine.
The scene is set on the right bank of the river, downstream of the city that was liberated by Kiev troops on November 11, after an eight-month occupation by Russian forces, now moving to the left bank.
It symbolizes the atmosphere of suspicion in Kherson, where the authorities fear that there are people who have collaborated or are still collaborating with the Russians and are trying to identify them.
The two men had just vacated one of the islands bordering the east coast, a gray area where Ukrainian forces are absent and Russian troops are effectively under Moscow’s control, even if Russian troops are invisible there.
“Evacuation is allowed only at the port (Kherson). It is illegal here,” one of the policemen told AFP.
“There are people in charge of these + stabilization measures + checking that people are participating,” he said in the port’s cooperation.
But control is cut short: two rockets fall on an islet 200 meters in front of the beach, releasing black smoke.
Dnieper became the new front line.
The two men and the police ran for cover. The interrogation will continue after calm is restored.
– Strong police presence –
After the euphoria of liberation, Kherson now lives under strict police surveillance, which is very present and visible.
There are checkpoints at the exits of the city, patrolling the streets: people dressed in blue check ID cards, ask questions, search the trunks of cars, to expel “collaborators”.
“These people have been here for more than eight months. They worked for the Russian regime and now we have information and documents about each of them. Our police know everything about them and each of them will be punished,” said Yaroslav Yanushevich, the governor of Kherson region. AFP.
At the large intersection at the end of the bridge leading to the industrial and port area, an elderly man approaches one of the policemen checking cars and passers-by. He asks him where he can go to fill the two carbos in his hand.
“You say you are a resident here, you don’t know where the water point is?” – asks the police suspiciously. The man will have to show his used copy taken out of his pocket to prove his identity.
Checks are also underway at the station, where some residents are still evacuating the city by daily train.
AFP noted that in a separate room, five police officers sat in front of an equally small table, each questioning an evacuee sitting in front of them.
– Condemn “traitors” –
On certain avenues of the city, large propaganda posters of the occupier praising Russia disappeared in favor of others for the sake of the glory of the liberation of Kherson.
But other posters also invited residents to denounce those who cooperated with Russian forces.
“Report traitors here” indicates one of them by referring to the application’s QR code or phone number.
“This helps us to identify them, to know whether they are in the area we control,” the district governor justifies.
“Most of the information is obtained from local people during simple conversations (…) We also analyze accounts on social networks and continue to monitor the Internet,” Andrii Kovanyi, head of public relations department of Kherson Oblast police, told AFP.
After the police, the security services of Ukraine (SBU) take over the investigations.
According to Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Yevgen Yenin, more than 130 people have already been arrested for cooperation in Kherson region.
Residents questioned before one of the panels were quite positive about the principle of denunciation.
Pavel, 40, who did not want to give his name, believes that “it is always good to help find collaborators or traitors. We should help our armed forces catch those working for Russia.”
After the liberation of the city, Russian strikes targeted homes as well as energy infrastructure, killing civilians.
“Now our houses are also being bombed. I think these are collaborators who help (Russian forces) target our houses,” said 35-year-old Irina.
On the other hand, Vyacheslav believes that he knows that all the collaborators have already fled to the other side of the Dnieper River.
“We are all Ukrainian patriots here,” says the 47-year-old man.