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The faces of the occupation: How secular and religious collaborators shape life in Kherson

Part Two in the ‘Life under Occupation’ series

Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to fall under Russian occupation in 2022. Since then, Russian authorities have used it as a test case for the forced assimilation of Ukrainian cities into Russia. Eight months later, and despite the effective counteroffensive launched by Kyiv, the region is still controlled by the Kremlin and its Ukrainian marionettes.

This is the second report in the Centre for Information Resilience’s “Life Under Occupation” series. This piece contextualises the current power structure and explains how the occupying administration was created and who is perpetuating the occupation. Through an in-depth analysis, the report reveals a number of ‘insiders’ – the collaborators and defectors – who have enabled and bolstered the occupation from within the region.

Download the second report in the series here:

Life Under Occupation Part 2
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PART TWO: The faces of the occupation: How secular and religious collaborators shape life in Kherson

By Sophia Freuden, Alona Shestopalova and Alex Sid

Following the Kremlin’s so-called referenda and illegal annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, understanding who the leaders and enforcers of the illegal occupation are has become crucial. As such, this report gives both names and faces to the secular and religious collaborators who have shaped life in the Kherson region (Ukrainian: Херсонська область).

Figure 1: Map of the occupation of Kherson region as of 30 September 2022. Source:

In the very first weeks of occupation, the first collaborators began to emerge. By late April, an occupying administration, known as the “Military-Civilian Administration” had been formed, with Volodymyr Saldo appointed as the head. As no elected or legally appointed institutions in the Kherson region collaborated with Russia, the occupying forces captured the buildings of existing Ukrainian institutions and chose new “heads” to run the various departments and offices.

Figure 2: Power structure of Kherson’s Military-Civilian Administration as of October 2022.

The report also reveals ‘the outsiders’ – the Russian soul of the occupation – who have supported and enabled the occupation. Unsurprisingly, both the order for the full-scale attack on Ukraine and for the establishment of Russian-controlled occupying authorities come from high-ranking officials in Moscow, including Sergey Kiriyenko, the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia.

In July, Russia's control over the region was exemplified when Sergey Kiriyenko announced the creation of a new “occupying government” in the Kherson region. The fact that most of the new “governors” were Russian citizens – most of whom had previously served in administrations in Russia or in Russia-occupied Crimea - suggests either a lack of willing, local collaborators, or Russia’s desire to have “their” people in charge on the ground.

Figure 3: Key Russian officials in the Kherson region.

Finally, the report analyses the particular collaborators within Kherson’s Orthodox Church who have strengthened the occupation. As a country with a large religious community, the influence of religious institutions on public opinion should not be overlooked.

Despite the Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaking away from the Russian church in May 2022, pro-Kremlin priests with close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church have played a role in the occupation. They have blessed the occupying authorities and welcomed them into Kherson’s Moscow-loyal churches. Archimandrite Alexy, a religious figure loyal to Moscow, even travelled to Russia for the celebration of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Figure 4: Joint public appearance of Archimandrite Alexy, Rector of the Holy Dormition Cathedral in Kherson, and Sergey Yeliseyev, acting head of the occupying administration of Kherson region.

The occupying administration is both disorganised and impromptu in nature. It is plagued with an inability to take quick, decisive action due to a lack of Ukrainian collaborators, persistent anti-Russia partisan activity, the encroaching Ukrainian counteroffensive, and the top-down nature of the power structure within the Russian government. How all of this impacts the daily lives of the families who have remained in the region will be the subject of the third report in this series.

This series of reports provide policymakers, journalists and NGOs with reliable and verified information about the realities of forced Russian rule, and uncovers the Kremlin’s playbook to consolidate power after illegally invading a territory.

The previous report in the series, “Parallel Worlds: How Russia is Imposing a New Reality on Kherson” is available on CIR’s website.

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