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Estonia’s biggest charity helping Ukraine under audit after board finds Ukrainian recipients suspicious

by Anna Myroniuk April 17, 2023 7:12 PM 8 min read
Head of Estonian charity Glory to Ukraine Johanna-Maria Lehtme and her Ukrainian counterparts, including the ex-deputy mayor of Lviv, find themselves at the center of a public scandal involving donations misuse allegations. (Credit: Karl-Erik Leik/Delfi Estonia)
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Editor’s note: This story is a collaboration between the Kyiv Independent and Delfi Estonia. No official accusations have yet been made against the entities mentioned in this story.

Having emerged in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Glory to Ukraine has since been the largest charity helping Ukraine in Estonia.

With a population of 1.3 million, almost every adult Estonian has donated to the charity at least once. It has raised a total of at least 6.5 million euros, according to its own reports.

The charity’s success brought its founder Johanna-Maria Lehtme a Person of the Year title, a medal from the Estonian president, and a seat in parliament at the March election with the liberal Eesti 200 party.

But just days after the election, a public scandal erupted. The advisory board of Glory to Ukraine raised questions about Lehtme’s work and announced an internal audit suspecting the misuse of funds by the charity’s two Ukrainian partners.  

The advisory board doesn't specify exactly how they suspect the funds were misused.

The Kyiv Independent and Delfi Estonia have identified the Ukrainian organizations in question. Both are Lviv-based and connected to one another.

One is All For Victory, a charity of Hennadiy Vaskiv, a former deputy mayor of Lviv.

The other one is IC Construction, a company run by Vaskiv’s friend and former colleague at the mayor’s office, Roman Panasiuk, and officially owned by a manicurist allegedly working at the beauty salon of Vaskiv’s wife. The company has received 1.5 million euros from the Estonian chairty, or every fourth euro donated, according to people familiar with the case.

Panasiuk, director of IC Construction, confirmed the money transfer but denied the allegations that the funds were misused.

Сonstruction company or charity?

The Ukrainian charity All For Victory and Estonian fund Glory to Ukraine have been evidently working very closely together.

Their social media is abuzz with pictures and videos of the joint distribution of aid packages to civilians in front-line villages, often marked with both charities' logos. Estonian Lehtme and Ukrainian Vaskiv appear in pictures together. Both have got awards from Ukraine’s Defense Ministry for their charity work.

Sometimes, Roman Panasiuk, the director of IC Construction, is seen alongside them. Despite the publicity being centered around the All For Victory charity, it appears that it’s actually IC Construction – a for-profit company – that’s been getting the majority of Estonian people’s donations.  

Roman Panasiuk (right), director of IC Construction, Hennadiy Vaskiv (center), head of All For Victory charity, and Johanna-Maria Lehtme, head of Glory To Ukraine charity (second from right), pose for a photograph with the equipment bought for Ukraine's military with Estonian people's donations on Feb. 14, 2023. (Hennadiy Vaskiv via Facebook)

IC Construction, an LTD, is registered in what looks like a residential building near the center of Lviv. While its primary focus is on construction, it has registered 78 other activities with the Ukrainian company registrar. They range from providing taxi services to the production of spices and seasonings.

The IC Construction was registered in September 2021, but its rise coincided with the beginning of the Russian invasion in early 2022. According to the company, that’s when the for-profit company shifted its focus from construction to charity work – but remained a for-profit on paper.

IC Construction’s reported revenue last year amounted to Hr 41.7 million or about 1 million euros, while the net profit was Hr 9.3 million or about 250,000 euros, according to YouControl, a Ukrainian database of companies.

Panasiuk, the company’s director, confirmed to the Kyiv Independent that almost the entire revenue of the company came from Glory to Ukraine in Estonian people’s donations.

“Not 100%, but almost, yes,” Panasiuk said, “(Glory to Ukraine) was our main partner. They were so professional in everything that we just did not have the time and opportunity, and desire, frankly, for anything else. All our attention and energy were dedicated to them.”

According to him, IC Construction, which remains a for-profit, was getting the money as contract payments for goods or services, not as donations.

As for making 250,000 euros in profit, most of it from Estonian donations, Panasiuk said that the companies “are meant to be profitable.”

Sources familiar with the case said Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation has started a probe into the alleged misuse of Estonian donations in Ukraine.

When approached for comment, the Bureau neither confirmed nor denied the case, saying that disclosing information about a pre-trial investigation is only possible if approved by the prosecutor or detective in charge of the case.

Panasiuk said he is unaware of any investigation and of the scandal in Estonia involving the Glory to Ukraine foundation.

According to him, about a month ago, the Estonian charity suddenly stopped paying the invoices issued by IC Construction despite active contracts between the two entities.

"They did not say that they would no longer work with us,” Panasiuk said. “I spoke to the director (of Glory to Ukraine, Johanna-Maria Lehtme), and she said that while the audit is ongoing, they would not make any payments to Ukrainian funds."

Lehtme told Delfi Estonia that she has no complaints about her charity’s Ukrainian partners, called them heroes, and called the accusations a disinformation attack.

She then added that those who have problems with her charity’s Ukrainian partners should “jump on a plane” and go speak directly to them. “If you have the courage,” she wrote in her response to Delfi Estonia.

Planes have not been flying to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country.

Closely connected Ukrainian partners

The two Ukrainian partners of Glory to Ukraine are interconnected through its ownership and management.

