The Russian authorities thought Ukrainians would collaborate with them, which turned out to be a grave miscalculation, said the New York Times on Saturday. The daily described the story of a formerly pro-Russian politician who was offered such an arrangement but refused, exclaiming profanity.
Oleksandr Vilkul – the current military governor in Kryvyi Rih, central Ukraine, and former Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine – had been previously considered a pro-Russian politician. On the second day of the war, Vilkul received a phone call from an old colleague and former Minister of Internal Affairs in Yanukovych’s government Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who is currently in Russia.
“Oleksandr Yurivich, you are looking at the map, you see the situation is predetermined. Sign an agreement of friendship, cooperation and defence with Russia and they will have good relations with you. You will be a big person in the new Ukraine,” Vilkul recalled the offer he was given by a fellow former minister. Vilkul stated that he had refused, because any grey area in Ukrainian-Russian relations had disappeared when the war broke out. “I responded with profanity,” said the politician, explaining that the missiles hitting his hometown had made the choice very clear. When another Ukrainian politician currently based in Russia, Oleh Tsaryov, made a similar offer, Vilkul responded on Facebook, quoting the famous defiant words of the border guards on Snake Island.
According to the New York Times, the Kremlin invaded Ukraine hoping for a quick and easy victory, thinking that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would succumb to pressure and the Russian-language officials in the eastern parts of the country would gladly join the Russian side. Analysts point out that this was a grave miscalculation on Russia’s part.
Very few local officials in the east declared they would join the Russian side. The Ukrainian authorities opened 38 court proceedings concerning treason – all involving low-level officials. “Nobody wanted to be part of that thing behind the wall,” said Kostyantyn Usov, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament from Kryvyi Rih, referring to Russia’s isolated, authoritarian system.
Other influential politicians who also used to have pro-Russian inclinations, such as Ihor Terekhov, the mayor of Kharkiv, and Hennady Trukhanov, the mayor of Odesa, remained loyal to Ukraine and have become fierce defenders of their cities.
In the first days of the war, Vilkul told the regional mining companies to place heavy equipment on the runway of the city airport, preventing the Russian troops from landing. He ordered the blocking of the roads in order to slow down the columns of Russian tanks. The city steel industry has begun manufacturing anti-tank blockades and plates for bulletproof vests.
On the third day of the war, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, whose hometown in Kryvyi Rih, appointed Vilkul military governor of the city, despite the fact that the two were political opponents during peacetime, emphasised the New York Times article.
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