Kyiv, Ukraine – Volodymyr Saldo claimed that in 2016, he was handcuffed to a metal bed for 59 days in the Dominican Republic, almost 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) away from home.
He alleged that the kidnapper, Igor Pashchenko, his former business partner from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, electrocuted him so he would read certain phrases into a dictaphone.
Saldo claimed Pashchenko used those phrases to demand a hefty ransom from his family – and to edit together an audio recording of Saldo’s “confession” to collaborating with Russia.
When Saldo, a construction tycoon and Kherson’s former mayor, was released and returned home, he maintained that he had never worked for Russians.
“I have interesting plans about Kherson and its future,” he told the Interfax news agency in March 2017.
A year later, Pashchenko was killed contract-style, with two shots to the head in Kherson; his relatives alleged that Saldo ordered the murder.
And this March, Moscow occupied Kherson and the surrounding region – and made Saldo its governor.
Some 480 people – from Kherson to Kharkiv in Ukraine’s northeast – are being investigated for collaboration with the Russian invaders, Ukrainian prosecutors said on June 10.
The turncoats surrender cities, towns and districts, snitch on pro-Kyiv activists, tell Russians the location of Ukrainian forces, arms depots and minefields, and even coordinate Russian artillery fire, prosecutors said.
Enough is known about the collaborators to identify their key traits, a political pundit says.
Most of them were the political offspring of the largest pro-Kremlin political behemoth, the Party of Regions, whose head, President Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia in 2014 after months-long protests in Kyiv.
But some collaborators hail from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s political camp.
One is Aleksey Kovalyev, a 33-year-old top agriculture official in occupied Kherson, Ukraine’s bread and fruit basket.
He was a member of Servant of the People, a party hastily put together by Zelenskyy, a comedian turned politician, after his out-of-the-blue victory in the 2019 presidential elections.