Yuriy Sobolevsky, First Deputy Chairman of Kherson Regional Council
There is still no mobilization on the TOT, because the enemy feels the mood of Kherson residents
30.08.2023 17:23

n the Kherson region, 17 out of 49 communities have been de-occupied. Since the beginning of the large-scale invasion, the region has been experiencing Russian terror and shelling, and the enemy added to the trouble by blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. We talked to the first deputy chairman of the Kherson Regional Council, Yuriy Sobolevsky, about the life of the free right bank of the region and the left bank temporarily occupied by Russians. We remind you that Mr. Sobolevsky is one of the representatives of the local government who stayed in the occupation to organize peaceful resistance, and he is currently working in Kherson and keeping in touch with the communities in the Russian-occupied territory of the region. We are talking about why the regional council is needed in the current situation, where the deputies are, how the state can help businesses, and the situation on the left bank - how people are surviving and a little bit about corruption and looting in the enemy's camp.


- Your colleague, MP Serhii Khlan, is demanding that the regional council's activities be suspended, and he has also appealed to the head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration to terminate the powers of the regional council's leadership. What is your opinion on this?

- The regional council did not suspend its activities at all. And, if you remember, we held an online session even under occupation, deciding not to recognize any "referendums" on changing the territorial status of the Kherson region. Now the council continues its activities in the same way, it is authorized, of course, subject to the requirements of the legislation in force during martial law. In general, Khlan's position is strange, because he participated in all these sessions. Budgetary issues are really within the competence of the regional military administration.

Given the security situation, we are forced to hold sessions online. And I want to note that Mykolaiv Regional Council and Odesa Regional Council are now working in the same mode, at least these two councils are also working online.

- But it has been a long time since the Kherson Regional Council has met for a session, since the end of April 2023.

- If we recall the sessions before the large-scale invasion, the regional council did not meet every month. This is not a local government body like a city council, where there are a lot of economic issues of life and therefore they hold sessions on average once a month. We hold sessions on average once a quarter. And this year we have already had a session.

We are currently preparing material for the next session, which is scheduled for September. We already have the issues that need to be considered.

By the way, we have reformatted the standing committees of the regional council, taking into account the deputies who are actively involved and those who are not, who have been served with suspicions. That is, we have fully functional commissions, we have reduced their number and optimized them.

- Still, there is a certain logic in Khlan's accusations - I mean, the money spent on salaries for the regional council leadership...

- One can only believe that there is logic in this if one believes that Ukraine does not need local self-government. Then there is indeed logic, we can abandon all local governments, it will save the budget. Then we don't need communities, we don't need regional councils, local councils, mayors, military administrations will be enough.

- Well, in Kherson City Council, the secretary was fired...

- This council did not resume its activities. Indeed, when a local government body has not resumed its activities, the military administration is responsible for resolving the issue on its own. But in other regions, despite the martial law, local councils are holding meetings. In fact, it is very important to keep a balance in the government system.


- How many members of the regional council do you not know the whereabouts of? Do you know for sure how many of your colleagues are abroad, how many are in the occupied territory, and who is in the territory controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

- We have information about our MPs, but we cannot give it officially because we do not have the authority to establish the whereabouts of a person. And none of the MPs have officially informed us of their whereabouts.

I know exactly where the MPs from the Servant of the People are, who all participate in the sessions, except for two. We have initiated the use of a peremptory mandate against them. These people have lost contact with the political force that delegated them, so we initiated this procedure in order to make a legal change in the deputy composition so that the Servant of the People faction could fully work and fulfill its obligations to the voters. Unfortunately, other political forces did not do so.

- Speaking of the regional council members who have been notified of suspicion of collaboration, according to the updated data, how many have already been notified and how many, according to your information, are "on the way".

We can now say that three members of the regional council have received suspicions - Valerii Litvin, Eduard Repilevsky and Vitalii Bulyuk. As for the others, we will wait for the position of law enforcement agencies. Because even a suspicion is not an admission of guilt, there must be a court verdict.

