Ukraine’s new master of order and chaos and the hunt for saboteurs and collaborators

Kiev, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently announced new sanctions against more than 650 individuals and entities the government describes as “working for Russian aggression.” “None of them who help terrorists, work for them, supply or produce weapons for terrorism will avoid responsibility,” Zelensky said in a video message last week.

Dealing with saboteurs and collaborators, those who covertly helped Russia lay the groundwork for its invasion of Ukraine a year ago, is a task the Ministry of Internal Affairs has been dealing with since the first day of the war, according to him. new director: Ihor Klimenko.

In his first interview since taking office, Klimenko told The Cipher Brief in February that saboteurs and collaborators working inside Ukraine have been sowing chaos since the war began.

“They tried to penetrate into the heart of Kyiv because they were trying to paralyze the work of state authorities,” said Klimenko. “They did all kinds of subversive activities. They were trying to sabotage the country’s critical infrastructure. They tried to block and control the roads. And they tried to rely on places where they could deliver information to their forces.”

Within hours of the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, Interior Ministry officers were working with the country’s Special Services Units (SSU) to track down and arrest those who had helped Moscow set the stage for the Russian invasion.

The spies, as Klimenko describes them, planted hidden cameras in strategic locations, marked Russian attack targets and set explosive traps for Ukrainians who would retaliate. All actions that added significantly to the early confusion in the opening days of the war.

When President Zelensky declared martial law, a night curfew was imposed as a way to make the work of saboteurs more difficult. Checkpoints have been set up around the capital, staffed first by soldiers from National Guard units and later, in some cases, by people who were just ordinary citizens days ago.

Checkpoint guards questioned drivers caught violating the curfew, sometimes pulling them out of their cars at gunpoint as they searched their vehicles. The suburbs of Kiev were instantly transformed into battlegrounds, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, along with the military, were among the guardians charged with maintaining order.

“We worked hand in hand with the special services so that all subversive groups that crossed the border and entered the districts of the capital were neutralized. And I believe that we have done a miracle,” said Klimenko from his new office at the headquarters of the ministry, not far from the presidential office.

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Since the beginning of the war, the units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have arrested about 2,000 people on suspicion of collaborating with subversive groups. Today, the ministry is focused on countering sabotage on the front lines, where some of the country’s worst fighting has been reported.

“We are trying to identify the saboteurs who are trying to mix and hide in the ranks of civilians,” said Klimenko.

Since February 24, 2022, more than 100 units have been created to find and deal with collaborators with the help of residents living in these areas. “Those settlements in the war zones have little population left, so it’s very easy to spot a stranger there,” he said.

And then there are the collaborators.

“With PSU, we had information about persons who held official positions in the temporarily occupied territories, thus collaborating with the occupiers,” Klimenko explains. And his ministry acts on the basis of that information. “Right now, the collaborators are being discovered and identified in the liberated areas. And some of those sympathizers are charged in absentia, because they are currently living in the temporarily occupied territories.”

Since the beginning of the war, the National Police of Ukraine has opened more than 2,450 criminal cases on charges of cooperation.

Members of the police with flowers attend the funeral ceremony of members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine at the House of Ukraine on January 21, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Klimenko did not assume the position of the director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as he would have liked. The one-time beat cop turned head of Ukraine’s national police was sworn in on February 7, when former Interior Ministry director Denis Monastirsky, his deputy Yevhen Yenin, and 12 others were killed in a freak accident. EC-225 Super Puma helicopter in Kiev in January.

Within 20 days, Klimenko was officially in charge of an organization that had seen its workload increase by 70% since the Russian invasion a year earlier. It marked the start of the director’s new task of finding ways to contain the chaos being delivered to the ministry, which traditionally oversaw police, security and emergency services.

Today, his organization is also tasked with documenting Russian war crimes, demining the most dangerous parts of the country, and creating new brigades. All are tasks the 34-year police veteran would never have expected before the war.

He now oversees the registration and control of weapons distributed to the population as Ukrainian citizens became soldiers overnight. And he’s leading his workforce from roles based on traditional law enforcement skills to skills that will keep you alive on the battlefield.

