Political portrait of the warring Kharkiv region: Top-5 open traitors | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

Political portrait of the warring Kharkiv region: Top-5 open traitors

From the first days of the war, border settlements in the Kharkiv region were under temporary occupation. Leaders of the communities, to which the Russian military came in, chose diametrically opposed strategies: some of them evacuated, others remained and either refused to cooperate with the occupiers (despite threats and torture) or became collaborators.

In the third part of the monitoring of political life in Kharkiv region during the war, the Analytical Center «Observatory of  Democracy» examines the most significant cases of high treason in the territorial communities of the region.

 

Source: photo collage made up of photos of community leaders available in open access.

№1. Alexander Bryukhanov (Chairman of the Southern Community, “Servant of the People”)

Oleksandr Bryukhanov, the Mayor of Pivdennyi, was the first person detained for high treason in the Kharkiv region. He was detained along with the deputy and Head of the local police department on February 28. At the same time, the Russian military did not reach the territory of the community, and the detention operation was “preventive” due to the Security Servise`s of Ukraine information about the Mayor’s agreements with the occupiers. This case is indicative in terms of who exactly the pro-presidential team co-opted for its own franchise in the local elections in 2020 (Bryukhanov ran from the “Servant of the People”), but, on the other hand, in this case the inevitability of punishment for his party members in martial law is worth noting. Bryukhanov was first elected as a mayor in 2002, and in less than 20 years he has clearly demonstrated that local political regimes are more stable than the national ones. However, changing his political orientation, the Head of the community made a mistake this time. Accustomed to cooperating with any government, the mayor followed his usual path of collaborationism, but made a mistake in assessing the chances of Ukraine and Russia in this war. What is interesting, the community’s website did not post any news from February 25 up to April 21, and the “Community Guide” section still contains biographical information about Oleksandr Bryukhanov.

№2. Gennady Matsegora (Head of Kupyansk community, “Opposition platformfor life)

Unlike the Southern community, the territory of Kupyansk community turned out to be under occupation almost from the first days of the war. On February 27, Mayor Gennady Matsegora (elected from the “Opposition platform-for life” in 2020) made a video appeal accusing the Security Service of Ukraine, the army, and the territorial defence of escaping and announced his  decision to cooperate with the occupiers to save the city. By the way, the head of the Kupyansk district state administration Valery Lyubota (father of Dmytro Lyubota, People’s Deputy from the “Servant of the People”) made a similar appeal about the need to cooperate with the occupiers. However, the Head of the district later justified himself and claimed that the record was being made “under the muzzle of a machine gun”. Unlike Lyubota Sr., criminal proceedings were opened against Matsegora for high treason, and on February 28 there was a report on the arrest of the Mayor-collaborator, which, however, turned out to be fake. Within a month, Matsegora recorded an another video message, which was personally to the President Volodymyr Zelensky this time, offering to exchange himself for his daughter, who the Security Service of Ukraine had detained in Ivano-Frankivsk. In mid-April, the Head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration Sinegubov announced that Matsegora had left Kupyansk and went to Russia. The local Kupyansk publics deny this information, and on the contrary, note that the Mayor was actively preparing for the celebrations of May 9 in the city and often appeared in propaganda videos on Russian television. One way or another, given the open criminal case with a sentence from 15 years up to life imprisonment, it is unlikely that Ukrainian politics will find a place for Matsegora in the future, and he will have to escape from Kupyansk with the retreat of the occupiers.

№3. Ivan Stolbovy (Head of the Balaklia community,Kernes Block-Successful Kharkiv)

On March 3, the Russian troops occupied Balaklia. Like Kupyansk, the city was of strategic importance, in particular, due to the presence of one of the Ukraine’s largest ammunition depots. At the same time, the Head of the community did not make any public statements immediately after the occupation, and the information about the facts of the Mayor’s collaboration appeared only on March 28. In a video released, Ivan Stolbovy told the residents about agreements with the Russian military to distribute humanitarian aid and that “Ukraine is no longer helping.” The Balaklia community’s website has not been updated since March 17 and in early April, , the Head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration Oleg Sinegubov reported that Stolbovy had left to Russia with his family. 22 квітня Столбовому заочно було оголошено про підозру за фактом державної зради та колаборціонізму. It should be noted that the son of the Mayor of Balaklia Pavlo Stolbovy is a deputy of the Regional Council (from the “Kernes Block-Successful Kharkiv”) and at the online session on May 9 he became one of the 22 absent deputies.