It’s not clear why the Estonian charity did not simply transfer the money to its Ukrainian counterpart, All For Victory, but instead transferred most funds to its affiliated for-profit company, IC Construction.

IC Construction is owned by Marta Luta, who, according to YouControl, bought the company in August 2022 from Oleksandr Chernov. He is the head of logistics for All For Victory.

Marta Luta poses for a photograph at the Healthy Beauty salon in Lviv, where she appears to work as a manicurist. The salon is owned by Oksana Vaskiv, the wife of Hennadiy Vaskiv, former deputy mayor of Lviv. (Marta Luta via Instagram)

According to her social media accounts, Luta works as a manicurist at Healthy Beauty, a salon in Lviv. The salon is owned by Oksana Vaskiv, the wife of Hennadiy Vaskiv, who is one of two owners of All For Victory. He owns 50% of the charity, while the other 50% is owned by a man called Yehor Stupakov. Vaskiv said that he co-owns the charity with his “friends from Kharkiv.” Stupakov doesn’t seem to be a public figure.

Luta has not responded to a request for comment.  

"I don't know if Marta Luta works in the same beauty salon as my wife or not because I don't interfere in my wife's business activities," Vaskiv said.

Vaskiv and a person resembling Luta appeared in pictures together from a Palm Sunday service on April 9. According to Vaskiv, he does not know who owns IC Construction and only communicates with its director, Panasiuk.

(L) The head of All For Victory charity, Hennadiy Vaskiv, and the owner of IC Construction, Marta Luta (in the middle), pose for a picture together during the Palm Sunday service on April 9, 2023. (Credit: Facebook account of Vaskiv)

Panasiuk became the director of IC Construction when Luta bought the company in August 2022.

Vaskiv and Panasiuk have known each other since at least 2018, when they worked together in the Lviv mayor’s office. Panasiuk was the head of the economic division in the infrastructure department in the Lviv mayor’s office when Vaskiv was the deputy mayor for finance and economy in 2017-2021.

While serving in the mayor’s office, Vaskiv got infamous for receiving financial aid meant for employees with housing issues, while having several apartments and large cash savings.  

There is other evidence of the close connection between All For Victory and IC Construction.

The two entities appear to work from the same office. IC Construction “allows” All For Victory to use its office, according to Vaskiv.

All For Victory has a sister entity, an NGO of the same name. It is led by Panasiuk, the director of IC Construction.

Ukrainian charity dismisses accusations

For all its publicity, All For Victory doesn’t publish any reports about its financials: where the donations come from and how they are spent. Other Ukrainian charities normally publish such reports.  

Read more: Here's how to support the Ukrainian military

For example, Ukraine’s largest military-aid charity, Come Back Alive, publishes information on every hryvnia received and spent.

“The most common way of reporting is social media publications with the detailed description of what, where, and to who was bought and sent,” said Maksym Zinchuk, coordinator of Come Back Alive. “Omitting to report on it just won’t work since people are used to being informed where their money goes. Not doing it means losing the people who supported you.”

Addressing the absence of public reporting about the charity’s financials, Vaskiv said he never aimed for people to support his charity with donations but with goods for the army.  

“Since the first days, it just so happened that we have been delivering goods, cars, and drones (to the military). I tell foreigners: ‘We do not need money, it’s always a contentious matter on the one hand, and on the other hand, it requires a lot of resources to search and buy it all,” he said.

Despite Vaskiv’s claims, All For Victory does publically ask for donations. Calls to donate money can be found on the website of Glory to Ukraine and in the now-archived version of All For Victory website, as well as on Facebook and YouTube.

“We will show (the financial reports). We just haven’t had the time yet. Our cash turnover is small,” Vaskiv said, promising to run an audit and publish its results.

In March, soon after Glory To Ukraine had announced it was conducting the audit, the website of All For Victory went down and is still unavailable. According to Vaskiv, it’s due to “technical problems.”

The Estonian Glory to Ukraine said it would stop its cooperation with its two Ukrainian partners while the audit is ongoing. Panasiuk confirmed the halt in relations, but Vaskiv said his charity is still working with Glory to Ukraine as before.

According to Vaskiv, All For Victory is currently preparing to send several vehicles to the front that arrived from Estonia as part of aid from Glory to Ukraine.

Vaskiv blames the allegations against his Estonian partner both on disinformation efforts of the Russians and Lethme’s political rivals’ attempts to tarnish her reputation before the European Parliament elections next year, where he claims the Estonian intends to run.

While the audit in Glory to Ukraine is ongoing, the charity’s advisory board emphasizes that it hasn’t brought any official accusations yet.

"Our Ukrainian partners have been operating in extremely difficult conditions, where decisions have to be made quickly, normal procurements are often not realistic,” said council member Kristo Tohver, who was appointed in March.

“Both when conducting an audit and formulating public assessments, we have to realize that it is our partners who have fought shoulder to shoulder for the freedom of their homeland in the conditions of full-scale military aggression."

Note from the author:

Hello, it’s Anna Myroniuk, head of investigations at the Kyiv Independent.

The work that charities and volunteer organizations are doing in Ukraine, helping the military and civilians in the affected areas, is vital. Donations to Ukraine help the country to survive and defend itself against the Russian invasion.

However, it’s also important to ensure transparency so the public can see where the money comes from and how it is spent. Many charitable organizations in Ukraine made it their rule and always report on their donations and spending.

We at the Kyiv Independent try to help shed the light on how donations to Ukraine work. Help us do this and other important work by becoming our patron.

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