Fear and suspicion as Ukraine hunts for traitors in the east

Kutuzivka, Ukraine (TIP), July 28 : As Ukraine hunts for traitors, the fear of Russian infiltration extends east, far from the capital. The sense of paranoia runs deepest here, in eastern Ukraine, where suspicions of treason committed by locals divide formerly occupied villages like Kutuzivka, a once-sleepy hamlet east of Kharkiv, where signs of a recent Russian presence are everywhere. Stray dogs roam over broken glass as the sound of shelling echoes overhead, with Ukrainian troops still fighting off a near-constant barrage of artillery fire by Russian troops north of the village when Reuters visited at the end of May. When Russian troops arrived in Kutuzivka in early March, they quickly set up a local puppet administration. NataliiaKyrychenko, a 55-year-old farm owner in the village, was hiding in her house with several neighbours when Russian soldiers came to her door. Villagers said a Russian commander brought Kyrychenko and her neighbours out onto the street and informed them that a local woman named NadiiaAntonova would now head the village. Kyrychenko said she was interrogated for two days by Russian forces about her son-in-law, who is in Ukrainian law enforcement. The soldiers told her, Kyrychenko recounted to Reuters, that Antonova had informed them about her son-in-law and accused her of working as a spotter for Ukrainian troops, tasked with tracking movements of Russian soldiers. “When the Russian soldiers took me away I honestly didn’t think I would come back,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that someone in our community would turn me in.” Kyrychenko was eventually released. Russian officials at the Kremlin did not respond to Reuters’ questions about the case. In late April, Ukraine successfully pushed back Russian troops and liberated Kutuzivka. Antonova was swiftly detained and placed under criminal investigation for collaborating with Russian soldiers. She faces more than a decade in jail if convicted. Antonova’s lawyer did not respond to Reuters’ questions. In a speech earlier this month, President VolodymyrZelenskiy spoke about the high toll Russian infiltration was taking on the country. Below the highest levels of treason he highlighted, there are many more cases that fall into a grey area. These cases can range from those who post pro-Russian content on social media to those who cooperate in any way with occupying Russian troops.

“Our population played a very big role in informing police, alerting us to saboteurs,” said YevhenYenin, the first deputy minister of the internal affairs ministry, which oversees the national police. Though the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) is officially tasked with investigating such cases, much of the practical work of gathering information has fallen to the police, Yenin said. The National Police have so far detained more than 1,000 people suspected of sabotage and reconnaissance activities on behalf of the Russian authorities, according to the internal affairs ministry. In Kharkiv, about 40 kilometres from the Russian border, four police officers began their night patrol just after the city’s 10 p.m. curfew in late May. Touting AKs and wearing bulletproof vests, the officers scoured the city’s darkened streets for suspicious figures. (Reuters)

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