- Well, can we at least talk about the number of people who, in your opinion, deserve to be notified of suspicion?

- I don't want to disseminate information if there is no suspicion at least. I think it's wrong.

- If we are not talking about collaborators, but about those who went abroad. Did you communicate with them or persuade them to return?

- We appeal to all our deputies to work directly in the region. Because their voters and their responsibility are here. Of course, deputies are people too, and they have different situations: some of them have health problems and are undergoing treatment, some have health problems with close relatives and cannot leave them.

There are people who are not physically located in the de-occupied Kherson region, but they are very active in helping the region, our Defense Forces, and participate in humanitarian aid to the region, and their contribution is very significant.

As for those who do not work and are not currently in the Kherson region, there are questions, but they must answer them personally to the voters.

- Is there any plan to hold an offline session instead of an online one, even if it is not in Kherson?

- I am ready to hold it even in Kherson, despite the security situation. But this question is really for the deputies who are not here. The council should work anyway, do its job and make decisions that are important for our region.

- For example?

- You can take the agenda of our last session and see the decisions that were made. There are some that cannot be made public. I would also note that the political activity of the regional council is very important. This is what the regional council does to help our country on the international front, the diplomatic front. We meet representatives of international organizations, and it is not a matter of distrust of government agencies, but they want to communicate with people who were elected by the residents of Kherson region.

- There is also the situation with the deputy chairman of the regional council, Yurii Vlasov. According to Khlan, he allegedly had a business in Nova Kakhovka, worked under the Russians for quite some time, was there himself, and at the same time received a salary from the regional council.

- Vlasov has been on leave since the beginning of the large-scale invasion. He can only be dismissed by the session according to the procedure, it should be a secret vote, but at least he should submit a letter of resignation. There are no legal grounds for dismissing him from his job right now.

- Does he get in touch?

- He participates in the sessions.

- Is he not currently in the occupied territory?

- According to him, yes. But I can't confirm this, because I'll point out once again that there is no official letter from any deputy of any faction, including the faction headed by Khlan, where they are.

- And which faction has the most traitors in it?

- Buliuk is "Nash Krai", Repilevskyi is "OPFL", and Litvin is Bloc Saldo. OPFL and Bloc Saldo are banned parties, there can be no such factions. "Nash Krai"... is a working party.


- You have stated that officials should not be involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid at this stage. What mechanism do you propose?

- As for the organization of humanitarian aid, of course, at the first stage it could not work properly without the help of the administration. The military administrations did a great job in setting up humanitarian centers, steadfastness points, organizing the supply and distribution of humanitarian aid. They were in communication with other regions that sent the goods, and in order for Ukrzaliznytsia to transport them free of charge, the military administration had to be the recipient. But as of now, everything has been worked out, and a transparent system of accounting for humanitarian aid has been created, both for what comes in and what is distributed. Therefore, I believe that for greater efficiency and for greater public trust, this should not be done by the administration.

The mechanism is very simple. It is proposed that humanitarian aid distribution commissions consist either entirely or in a significant majority of volunteers and representatives of charitable organizations.

Of course, military administrations will continue to help support the software, solve logistical and other organizational issues. However, the decision on whether this equipment will go to this community or that community, to which settlement, to which category of people or for which humanitarian center should not be made by officials. Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Regional Military Administration, shares the same opinion. "We are already working on creating this mechanism. And a large number of volunteers are ready to take responsibility and get involved in these processes.

In general, unfortunately, I hear from our benefactors and volunteers (we worked with many of them during the occupation, they are really great guys and girls) about people's negative attitudes towards those who are engaged in humanitarian work. There are always dissatisfied people: last time you gave us this, and this time you're giving us something worse, you must have stolen what was supposed to be. Or someone suspends humanitarian aid to a certain category of citizens for some reason, and it's immediately negative - you've stolen everything.


- What are the current problems on the right bank, in particular, as a result of the Russians' blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station?

