Mr. Karamalikov, 51, stepped in. Along with some other city leaders, he organized the Citizen Patrol: 1,200 men, mostly unarmed, some with sticks, who prowled Kherson’s streets after dark. They arrested curfew violators and petty criminals, sometimes making them pick up garbage or perform other community service. It was a short-lived, grass-roots criminal justice system.
Mr. Karamalikov had something of a godfather reputation in his city. At nearly six feet tall, stocky and well connected across business and politics, he owned two popular nightclubs, Amigo and Shade, and several grocery stores. He was known as a man who would engage anyone in the interests of doing business and he rubbed some people the wrong way.
“I don’t think he’s honest or altruistic and I’ll say it to his face,” said Mr. Samoylenko.
But in Kherson’s small Jewish community, the remnant of what was once a major strand in this city’s fabric, Mr. Karamalikov was widely respected. Before the Holocaust, Rabbi Wolff said, Kherson had 26 temples. Now there is only one left, Kherson’s Chabad Synagogue, and Mr. Karamalikov regularly allowed it to use his nightclub space for free.
“He never said no,” Rabbi Wolff said.
A Rendezvous With ‘Alpha’
Mr. Karamalikov was busy during those first chaotic weeks of the war, his lawyer said — rushing around Kherson in his white Audi, checking on neighborhood patrols, stopping by the synagogue and turning his businesses into de facto aid depots where he handed out cartons of supplies.
This brought him face to face with Russian officers, in particular a colonel who dressed in all black and went by the code name Alpha. Mr. Karamalikov had little choice, his lawyer said. Jumpy Russian troops were spread across the city and Mr. Karamalikov needed to talk to Russian commanders like Alpha “to make sure they didn’t shoot any of the volunteers.”
Around 10 p.m. on March 15, a plumber, a carpenter and the carpenter’s son were standing at a checkpoint when they saw the silhouette of someone flitting in and out of the shadows. A voice then yelled out: “I’m one of you!” and out stepped the Russian soldier, who had mistaken the neighborhood watchmen for fellow Russians.
Andriy Skvortsov, the carpenter’s son, said the soldier was bewildered and barely able to string a sentence together. When he realized the men in front of him were Ukrainians, he looked extremely frightened, Mr. Skvortsov said. “He was childlike and helpless,” Mr. Skvortsov said. And he was heavily armed.