A Ukrainian official who revealed details about life in Russian-controlled Kherson has been arrested, officials say.

Source: www.nytimes.com : 2022-06-29 09:34:42 : Valerie Hopkins and Marc Santora

KYIV, Ukraine — After Russian forces captured the southern city of Kherson, much of what the outside world knew about life under Moscow’s rule came from the city’s mayor, who described a world of repression, insecurity and the mass detainment of hundreds of people.

On Tuesday, the mayor, Ihor Kolykhaev, was himself arrested, shortly after he arrived at the municipal headquarters where he had continued to work despite being ousted from office, local officials said. Russian soldiers bundled him into a bus emblazoned with the Moscow’s war emblem, “Z,” and took him to an unknown location.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian occupation administration, told Russian state media that Mr. Kolykhayev had been detained. He called the mayor “a hero for the Nazi community” and added, “Finally, he has been neutralized.”

The mayor’s press secretary, Halna Liashevska, said the soldiers who took Mr. Kolykhaev had also seized hard drives from computers, opened safes and searched for documents. The mayor’s arrest, she said, appears to be in retaliation for his refusal to cooperate with the occupation “I fear for the life of Ihor Kolykhaev,” Ms. Liashevska wrote in a message posted on Mr. Kolykhaev’s Facebook page.

For weeks, Mr. Kolykhaev has posted regular updates on social media and had given interviews to Western journalists in a place where people routinely have their digital history checked by occupation forces. In an interview on Sunday with The New York Times, he indicated he feared remaining loyal to Kyiv could land him in trouble.

“Am I in danger?” he asked in a video call. “Yes, like any resident of the city of Kherson, I am in danger and there is insecurity. We do not know what will happen tomorrow, what will happen the day after tomorrow.”

Russian repression has grown more brutal in Kherson as Ukrainian insurgents have carried out a series of bombings and have helped Ukrainian troops trying to reclaim lost territory, Ukrainian officials and witnesses said.

In the interview, Mr. Kolykhaev estimated that as of April 26 — the last time he was able to get a proper assessment — around 300 Ukrainian people had been detained and about 140 of those had later been released.

Mr. Kolykhaev was elected to office in 2020, defeating his pro-Kremlin opponent, Vladimir Saldo. When Russia invaded on Feb. 24, Kherson fell in a matter of days, becoming the only regional capital to come under the Kremlin’s control since the launch of the full-scale invasion.

On April 25, Mr. Kolykhaev reported on social media that “armed men” had broken into the City Council and replaced the security staff. The next morning, the Russians installed their own administration, led by Mr. Saldo, he said.

But Mr. Kolykhaev did not resign. In the interview, he said he had consulted the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky, which had advised him to continue working in Kherson.

In early June, he said the environment had become even more tense, as “explosions are heard every day in what the invaders call ‘quiet Kherson.’” Medicine was running low and the humanitarian situation was continuing to worsen. “Thousands have lost their jobs and their source of income,” he said, estimating that unemployment was around 60 percent.

Mr. Kolykhaev was invited a few days ago to attend a meeting of the Russian-appointed administration and the newly appointed mayor, but he declined, Ms. Liashevska said.

“We are all in danger,” Ms. Liashevska said. “Everyone is under attack.”

Valerie Hopkins reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Marc Santora from Warsaw. Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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