Nobody embodies the extraordinary history of Kherson quite like Alexei.
When the Russians invaded his hometown, he worked under cover of darkness, risking his life tracking down the soldiers and officials who founded their hated government.
Three months later, he staged a dramatic escape across the front lines to join the Ukrainian army and returned last week as a liberator in a blitz counterattack.
Returned forever, he now hunts down and sorts out hidden Russian soldiers and the local collaborators who helped them rule Cherson with an iron fist.
“I have tears in my eyes all the time,” he said as he passed through Kherson on a mission to rid the city of Vladimir Putin’s troops once and for all.
“I’ve never had such feelings, but it must be felt,” Alexei said, reflecting on the atrocities committed here under the occupation.
“You hear the horrors [Kherson residents] faces insane motivation to work to the end and round up all the culprits. The cleansing of the city will continue for weeks.”
Despite the relief and jubilation after the city’s liberation, Alexei believes that “hundreds” of people who helped Russia are now hiding in plain sight.
The work of Alexei and other hunters like him has already borne fruit. Images have emerged from around the city of suspected collaborators captured by Ukrainian forces, their hands tied and their heads covered with makeshift blindfolds with the words “looters” and “traitors” scrawled on them.
Officials fear Russian soldiers may be wearing civilian clothes, and many collaborators are fleeing without reprisals amid the chaos.
Alexei said after just a week in the city he arrested more than 20 collaborators whose crimes ranged from looting to sexual assault and provided information that led to the capture and torture of Ukrainian partisans.
He began tracking down collaborators as soon as Kherson fell into Russian hands eight months ago, and worked with other locals to chart the activities of Russians and those assisting them.
Alexei tracked suspects to and from Russian bases, taking license plate numbers and addresses.
“We recorded all this information to keep for the day when freedom would come,” Alexei said. “I was willing to do anything to provide useful information and destroy enemies.”
Alexei then fled to join the Ukrainian army and fight to retake his city.
On his return, his local knowledge and the information he had gathered in the early days of the occupation were vital.
“I’ve lived in Kherson all my life, so I can spot outsiders and gaps in collaborators’ stories,” he said. “Some from outside couldn’t even name the streets of our town, but they said they were local.”
Alexei described important signs that a person had collaborated with Russians, including signs that they had looted.
“During the occupation, the soldiers of the Russian Federation and collaborators took everything that was valuable,” he said. “We look out for those who have too much. For example, some have all electronics, or someone has cars.”
Residents of Kherson, a once quiet industrial city, said locals have faced a campaign of terror by collaborators, with some being jailed, tortured or resettled in Russia for speaking out against their occupiers.
“The collaborators kept watch and made lists of all the men and their activities while they were still living in Kherson after the occupation,” Svetlana said.
“The Russians came, knocked on the door and took them… to interviews, to torture, we just didn’t know.”
When Russian tanks rolled in, Svetlana, like many others, hid in her house, choosing to avoid contact with Russian troops or their collaborators.
The 49-year-old, who was born and raised in the state capital, limited herself to one hour of freedom a day. Instead, her son Oleksandr would take the risk. As he is a man of military age, collaborators alerted Russian forces every time he left home to secure supplies for his wife, baby and mother.
After his name appeared on a list drawn up by local pro-Russians, the 33-year-old was unable to leave his home without being stopped on the street, searched and interrogated.
In April, Oleksandr was stopped by a Lada full of Russian soldiers while driving to queue at the local market.
“He was thrown on his knees, a gun was put to his head because they didn’t like the way he looked,” Svetlana said.
He decided to flee Kherson with his wife and child, leaving his mother behind. Now on her own and afraid of the collaborators, Svetlana learned to look over her shoulder, keep her mouth shut and stay away from Russian offers of help
Though loathed by locals, not all collaborators are viewed as evil by their neighbors.
Some parents accepted payments from Russian officials to enroll their children in the new Kremlin-controlled education system.
When the local economy was in tatters, a young mother took a job with the Russian authorities’ pension office to feed her baby, according to Dina, another Kherson resident. The single parent now faces being rounded up and arrested along with the remaining collaborators.
Alexei, the collaborating hunter, said those found guilty of collaborating with the puppet government will face trial, while soldiers could be used in prisoner exchanges.
Though Alexei feels “seething anger” toward those who helped the invaders, he said he keeps a “level head.”
“What separates us from Russian Federation soldiers and collaborators is our humanity,” he said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/the-cleansing-of-the-city-will-continue-for-weeks-collaborators-who-helped-the-russians-are-being-hunted-down-in-kherson-42156527.html “The city’s cleansing will continue for weeks” – in Kherson, collaborators who helped the Russians are being hunted down