- The fact that we are in a war zone legally restricts certain procedures to inspect damaged buildings. This issue is being addressed by the military administration together with the central authorities.

As for individuals, there are assistance programs in place, they are working, and if there are any problems, there is no doubt that they will be resolved.

I believe that more attention should be paid to the business that existed before the invasion in Kherson region. They really need help now. There are issues of energy debts that arose during the occupation. From what has already been done, the regional council has already appealed to the entities involved in the regulatory process [Kherson Regional Council appealed to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the relevant committee of the Verkhovna Rada and the National Commission for State Regulation of Energy and Utilities to prevent disconnection from the power grid due to debts of subscribers - legal entities in the de-occupied territories]

Now there is a mechanism for individuals, but only for those who have left the occupation and registered as IDPs - they do not have to pay payments accrued before de-occupation. Our vision of resolving the situation is to cancel payments for all individuals, both those who left and those who remained under occupation.

But a compensation mechanism is needed because energy companies have to work. This is complicated by the fact that these are private companies, if we are talking about Khersongaz, regional power distribution companies. As far as I know, regional power distribution companies are in the process of nationalization. That is, it will be easier after this process is completed.

- But does this mean that all utility debts will be written off to taxpayers, not to Russia?

- This should certainly be taken into account when making reparations later. But people need support now, immediately. People should not be put in a situation where they have to wait for victory and then receive these reparations; I believe that the people of Kherson deserve better.

- On the eve of September 1, let's talk about education. Are there any debts to educators?

- As for the debts, as of now, we need to reconcile with the education department - the situation is dynamic. But the problems that existed earlier regarding the debt have been resolved, the region received a subvention that closed the issue [on May 16, the government approved a decree to pay off salary arrears to teachers in Kharkiv and Kherson regions.]

- The Regional Military Administration reported that 190 schools in the region would be open.

- Yes, 166 schools were open last school year, and 190 this year. This is at least, and I actually expect that there will be a little more, that several schools will join during the school year.

- Are you in favor of restoring the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant? I ask because there is a discussion on this issue.

- Before any large-scale project, you need to prepare, analyze, think about the consequences, and assess resources. If the hydroelectric power plant is not restored, our farmers will face a very big problem in a large area of the region due to the lack of an irrigation system. I also hear environmentalists say that nature knows better how things should be. This is a complicated issue. I still believe that our region and our farmers really need this hydropower plant. Kherson region is a very cool agricultural region, and we need to take into account a possible food crisis in the world in the future.


- Left bank - what is happening there after the attack on the hydroelectric power station, do you know the number of victims?

- The occupation authorities made every effort to hide the consequences of their crime. They did not register any deaths as a result of the flooding, they wrote that a person died of heart disease or for some other reason, just to avoid admitting that the reason was the attack on the hydroelectric power plant. And, unfortunately, there are still missing people. The bodies were taken away by Russians - groups traveled around collecting them and taking them to an unknown destination. Therefore, we will be able to find out the number of victims when the left bank is de-occupied.

The water has receded, but the occupiers have not yet pumped out water from some facilities, we have this information. The Russian Emergencies Ministry made a picture like this. Like on the right bank, no work was done to eliminate the consequences of the flooding on the left bank. The occupiers left the local population on the left bank to fend for themselves. When the evacuation did eventually begin, Russians came to the temporary accommodation centers to put pressure on the evacuees to obtain Russian passports. They said that if they wanted to receive financial assistance and compensation for their losses, they had to get a Russian passport. The invaders also used this tragedy, this terrorist attack that they committed, to force passportization.

- If we have already mentioned the forced passportization. Do people at this stage actually have the opportunity to survive without a Russian passport? Do residents of the left bank have access to medical services without Russian documents?

- It's very difficult because the pressure on people who have not issued this passport is insane. And because of restrictions on medical services. And because of the increased checks at checkpoints, because if a person presents a passport of a citizen of Ukraine, they are treated accordingly and asked why they haven't received a Russian passport yet. So more and more people are forced to take that passport. They are intimidated, afraid that the occupiers will come to their house and take them away.