№4. Vladislav Sokolov (self-proclaimed “Mayor” of Izyum) 

Izyum became the last city in the Kharkiv region captured by the occupiers as the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine officially announced the loss of control over the city on April 1. The head of the Izium territorial community, Valery Marchenko, left the city long before that, which, on the one hand, caused outrage among the residents, but on the other hand, he followed the instructions of Kharkiv Regional State Administration for heads of communities threatened by occupation. Probably, the expediency of such instructions should be comprehensively assessed after the end of martial law, but for now we will limit ourselves to the statement that on March 25 Marchenko was awarded with the Order “For Courage” of the third degree (Mayor of Chuguev Halyna Minaeva received a similar award). According to the Mayor of Izyum, one of the main factors in the forced retreat of the Ukrainian troops was the betrayal of several deputies of the City Council, who helped the occupiers to enter the city. Therefore, “Gauleiter” Vladislav Sokolov, whom the Russians made a temporary acting Mayor, de facto shares his nomination of one of the “Top traitors” with the deputies Anatoly Fomichevsky, Denis Steiman and Yuri Kozlov. The self-proclaimed “mayor” previously worked in the law enforcement system of Ukraine, and in 2020 indicated his place of work as the “Head of the Security Sector of the National “Oschadbank “. It was in 2020 that Sokolov unsuccessfully ran (from the Nash Krai party) for the post of the Head of the Izium community, taking the penultimate place. Criminal proceedings were instituted against all these characters under the article ” high treason”, after which one of them (Yuri Kozlov), according to the information from local publics, escaped to Russia.

№5. Eduard Konovalov (Head of the Starosaltov community)

Almost immediately after the liberation of Stary Saltov, on May 7, community leader Eduard Konovalov was informed of a suspicion of high treason. According to the investigation, Konovalov provided the occupiers with housing, and agitated the residents not to resist. The Head of the community was supported by some of his subordinates and some local deputies (despite the tragic death of the secretary of the village council Halyna Kursachova on March 23 during the shelling). Unlike the previous four  urban communities, which are large by the standards of Kharkiv region, Starosaltov community is settlement and, at first glance, it is unclear what the significance of this case  for the political portrait of the region is. But for the modern history of local self-government of Kharkiv region Starosaltov community is special. In 2015, it became the first precedent in the region for voluntary unification as a part of decentralization reform. Eduard Konovalov won the first elections in the newly formed community in 2016, and then re-elected in 2020 (both times as a self-nominated candidate). In many of the media publications, the community leadership shared “pilot experiences” and became a kind of flagship of voluntary decentralization in the region. Also, all these years the community and its leaders have been involved in a number of donor projects under the DOBRE program  «Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency».

Conclusions

As of the end of April, according to Oleg Sinegubov, 22 communities in Kharkiv region were under temporary occupation (currently this number tends to decrease due to counter-offensive actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine). At the moment, there is objectively not enough reliable information about each community, but in the first approximation it can be stated that in all cases there was  high treason by one of the leaders or the local deputies.

Community leaders did not always become collaborators, as it happened in the 5 cases described above. For example, Vovchansk Mayor Anatoliy Stepanets refused to cooperate with the occupiers and was tortured, while his alternates agreed to help the newly appointed “gauleiter”. In Liptsy, Vadim Kudyakov, a deputy of the local village council from the “Servant of the People”, became the “Head of the administration” appointed by the occupiers (in 2021 he was an assistant-consultant to the former Head of the regional council Artur Tovmasyan).

In general, the party palette of collaborationism at the level of local self-government is quite diverse and is not limited to those parties whose activities are “suspended” by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council as “pro-Russian”.

Also, local “information wars” are increasingly common in the media and social networks, in which war and suspicions of possible loyalty to the Russian occupiers serve as a convenient background for clarifying relationships (for example, the Head of the Dergachi community hinted at the “insufficiently patriotic” position of the Head of the neighboring Malodanilivka community, which was subordinated to Derhachi until decentralization). On May 6, in the temporarily occupied Chkaliv community, the Head Viktor Solovyov announced a “suspension of his powers,” refusing the demand of the occupiers to replace the flag over the village council: such an act, on the one hand, provoked a positive reaction for the patriotism on social networks , but, on the other hand, raised the question of the activities of the Head in the period from February 24 to May 6. Thus, every single military history of a community that has had to survive an occupation (or even those where “preventive collaborationism” has taken place, as in the Southern community) will require careful analysis and, in some cases, investigation against high treason suspects.