“Right now we are forming eight assault brigades of the National Guard of Ukraine, one brigade of the National Police of Ukraine and one brigade that will be under the command of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine,” Klimenko said. Although Ukraine still needs weapons to arm them, military instructors to train them and logistics needed to maintain them, such as heavier equipment and field hospitals, he noted. “We are still getting to know our new obligations and new roles,” he said.

Klimenko pointed to a large wooden map hanging on the wall of his office, indicating the Kherson region where 30,000 policemen had been deployed. “Dozens of National Guard officers are now stationed there, as well as rescue services and the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine,” he says.

“We are also mitigating the effects of missile and air strikes against our country, and dealing with the clearing of debris created by these attacks,” Klimenko said.

Photo via the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Twitter:mobile units that combat drone attacks

The Ministry of Internal Affairs had no experience in documenting war crimes before the invasion, but now takes the lead role in gathering information on war crimes and reporting them to international authorities. As of February, Klimenko said the Ministry of Internal Affairs had documented more than 7,516 Ukrainian citizens killed by Russia’s invasion, including 461 children.

“We are fully aware that the numbers are far from consolidating, because we understand that the number of victims and casualties will increase with the liberation of other territories,” he said. “Since the beginning of the war, we have been exhuming the bodies of our civilians buried in graves and identifying them. We are well aware that more of this work awaits us in the liberated territories.”

Klimenko says that as of February, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has documented the destruction of 152,000 homes, 3,200 educational institutions, 1,200 medical facilities and 7,500 critical infrastructure.

“Russia should be properly held accountable for the atrocities committed in our country, and we understand that most of the crimes committed should be investigated by international courts,” he said.

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Saboteurs who work in the areas where the most intense fighting is taking place, along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, also use mines as weapons. Klimenko says a staggering 30% of the country is mined, and that Ukraine’s demining teams have collected about 500,000 unexploded ordnance. The military defuses the part of the explosive that cannot be reused, and the other parts are sent to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in Klimenko’s words, “to strike back at the adversary.” Today, many demining operations take place near critical infrastructure sites.

“We are talking about gas pipelines and electric grids, which are now being restored,” said Klimenko. “The problem we are facing at the moment is in the city of Kherson, for example, where a lot of mines have been placed in administrative buildings or buildings where important infrastructure facilities are located, which are very difficult to demine.”

In those areas, saboteurs are planted in walls or basements so that when the doors are opened, a big explosion starts.

“It already happened in the building of the Main Department of the National Police of Ukraine in the Kherson region, when one of our EOD experts picked up something from the floor and detonated it, which blew up the whole building,” said Klimenko, who It also says the saboteurs are extracting office equipment and furniture. “For example, they put mines on the seat of the chair and put a printer on it. So when a person walks in and tries to take the printer, there’s an explosion.”

Ukraine is an agriculture-based country, and as the weather warms, Klimenko’s team will take on the task of demining vast amounts of the country’s agricultural fields. To date, Klimenko says Ukraine has demined about 90,000 hectares of land, with demining of rivers and Black Sea areas soon to follow. But he says his crews still need vehicles that will allow them to quickly and safely demine those areas.


Klimenko says he is still working on getting comfortable in his new position. He describes the entire ministry as still reeling from the loss of their leadership last January. He says he’s thinking a lot about future work, including finding ways for citizens who have fled the country to return and rebuild their lives, while trying to minimize the amount of weapons now distributed to the population. He also plans now, for the eventual reality that drug crimes will likely reign here again, even though the crime rate has been low since the war began. And he also worries about the men and women who did not ask for this war and who are paying a heavy price for it. “We are talking about seriously injured people, people who have lost their limbs, who now have mental health problems. These people require both mental and physical support.”

Klimenko says he relies most on his mission to bring order out of chaos to having the right team around him. “I don’t accept any acquaintances. I don’t take friends. All that matters is the professionalism and experience of those who have proven themselves since the beginning of large-scale aggression. Those who remained in Kiev, lived in Ukraine and other parts of our country, and who fought against the enemy. Believe me, I have high hopes for those people,” he says. “Unfortunately, we have lost many lives, but we are doing everything to achieve victory.”

The Cipher Brief’s interview was conducted with a translator and has been edited for length and clarity.

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