Now it is still possible to receive medical services with a Ukrainian passport, but in some medical institutions we know of refusals, such information is received. People are also told: next time don't even come without a Russian passport, we won't treat you. This is especially true for those doctors who came from the territory of the Russian Federation. Local doctors have a different attitude, but these "medical tourists" - I'll call them that - have a completely different attitude towards our people.

The same pressure is being exerted on farmers and land share owners. I informed the SBU about such facts that I learned about. I was approached by one of the farmers, I won't say which district it was. His farm was completely arrested by the occupiers because he refused to re-register his business under Russian jurisdiction and continued to support his employees, shareholders, by providing them with agricultural products. The invaders came and said that all this was the property of the Russian Federation, ordered not to give anything to anyone, and that they would sort it out themselves. The Russians explained that payments would be made to the shareholders on Russian passports to bank accounts in a Russian "bank".

- On the left bank, the occupiers are particularly active in propaganda aimed at young people and children. Are the Ukrainian authorities monitoring this situation and do they know the specific criminals involved in such propaganda?

- Unfortunately, this is a systematic work of the Russians, it is complex and has a certain effect on our population, on our children. The occupation "education", Russian law enforcement agencies, and the Russian army are involved in these processes. The occupiers are creating the so-called youth army (a kind of militaristic teenage units), taking children to training grounds where the Russian military gives them weapons, all with the propaganda of the Russian army; representatives of the Investigative Committee demand that teachers gather children for such "events" despite the fact that it is now vacation. This is all done by Russian citizens, with collaborators involved as technical staff in these processes. The Russians brought textbooks to educational institutions that simply rewrote the history of the Russian Federation, the USSR, Ukraine, and in general - they have a completely different alternative history, which is now being brainwashed to children in the same way. In addition, they try to take children to the territory of the Russian Federation, to different regions, as much as possible. These are elements of the integration process, so that children can form social ties with children from the Russian Federation. During the so-called rehabilitation, the same propaganda pumping - the Russian anthem, stories about "great Russia," about "great history," about Ukraine being a vassal of the United States, in short, all this nonsense that they pump into their own audience - is being done to our children. Of course, all those involved in such Russian propaganda aimed at our children are recorded by law enforcement agencies so that they can be brought to justice, including at the international level.

- What about forced mobilization in the temporarily occupied territories?

- Legally, the occupiers cannot mobilize unless a person has received a Russian passport, which is why we said from the beginning that this passport poses a significant threat, especially to men of military age.

Why, in my opinion, is there no mass mobilization yet? Firstly, they feel the real mood of the people and are afraid to give weapons to the people of Kherson. And secondly, the level of passportization was very low because of the quiet resistance of the population, people were forced to take passports. But it's only a matter of time before they will conduct such a forced mobilization.

We know of cases where residents of the Kherson region traveled to the territory of the Russian Federation with Russian passports and received summonses there. They cannot get out of Russia now, as they are included in the relevant databases. The risks that these people will end up in the enemy army are very high.

I just remembered that the occupiers created their own "Margelov volunteer battalion" about a year ago, but it is now used exclusively for propaganda purposes. According to my information, it does not take part in hostilities because it is not staffed. It is a fake unit, it exists on paper - a certain number of collaborators were recruited and a picture was made, but there are very few of them and the combat capability of these people and the "unit" in general is very doubtful.

- Speaking of collaborators, do they have any rotation, or are the Russians trying to keep them in the region?

- Collaborators can leave the region, but when they ask for "warm" jobs in government agencies in the Russian Federation, they are usually denied. We know this for sure. Russians are not interested in them, they do not want to see them as officials in Russia. They are needed as low-level officials in the TOT, because the occupiers cannot fill everything with Russian citizens, and there are not many people willing to go to Kherson region. But if the collaborators want to leave and just live in the territory of the Russian Federation, do not ask for positions for themselves, the Russians let them go, they say, live your life somehow.


