A Russian pilot was detained by civilians in occupied Kherson. A Ukrainian city councilman released him — and now faces charges of treason.

A Russian pilot was detained by civilians in occupied Kherson. A Ukrainian city councilman released him — and now faces charges of treason.
Ukrainian servicemen inspect destroyed equipment left behind by the Russian Army near the Ukrainian border with Russia, on November 5, 2022.Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images
  • A Kherson city councilman has been accused of treason for releasing a Russian pilot.
  • Illia Karamalikov's lawyer has denied the charges, saying he had no other option in the occupied city.

Shortly after Russian forces captured Kherson in March, a group of civilians detained a Russian pilot, and a local city council member, unsure of what to do with them, decided to release him. He now faces charges of treason from the Ukrainian government.

Kherson, a southern port, was the first major Ukrainian city taken by Russian forces after the invasion in February. The regional capital was held for eight months until Russian officials announced a retreat in November, delivering a humiliating blow to President Vladimir Putin's war effort and placing the city back in Ukraine's hands.

Illia Karamalikov, a nightclub owner and city councilman, had organized civilian patrols after the Russian takeover resulted in chaos, according to The New York Times. On March 15, Karamalikov got a call that one of the patrol groups had found and detained a Russian pilot who was covered in mud and stumbling.

"Nobody knew what to do," Mykhailo Velychko, Karamalikov's lawyer, told the Times. "They couldn't hand him over to Ukrainian forces — there were no Ukrainian forces in the city at that time. And there was no Red Cross. And the Russians were everywhere."

After temporarily detaining the pilot in a room at his home, Karamalikov, unsure of what else to do, made plans to release him to Russian forces.


Two months later, Karamalikov was arrested while traveling away from Kherson and back into Ukrainian-held territory, according to CNN. The indictment said he took "actions aimed at harming the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability" of Ukraine and that he switched "to the side of the aggressor country of the Russian Federation during martial law, and assisting its representatives in subversive activities against Ukraine."

Velichko denied all the charges and said Karamalikov was trying to keep order in Kherson.

The Times interviewed over a dozen people in Kherson about Karamalikov, and they all agree with his decision, saying that to keep the pilot in a city dominated by Russian forces would've put civilians at risk.

The case highlights a challenge facing Ukrainian authorities after Russian forces retreat. The country said it's investigating hundreds of cases of Ukrainians accused of collaborating with Russia, but some have said local officials may have chosen to remain in their positions in order to help residents or look after their city, rather than support the enemy.