Who is Igor Kolykhaev, Kherson mayor kidnapped by Russia?

Igor Kolykhaev (Credit: Igor Kolykhaev`s Facebook)

Igor Kolykhaev, the legitimate mayor of the occupied city of Kherson in the south of Ukraine, was abducted by the Russian military on 28 June. The incident was reported by the press secretary of the Kherson City Council, Galina Liashevska, on her Facebook page.

“As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by armed members of the Russian Guard and, most likely, the FSB (Federal Security Service -ed.). They removed hard drives from computers, opened all the safes, searched for documents. All this time Kolykhaev was kept in a separate office in handcuffs with armed guards. After the search, Kolykhaev was put in a bus that had a ‘Z’ written on it and taken away,” she wrote.

Ukraine added the kidnapping incident to the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations. It is currently unknown how Kherson will function without its mayor. By law, Kolykhaev's duties must now be performed by his deputy, Halyna Luhova. The Russia-installed “mayor” of Kherson, Oleksandr Kobets, is not recognised by the locals.

Reactions to abduction

A week since the kidnapping incident, no updates have been reported about the mayor’s whereabouts. Opinions about it are divided in the country. The legitimate mayor of the neighbouring town of Oleshky, which is also under occupation, Yevhen Ryschuk questioned the official kidnapping storyline provided by Liashevska.

“Am I the only one who thinks that this story smells fishy? Lots of rumours and chatter that need to be checked. We have law enforcement agencies in Ukraine to check them. When the [Russians] seized an Oleshky-based car manufacturer along with the buses meant for evacuation efforts, we asked them whom to contact to return [the buses]. A Russian colonel said: ‘direct all your questions to Kolykhaev,’” he wrote on his Facebook page. 

According to Ryschuk, Kolykhaev could have collaborated with the occupants, which is what allowed him to stay in the occupied city.  

The Russia-installed “deputy head of the military administration” of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, posted a video address revelling in the joy after the abduction. Stremousov referred to Kolykhaev as a man who did “everything” to bring back “the neo-Nazi regime” to Kherson. Naturally, he did not give any evidence of this neo-Nazism in the city.

Ambiguous mayor

Kolykhaev has served as the mayor of Kherson since his victory in the 2020 local elections. His main competitor was Volodymyr Saldo, who previously headed the city. Saldo is a controversial figure in Kherson. Almost immediately after the occupation, he began to cooperate with the Russians. 

Before the war, residents of the city viewed Kolykhaev rather ambivalently. They listed charity work, the restoration of  parks, and initiative to put the city in order as the main achievements in Kolykhaev’s almost two years of mayorship. Some of his actions were strongly criticised, but this does not change the fact that he is the fairly elected mayor of Kherson.

Kolykhaev was also a member of the Ukrainian parliament in 2019-2021, but made no notable achievements during his service. Chesno NGO accused Kolykhaev of trying to buy people’s votes during a pre-election concert. 

Outside of his political activities, Kolykhaev owns several businesses. The mayor owns a fairly successful futsal team (an indoor football-based sport -ed.), Prodexim. In addition, according to open data, Kolykhaev is the owner of a charity fund and several agricultural companies.

Kolykhaev remained in Kherson since the beginning of the war, despite the city’s occupation by Russia. He fulfilled his duties as the city’s legitimate mayor and continued to work remotely, even when the occupants seized the city council building. He publicly refused to cooperate with the Russians. Utility companies and other organisations vital for the life of the city continued to work under Kolykhaev’s administration, although not without problems.

According to Liashevska, a few days before his kidnapping, Kolykhaev received a letter from collaborators with an invitation to cooperate. He was threatened with abduction for refusing.

Kherson – a city surrounded

Kherson is known for its agriculture. Before the war the city exported grain to the Middle East, North Africa and some Asian countries. Since the occupation, the Russian army has been exporting grain in an unknown direction. This could lead to global hunger in the future.

Since the occupation, no green corridor, evacuation or transfer of humanitarian aid has been organised in the Kherson region. The Russian army keeps the city surrounded and allows deliveries of goods or departure only through the neighbouring Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014.

Meanwhile, the Russians announced another attempt at a referendum in Kherson and are starting to open their own utility companies and businesses. Although Kherson residents cannot state this publicly because they fear repercussions, they say they are waiting for the city’s liberation. The Armed Forces are believed to be some kilometres away from the besieged city but are unable to launch a counteroffence until they receive more weapons, wrote The Economist.