- The occupiers are planning to force residents of the de-occupied territory of Kherson region to vote in pseudo-elections on September 2, the so-called "local elections". What advice do you have for people under occupation, how should they behave?

- There are two stories here. The first story is participation in the preparation of this show, and this is 100% treason. There will be criminal liability for it, it's only a matter of time.

- By the way, in your opinion, aren't the court verdicts in these cases too lenient?

- In my opinion, yes, and I have already said so. But I would like to emphasize that our courts are independent and should remain so, they should not be influenced by statements of politicians or officials. But I, like all the other residents of the region, including those who went through the occupation, want maximum responsibility for all traitors.

- If we return to the "elections" on the left bank...

- Yes, participating in the preparation of the "elections" is one hundred percent treason. Participation in the show itself, simply as a "voter," is another. If it is possible, then, of course, we should avoid these processes, not to create a picture of "democracy" for the occupiers, which, of course, does not exist even in Russia, let alone in the occupied territories. But I understand that sometimes a local resident cannot avoid participating in this farce from the Russians. When a "bun" comes to your yard with a ballot box, a Russian soldier with a machine gun stands next to you, and you have children in your house, then, of course, you will take this "ballot" and put a tick in the box - no matter for whom. I understand this perfectly well. In our country, human life and health are the highest value. If there is no other way out, there is no need to create additional risks for yourself, for your loved ones, for the population under duress. As for the "elections" themselves, neither Ukraine in particular nor the civilized world in general recognizes them.

- Have you analyzed the lists of so-called candidates - are they just collaborators or are there Russian citizens?

- I can tell you who analyzes them very carefully: our Security Service of Ukraine. Therefore, every Ukrainian citizen who wanted to take part in that show as a "candidate" should be prepared for the consequences.

- As well as Russian citizens?

- This is a matter of legal qualification. If the law enforcement agencies see signs of a crime in such actions, they will also be brought to justice.

- Terror - at the beginning of the invasion, the Russians kidnapped those who disagreed, not even hiding behind any legal norms. Now, Russian publics are reporting on the detention of people in Kherson region who disagree with the occupation and are being prosecuted under Russian law. Do we know whether the Russians have given up abductions without any legal justification? Or are these processes going on in parallel?

- They haven't given up, they are going on in parallel. Yes, they create a picture of some legal procedures, a certain number of people are indeed prosecuted under their laws, although this is illegal, of course. But there are people who are taken away without any legal justification.

We see more and more reports that indicate that for Russian law enforcement agencies, detention in the TOT is just a business. That is, they are looking for people whose families have money and are solvent, they detain them, invent the story that they are extremists, cooperate with the SBU, and provide information to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. And then the Russians are just waiting for one of the relatives to come and actually ransom the prisoner, pay them to release the kidnapped person.

- What do you know about the Russian military on the left bank, who are they - Kadyrov's men, prisoners, mobilized, or a mix? There have also been reports of mass looting in settlements such as Oleshky, do you have any similar information?

- There is a mix. But without details, because at the request of the country's military leadership, we are in silence. That is why we do not comment on the actions of our military or on the Russian army. But we promptly provide the information we receive from the occupied territory to both our military and the Security Service of Ukraine - we have maintained communication with the communities. And everyone who helps us on the left bank with such information is a real hero, and they are in mortal danger.

As for looting by the Russian military, it is on a fantastic scale. And some Russian military units have even organized mini-smelters, right in their locations, to extract circuit boards from stolen computer equipment, and then send it all to Russia for sale. Those who do not share with the management are sometimes caught and punished for show, although not for what they do, but for didn't take a "share".

- Do international organizations monitor the situation in the TOT, or do you pass on information to them as a representative of the regional council?

- I personally cooperate with international institutions that are involved in establishing such crimes in the occupied territories. But I can't provide details... I can't yet, let's say, because of the request of these international organizations. But the work in this direction continues.

Iryna Staroselets

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