He said the pro-Russian portion of the population remained a minority, perhaps half of the 23,000 still remaining out of a prewar population of 100,000.
“These are, apparently, the people who are waiting for the arrival of the Russian Army and the L.D.N.R.,” he said, using a shorthand term for the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk under separatist control. “They already have an ingrained opinion.”
Mr. Lyakh was once seen as a pro-Russian politician. He entered politics as a member of the pro-Russian party of former President Viktor F. Yanukovych and opposed the democracy protests that overthrew him in 2014. He is serving his second term as mayor of Sloviansk, as a member of an opposition bloc that was formed from the remnants of Mr. Yanukovich’s party. The bloc has been banned since the Russian invasion in February.
Yet, appointed by President Volodymyr Zelensky as the head of the civil-military administration in his region, Mr. Lyakh insists there is no question of his loyalty to Ukraine.
Other residents of Sloviansk, however, revealed deeply conflicted views in conversations. Many residents lived through the period under the separatist government in 2014 and said they could do so again.
Russian rule would be no better or worse than Ukrainian, said another man who gave his name as Serhii. “It was at least stable,” he said, sitting outside the only working supermarket in town. “They rounded up the drunks and the drug addicts.”