Galina Danilchenko is the “mayor” of Russian-occupied Melitopol.
According to the city’s elected mayor, Ivan Fedorov, roughly half of the population has fled since Russia occupied the city in February. Melitopol-related Telegram channels are littered with advertisements for dangerous car rides out of town.
But, unlike the majority of Ukrainians living under Russian military rule, Danilchenko built her own cage.
Fedorov was detained by Russian soldiers on March 12, and Danilchenko, a local politician with long-held pro-Russian views, declared herself mayor in his place.
A bomb scare in May prompted her resignation, according to RIA-Melitopol, a local news site with strong partisan leanings. According to the outlet, the Russian military administration told her that the only way out is to hand herself over to the Ukrainian Secret Service.
Despite Russia’s control over much of Zaporizhzhia, now is not the time to be a collaborator.
While the Ukrainian army retakes large swaths of the country in the north, partisan fighters in the occupied south wage guerrilla attacks on anyone who aids Russia, including fellow Ukrainians like Danilchenko.
Since mid-May, at least 11 pro-Russian collaborators have died in a variety of ways, some fatal, and not all of them formally claimed by Ukraine.
However, just in August, there were car bombs, a suspected poisoning, and a deputy mayor shot dead outside his home.
Both Ukrainian and Russian sources reported on August 5 that Vladimir Saldo had been placed in a medically induced coma due to a suspected poisoning. Saldo was the head of the government in Kherson, the occupied city.
Serhii Haidai, the newly installed head of the military administration, was seriously injured by a car bomb on August 11 in Luhansk, according to his Telegram channel.
According to RIA-Melitopol, the next day, Oleg Shostak, the spokesperson for Zaporizhzhia’s regional military installation, was injured when a bomb detonated under his car.
The extent of Shostak’s injuries is unknown, but the elected mayor, Fedorov, stated with apparent satisfaction that he “will definitely not be able to sit straight on a chair — the part of his body for sitting is literally blown up.”
Fedorov told Insider that he communicates on a regular basis with the partisan forces in his city that are working to eliminate collaborators.
When Russian soldiers kidnapped Fedorov on March 11, he learned that Danilchenko would be installed in his place.
She quickly appointed allies to the city council and urged Melitopol to adapt to “the new reality.”
However, according to her regular propaganda messages, the “new reality” is of a city willingly integrating into Russia, hampered by a small group of Ukrainian nationalists who continue to attack city infrastructure. According to independent reports, there have been beatings, thefts, and food shortages.
Fedorov stated that he has since worked to assist his citizens despite not having access to the inner workings of the city.
He maintains that Danilchenko is merely a figurehead for a foreign occupation. She holds the distinction of being the first person to be sanctioned for collaboration by the West, first by the UK and then by the US. Zelenskyy’s government has accused her of treason.
The Ukrainian Security Service regards Danilchenko as nothing more than a puppet of Balitsky and the Kremlin.
Prior to the war, she was an accountant and the director of the Melitopol Plain Bearing Plant, a tractor-parts factory.
According to the BBC’s Russian service, Balitsky owned the company, which had many Russian and Belarussian contracts in the past. This, however, vanished following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, she later told the state-run RT news network.
According to RIA Melitopol, Balitsky’s factory was later embroiled in a long-running fraud scandal in which the company misappropriated a $2.2 million state loan. It’s unclear what, if any, role Danilchenko played in this.
Both entered politics as members of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc, which won some administrative positions but was never truly in power.
When Russia took the city by force, she was an obvious candidate.
There is no universally accepted definition of a collaborator, but the term encompasses a wide range of behaviors and motivations, from genuine belief in the occupier’s cause to simple survival instinct.
According to Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s Head of National Police, over 1,300 people are being investigated for assisting Russians in Ukraine.