Governor will close the southern Ukrainian city for several days to investigate those thought to be collaborating with Russia.
Vitaliy Kim says a dozen people who were found to have been colluding with Russia have already been arrestedCREDIT: AFP
The governor of Mykolaiv has pledged to shut down the southern Ukrainian frontier city to “flush out” saboteurs and Russian spies.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Vitaliy Kim revealed that he intended to close the city for several days to investigate those suspected of collaborating with Russia.
His vow comes less than a week after Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, sacked his own spy chiefamid fears Russian intelligence officers had infiltrated the SBU, Ukraine’s version of MI5 and MI6.
“We have a secret plan,” Mr Kim, who is also head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said. “We will train our military forces and police to search for saboteurs.”
When asked how many saboteurs were being sought, he said: “I suspect everybody. But we have only a few of them in our city. Even one of them can give many points to the Russians so we are searching for the bad ones.”
Mr Kim confirmed that the authorities had already arrested a dozen people who were found to have been colluding with Russia.
Residents of the city, which is close to the frontline, will be notified before the closures so that they can make arrangements and ensure they have enough food in their homes, he said.
The SBU last week arrested Oleh Kulinych, its own former chief of Crimean affairs, on suspicion of high treason. Hours later, Mr Zelensky dismissed Ivan Bakanov, the country’s chief spy, and Irina Venediktova, the prosecutor general. He cited the large number of staff at both agencies in occupied territories who switched sides to work with Russia.
The sackings reflect the growing frustration in the Ukrainian government over its security service, which has around 30,000 agents and is seven times the size of MI5. The speed with which the Russians made progress in the south at the start of the war raised serious questions about the impact of Russian collaborators.
For Mr Kim, he is adamant Ukraine will succeed in retaking the south in a counter-offensive, and in doing so will “change the direction of the war”.
He also confirmed that preparations for the new offensive on the south were already under way.
Since the war started Mr Kim, 41, has become something of a social media sensation.
He regularly posts on Instagram to his 500,000 followers looking relaxed and making the peace sign with his fingers.
Despite the unrelenting Russian bombardment Mr Kim refuses to show anything but positivity to his followers and on the daily video messages he posts, coined the catchphrase: “Good morning, we are from Ukraine!”
Mr Kim, who spoke to The Telegraph near the Mykolaiv regional administration building, which was all but destroyed after a Russian cruise missile struck in March, said that his calm demeanour was crucial to success.
“I believe for making decisions you need to have a clear mind and a hot heart,” he said.
“For now the Russians are trying to do a deal,” he added. “They say, ‘we will take the Donbas and Crimea and then we will get out from the south’.”
However, he cautioned that if the Russians did not have the opportunity to reach an agreement, it will be better for Ukraine “when we retake the south”.
“We will free our territory and our people and everyone will see Ukraine has changed the direction of war,” he reiterated.
In the heart of Mykolaiv people are desperate for a change after months within firing range of Russian missiles.
Every day they are subjected to shelling and have lost any sense of normality. There is no drinking water and all sites, from schools to gas stations, appear to be a bombing target.
One woman, who had been queuing outside a humanitarian centre for the elderly and disabled, told The Telegraph she was “on the verge of a nervous breakdown” because of the constant terror.
Yulia Leontievna Frontovskaia has been receiving aid since the start of the war. At 88 years of age she goes to the centre to pick up supplies such as grain and flour and any dried foods that are available. She said that while the constant bombings were hard to deal with “mentally”, she would not leave Mykolaiv.
“We are getting used to the bombardments, they bomb and we walk around it,” she said. “This is not right but humans develop a reflex.”
It is this sense of a “new normal” which enables the citizens of Mykolaiv to keep going, Yurii Liubarov, the deputy chief of evacuations for Mykolaiv’s Red Cross centre, explained.
He said that as was the case with others, his volunteers had grown used to the daily shelling.
“I am afraid but we have got used to it,” Mr Liubarov, 57, said. “We don’t use the shelters when there are air raid sirens anymore.” He conceded this was “probably bad” but said they tend to stay away from windows when they heard the sirens.
Every day more than 1,000 people go to the Red Cross centre. For many, it is the only cooked meal that they will eat that day, so they spend most of it queuing in the heat, a fact they have come to accept. But they are desperate for the south to be retaken so that they can start living their lives as they used to.
“Until then we will keep feeding people,” Mr Liubarov said. “We have to.”