In an unlikely prisoner of war situation, a Ukrainian civilian living in a Russian-controlled area of Ukraine found a lost Russian pilot and returned the pilot to Russian forces. The incident is being debated in Ukrainian court, with the civilian who returned the soldier now facing treason charges.
The New York Times reported on Saturday. The initial finding of the Russian pilot was on Mar. 15. The pilot was found by a Kherson city watch of civilians established after Russia invaded to prevent looting and crime.
Illia Karamalikov was running the neighborhood watch group when he got a call from patrol members that they found a disoriented and muddy Russian pilot, disarmed him, and held him in a school classroom.
“Nobody knew what to do,” said Mr. Karamalikov’s lawyer, Mykhailo Velychko, told the New York 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.”
Those interviewed by the New York Times said Karamalikov had three options, hand the soldier over to the Russians, hold him and risk the threat of Russian forces or kill the soldier.
Karamalikov, 51, would return the soldier to Russian forces, saying he saw no other option. Ukrainian authorities would later arrest Karamalikov and charge him with treason.
At one point during the invasion, Russia had control of one-fifth of the country, forcing Ukrainian citizens to cohabitate with Russian forces and blurring the lines of authority. As Ukraine retakes its territory, including Karamalikov’s town of Kherson, in November, more Ukrainians are facing unintended consequences of the decisions they made months ago to keep themselves afloat.
Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and Kherson on the same day. The first few days and weeks of the occupation were described as “insane” by witnesses. “Kherson was under Russian occupation, but the Russians weren’t interested in taking over the administration — the water, the sales things, the markets,” head of Kherson’s regional counsel, Oleksandr Samoylenko, told the New York Times.
Witnesses said that after Russians took over the city and left it to fend for itself, Karamalikov stepped in. Karamalikov would reportedly drive around the city to provide people with supplies and aid the community watch, forcing him to meet with a Russian military commander to ensure volunteers weren’t targeted.
When the Kherson neighborhood watch found their 32-year-old Russian helicopter pilot, Lieutenant Dmitrii Pavlovich Savchenko, Karamalikov decided to treat the soldier humanly. However, as it was dangerous to get him to Ukrainian troops and there were no aid groups in the city, he decided to call the military commander and arrange to hand him over.
Karamalikov’s layer told the New York Times that Karamalikov was unaware when making the call that the commander’s phone had been hacked by Ukrainian intelligence. Karamalikov decided the city was no longer safe and fled with his family to the Ukrainian-controlled city of Odesa. The family arrived in the town on Apr. 15, and Karamalikov was immediately taken into custody.
Ukrainian prosecutors have accused Karmalikov of sharing positive images of Russia by dispensing Russian aid, sharing data on Ukrainian military and personnel, and “organized the further participation of a Russian serviceman in aggression against Ukraine.”
The fate of Karamalikov is still being decided, with his case ongoing.