The governor of Mykolaiv has pledged to shut down the southern Ukrainian frontier city to “flush out” saboteurs and Russian spies.
Vitaliy Kim said he intends to close the city for several days to investigate those suspected of collaborating with the Russians.
His vow comes less than a week after Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, sacked his own spy chief amid fears Russian intelligence officers had infiltrated the SBU, Ukraine’s version of MI5 and MI6.
“We have a secret plan,” said Mr Kim, the head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, close to the front line. “We will train our military forces and police to search for saboteurs.”
When asked how many saboteurs he suspects are in the city, he said: “I suspect everybody, but we have only a few... even one of them can give many points to the Russians, so we are searching for the bad ones.”
Mr Kim confirmed the authorities had already arrested a dozen people who were found to have been colluding with Russia.
City residents will be notified before the closures so they can make arrangements and ensure they have enough food in their homes, he said.
Last week, the SBU arrested Oleh Kulinych, its own former chief of Crimean affairs, on suspicion of high treason. Hours later, Mr Zelensky dismissed Ivan Bakanov, the country’s chief spy, and Irina Venediktova, the prosecutor general.
He cited the large number of staff at both agencies in occupied territories who switched sides to work with Russia.
The sackings reflect the growing frustration within Ukraine’s government over its security service, which has around 30,000 agents and is seven times the size of MI5.
The speed with which the Russians made progress in the south at the start of the war raised serious questions about the impact of Russian collaborators.
Mr Kim is adamant that Ukraine will succeed in retaking the south in a counter-offensive, and in doing so will “change the direction of the war”.
He also confirmed that preparations for the new offensive in the south were already under way.
Since the war began, Mr Kim (41) has become something of a social media sensation.
He regularly posts on Instagram to his 500,000 followers, looking relaxed and making the peace sign with his fingers.
Despite the unrelenting Russian bombardment, Mr Kim refused to show anything but positivity to his followers, and on his daily video messages posted online he coined the catchphrase: “Good morning, we are from Ukraine!”
Mr Kim, who spoke near the remains of the Mykolaiv regional administration building, which was all but destroyed by a Russian cruise missile in March, said that his calm demeanour was crucial to success.
“I believe, for making decisions, you need to have a clear mind and a hot heart,” he said.
“For now, the Russians are trying to do a deal. They say, ‘We will take the Donbas and Crimea and then we will get out from the south’.”
However, he cautioned that if the Russians did not have the opportunity to try to make a deal, it will be better for Ukraine “when we retake the south”.
“We will free our territory and our people and everyone will see Ukraine has changed the direction of war,” he reiterated.
In the heart of Mykolaiv, people are desperate for a change after months within firing range of Russian missiles.
Every day, they are subjected to shelling and have lost any sense of normality.
There is no drinking water, and everything from schools to petrol stations appears to be a target for the Russians to bomb.
One woman who had been queuing outside a humanitarian centre for the elderly and disabled said she was “on the verge of a nervous collapse” because of the constant terror she lives with.
Yulia Leontievna Frontovskaia has been receiving aid since the start of the war.
At the age of 88 she goes down to the centre to pick up supplies such as grain and any foods they have available.