Russia admits holding Kherson Mayor prisoner 15 months after abducting him for refusing to collaborate
The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] has only now received confirmation from Russia that they are holding the Mayor of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaev, prisoner. Kolykhaev had refused to collaborate with the Russians during their occupation of Kherson and was seized by Russian soldiers on 28 June 2022. For the family, this is the first ray of hope since Russia is at least acknowledging its responsibility for Kolykhaev’s safety, but there is still no information as to where he is imprisoned, nor is Moscow allowing ICRC to see him, as it is obliged to do under international law.
Kolykhaev’s son, Sviatoslav, that Russia officially confirmed to ICRC on 13 September 2023 that Ihor Kolykhaev had been added to their ‘list of prisoners’ and that he was held somewhere in the Russian Federation. His exact whereabouts were not given, nor any information about his state of health. This must be of concern since the only reported sightings of Kolykhaev from prisoners later released spoke of him being in a critical state. After a year of torture and ill-treatment, Sviatoslav reported, his father had lost a huge amount of weight and often lost consciousness. Back in August 2023, that his father would not return alive. Russia’s admission that he is in their custody makes it harder for them to risk his life, however it is also unclear what exactly is meant by Russia’s ‘list of prisoners’. If one leaves aside the fact that Russia has unleashed an illegal war of aggression, it does have the right to hold prisoners of war, and the obligation to treat them properly. It is committing a crime by taking civilians hostage, and Kolykhaev was Mayor of Kherson, not a combatant.
Kherson was under Russian occupation from 2 March 2022, until its liberation by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on 11 November 2022. Large demonstrations against the Russian invasion continued for some time, until the Russians began using force against the peaceful protesters and also taking civilians hostage and torturing them. On 25 April, the invaders seized control of the Kherson City Council building and, the following day, installed local collaborator Volodymyr Saldo ‘as occupation ‘head’.
On 5 May 2022, 10 days after the Russians seized the City Council building, Kolykhaev of his admiration for, and inspiration from, “the faithfulness with which Kherson residents are serving their city at present, and their unparalleled spirit as defenders”. He confirmed that he remained in Kherson and that he was continuing to carry out his duties as Mayor.
He also mentioned that he had sent a request for information to the President’s Administraiton regarding the role of all Ukrainian officials in occupied Kherson. Were those public officials, teachers, doctors, etc. to be considered collaborators if they continued to ensure that Kherson functioned properly, albeit under occupation? He wrote that he had yet to receive an answer, and made a repeat request on 10 May.
Although the dilemma of what constitutes collaborating remains for those on occupied territory, the aggressor state has demonstrated determination to eradicate all that is Ukrainian and certainly does not tolerate any officials openly declaring that they remain true to Ukraine.
As reported, the news of Kolykhaev’s abduction on 28 June 2022 first from his Advisor, Halyna Liashevska. Sviatoslav Kolykhaev has since provided more details which the family only later discovered. His father was seized by the Russians in a municipal building, together with five other mayoral office employees. They were first taken to a police temporary holding unit, which the Russians had seized.
Sviatoslav believes that the Russians tried to get his father to collaborate with them. It is clear, however, that Ihor Kolykhaev maintained a pro-Ukrainian stand right up till his abduction. According to Sviatoslav, the Ukrainian flag remained over the city council building for the first 60 days of the occupation (presumably until 25 April).
From those hostages later released, the family have learned that Kolykhaev was first held prisoner in occupied Kalanchak, then in Chaplinka, still later, at the beginning of February 2023, in Novotroiitske.
Russia is holding a huge number of civilian hostages, including the Mayor of Hola Prystan, Oleksandr Babych and other public officials. In some cases, like those of Babych, Kherson IT specialist Iryna Horobtsova and others, human rights groups have ascertained that they are held prisoner in occupied Crimea, however without any official status and without Russia acknowledging their imprisonment.