Ukrainian mayor of Kherson detained as Russian-run region prepares for referendum

The city of Kherson, photographed on May 20, 2022.

(CNN)The elected Ukrainian mayor of Kherson was arrested Tuesday, according to pro-Russian officials in the city, hours before the region's Russian-backed administration announced plans for a referendum.

Ihor Kolykhaiev's arrest comes amid growing efforts by the Russian-appointed authorities in the region to strip it of Ukrainian associations, as well as occasional assassination attempts against people collaborating with the Russians.
"I confirm that Kolykhaiev was detained by the commandant's office," Kateryna Gubareva, an official in the interim administration of the Kherson region, said late Tuesday.
    Kolykhaiev has remained in the city throughout the occupation, but the Russian-backed authorities had removed him from office.
      Speaking about his arrest, Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the military-civilian administration of the Kherson region, said Kolykhaiev had "posed as a benefactor" but "made every effort to ensure that some people continued to believe in the return of neo-Nazism."
      Stremousov also claimed, without offering evidence, that Kolykhaiev "stole millions, and gave people a penny."
      "I believe that just retribution will come to all those who want blood, death and war," he added.
        Last week, on Russian television, Stremousov said Kolykhaiev was sabotaging work in the Kherson region.
        "We even have Nazis in some areas who control administrations. What prevents [us] today from cleaning up these Nazis and accomplices of fascism?" he said.
        The first word of Kolykhaiev's detention came from his adviser, Halyna Liashevska, who posted on Facebook Tuesday that he had arrived "at one of the municipal institutions where the remaining employees of the city executive committee worked. As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by armed Russian guards."
        "They seized hard drives from computers, opened all safes, searched for documents," added Liashevska.
        "All this time, Kolykhaiev was kept in a separate room in handcuffs under armed guard. After the search, Kolykhaiev was put into bus Z and taken away."
        The letter Z is painted on many Russian vehicles in occupied parts of Ukraine.
        "I am sure that the arrest of Kolykhaiev is connected with his refusal to cooperate with the occupying authorities," Liashevska said.
        "A few days ago, Kolykhaiev received a letter from the "newly appointed" mayor, inviting him to discuss the future 'organization of interaction.' For refusing to meet, he was threatened with arrest."
        On June 13, Kolykhaiev repeated that he and the heads of different city departments were still in the city and continued to work, after the man appointed by the Russians as regional governor -- Hennadii Lahuta -- said that Kolykhaiev had made the wrong choice by remaining in occupied Kherson.
        Serhii Khlan, an adviser to the head of the Kherson civil military administration, told CNN that Kolykhaiev had an ambivalent relationship with the Russian occupation.
        "For a while, the Russians even allowed him to sit under Ukrainian flags," he said.
        Khlan said the occupying authorities had then insisted that officials enter into contracts with the Russians and be paid in rubles.
        "Kolykhaiev had a choice. Either sign the betrayal of Ukraine and finally openly work with the occupiers, or refuse to cooperate," he said.
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