Meet the “Governor” of Russia in Kherson, Ukraine

Three weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the ex-mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Volodymyr Saldo, wrote on his Facebook page claiming that he had tried to stop the “idiots” seeking to declare Kyiv’s independence.

“I did not betray my soul,” Saldo, 66, wrote in a Publish punctuated with an icon of the Ukrainian flag. “Kherson is my soul, and Kherson is Ukraine.”

Although it’s impossible to see into Saldo’s soul, his passport has certainly changed.

Today, the Kremlin-backed leader of the self-proclaimed authorities of the Kherson region, Saldo over the weekend became the region’s first to receive an expedited Russian passport as Russian and Ukrainian troops continue to fight for control of the Ukrainian region.

“For me, this is really a historic moment,” said Saldo, who served as mayor of Kherson from 2002 to 2012. cited by the separatist authorities as said on June 11. “I always thought we were one country and one people.”

Saldo is among a handle separatist leaders who were torn from the political margins of Ukraine when Moscow began to occupy parts of the country after the February 24 invasion.

Ukrainian officials and opponents of the Russian invasion regularly denounce these separatist officials as “collaborators” or “Gauleiters”.

“They didn’t find anyone with social capital or authority in a single township, district or city of the Kherson region,” Kyiv-based political scientist Serhiy Danilov said. Actual hourthe Russian-language television network operated by RFE/RL in cooperation with RFE/RL.

“Not a single person with a clean reputation could be found in the whole region.”

Few Russian-backed officials have stories as unusual as that of Saldo, who in 2015 – a year after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula – invested in a yoga drumming business in the Czech Republic , and the following year found itself embroiled in a bizarre kidnapping case. in the Dominican Republic.

“I would smash his face”

Saldo served in Ukraine’s parliament from 2012 to 2014 with the Party of Regions led by Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine to Russia in February 2014 amid massive street protests that precipitated the Russian land grab in Ukraine.

The following year, he took a 15 percent stake in a Czech company called Agriatis, headquartered in the small town of Neveklovice, about 85 kilometers north of Prague, Czech company records To display. From some products are meditation drums.

Saldo on June 3 was hit by the EU punishmentsmeaning his assets in the bloc – like his stake in the Czech company – could be targeted.

The Czech daily Denik spoke to Saldo’s business partner, Czech Republic-based Ukrainian businessman Volodymyr Erekhynskyi, who said he hadn’t spoken with Saldo in years and denounced him as a “collaborator “.

“If I met him, I would smash his face,” Denik quoted Erekhynskyi as saying.

Meanwhile, in August 2016, Saldo was arrested in the Dominican Republic after a fellow Ukrainian accused him of kidnapping him. The following month, a Caribbean nation court order Saldo will be detained for three months.

Saldo, however, returned to Ukraine in December of the same year, and his representative and relatives claimed that he had in fact been abducted by Ukrainian Denys Pashchenko, who had accused the former mayor of Kherson of having removal him.

“Ticket to Escape”

According to the statement by Saldo’s own separatist administration, he was among 23 residents of the Kherson region who received Russian passports on June 11.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose government has called Moscow’s fast-track passport initiative “a flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, held up the low turnout as proof that Ukrainians do not don’t want to go to Russia.

“I took a look at the information about residents of Kherson and Melitopol who allegedly wanted Russian passports,” Zelenskiy said. said. “A few collaborators and their relatives… Well, this looks less like a queue for passports than an attempt to obtain a ticket to flee.”

While Saldo is now a Russian citizen, his Facebook page still reflects other loyalties: his main profile picture expresses his love for Kherson with a heart icon in Ukrainian blue and yellow.

Written by RFE/RL’s Carl Schreck with reporting by Current Time’s Yury Baranyuk

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