Welcome to Investigative Stories from Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent's newsletter that walks you through the most prominent investigations of the past week.
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Top investigative stories
Construction consultant under corruption investigation allegedly maintains ties to presidential office
Bihus.Info investigative media outlet filmed Yuriy Golyk, an entrepreneur and reportedly a top “construction consultant” for the Presidential Office, visiting the presidential quarter in Kyiv.
It allegedly points at the fact that Golyk, who is under a corruption probe over allocation of state construction contracts, maintains an unofficial but influential position at the presidential office, which he has denied.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the presidential quarter in Kyiv has been secured by checkpoints, and only people with special authorization can enter.
Golyk was previously an advisor to the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast governor Valentyn Reznichenko and occasionally advised the President’s Office on construction issues, including the “Big Construction,” an infrastructure-building initiative by President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was coordinated by Golyk, according to Bihus.Info.
Golyk told Bihus.Info that he lives in an apartment in the presidential quarter. However, the journalists filmed Golyk leaving his house in the morning and then driving to the presidential quarter. He didn’t deny meeting with officials.
The Office of the President said that Golyk does not currently advise them on any matters.
Late last year, Ukrainian journalists exposed Golyk in a conflict of interest.
They found that Budinvest, a company co-owned by an associate of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast governor Reznichenko, received massive state contracts for non-emergency road works in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, including after the full-scale invasion when most routine repairs were halted.
Following the journalist investigation, Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency launched a probe into Budinvest. Within this case, investigators searched Golyk’s house – he allegedly had a say in allocating the contracts. Reznichenko stepped down as Dnipropetrovsk Oblast governor in January. According to Bihus.Info, the criminal investigation has since stalled.
Watch the full story in Ukrainian with English subtitles here.
Kyiv police turn blind eye to swanky nightclub working past curfew
Around 200 people clubbed at Boho, a fancy Kyiv bar and restaurant, while local police stood idly by for hours, according to a report by Ukrainska Pravda.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, local authorities imposed curfews in all Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv. Since March 2023, the Kyiv curfew has been midnight.
Some people, including emergency workers and accredited journalists, can be exempt from the curfew.
At least six police cars passed Boho while customers entered or exited after midnight. Ukrainska Pravda journalists asked police officers patrolling nearby why they allowed Boho to operate past curfew, but police evaded questions.
Dozens of taxi drivers came to Boho to drop off or pick up partygoers long after midnight. One driver awaiting a client confirmed that Boho is a well-known spot operating after curfew.
After the Pravda journalists called the police, a more senior police officer arrived and detained a handful of people for violating curfew but did not enter Boho to order the bar to stop operating. Boho kept running until at least 5 a.m., the end of curfew, when dozens of partygoers were filmed leaving the restaurant.
The report emphasized the disparity between most cafes and bars, which have to shut down at 11 p.m. the latest, and those who get special treatment and can work past curfew – with police turning a blind eye.
Kyiv police later told Pravda that following the journalists’ complaint, Boho’s administrators were fined for violating curfew regulations. The fine is between $200 and $400. The next weekend, Boho stayed closed and police patrolled the street next to it, journalists said in a follow-up to the story.
Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.
Ukrainian lawmaker repeatedly traveled to Crimea via Russia, breaking the law
Vitaly Bort, a member of parliament from the Platform for Life and Peace faction, traveled to occupied Crimea through Russia several times since 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine, according to an investigation by Schemes, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigative journalism project.
The Platform for Life and Peace was formed in April 2022 after its predecessor, the Opposition Platform for Life, was banned at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine among other pro-Russian parties.
Bort traveled to occupied Crimea through Russia six times between 2014 and 2016 in violation of Ukrainian law, according to information from Russian passenger logs obtained by Schemes.
On one of his visits, Bort was accompanied by his mother, who acquired Russian citizenship in 2019, according to the journalist investigation.
Bort did not respond to Schemes’ requests for comment.
Read the full story in English here.
Journalists identify propagandists spreading Russian disinformation in Europe
An investigation by the independent Russian media outlet The Insider mapped the Western “experts” hired to spread Russian propaganda in their countries.
Germany and Finland have the highest number of Russian propagandists, found The Insider.
The “experts” appear on Russian state media RT and Channel One and post Russian propaganda on social media, according to the journalist investigation.
While some figures, like former Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson, are popular in their countries, most propagandists are unknown to domestic audiences, The Insider reported.
According to the journalist investigation, many of these “experts” combine Russian propaganda with anti-Semitic rants and conspiracy theories.
The propagandists subject to The Insider’s investigation reportedly spread Russian lies on a range of topics, including fakes about U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, denying Russia’s poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and blaming Ukraine for downing MH17 contrary to the findings of an international investigation into the matter.
Read the full story in English here.
Russia systematically tortures civilians in occupied Melitopol
Russian security services in the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol are systematically torturing detainees, according to an investigation by a Russian media outlet in exile, iStories.
Russian forces seized Melitopol, a city in southern Ukraine, in March 2023. In the early days of the all-out war, the city’s residents took to the streets to protest the occupation.
A representative of a Ukrainian hotline for detained residents interviewed by iStories said he documented that Russian security forces have arrested over 300 people since Melitopol's occupation. According to him, at least 107 are still in captivity, although he estimates the actual number of detainees is much higher.
Former detainees and hotline representatives told iStories that Russian forces systematically torture detainees, beating them, subjecting them to electric shocks, and threatening to harm their family members. Former detainees also told the journalists that some people committed suicide while in captivity.
Russian security forces also reportedly interrogated captives about supposed partisan activity in Melitopol. Several former detainees told iStories that Russian forces took them after a neighbor “snitched” on them to occupation authorities.
Citing hotline representatives, iStories reported that Russian security forces specifically targeted teachers who continued to work under the Ukrainian curriculum during the occupation and kidnapped businessmen for ransom.
According to iStories, detentions and torture began after Russian security services settled in and took control of the city’s institutions, approximately a week after the city was occupied.
IStories located five detention centers where captives are being interrogated and tortured.
Read the full story in English here.
Ukrainian businessman sues journalists over a story about his Russia ties
Serhii Semenyuk, a Ukrainian businessman featured in a recent journalist investigation that revealed his alleged Russia ties, sued the story authors for libel.
The journalist investigation, published by Slidstvo.Info and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in May 2023, found that Russia-linked companies were providing cleaning services to strategic Ukrainian assets, including the national rail and energy companies.
Semenyuk was a longstanding co-owner of the companies alongside a Russian businessman.
According to a legal expert interviewed by Slidstvo.Info, Semenyuk’s lawyers are now using well-known tricks to abuse the automated case assignment system in the Ukrainian court system and get a favorable judge on their case.
Apart from journalists and editors, Semenyuk dragged another random defendant to the case, a person who shared the story on social media.
This person resides in Dnipro. According to the lawyers interviewed by Slidstvo.Info, adding the third defendant to the case was Semenyuk’s attempt to get the case assigned to the Dnipro court of his preference.
Meanwhile, in Russia
Journalists find pro-war Russian lawmakers’ mansion in south Spain
Aleksey Chepa, an ardently pro-war member of the Russian parliament, owns a 15 million euro house in south Spain, according to an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Chepa often appears in parliament, calling for escalating violence against Ukraine and referring to Ukrainians as Nazis. He is under sanctions by the U.S., EU, and other Western countries.
The 10,000 square meter Spanish estate is registered in Chepa’s son’s name, and Chepa’s family continues to holiday there, according to the investigation.
The ACF also found that Chepa registered yet another property in his young son’s name: a 10 million euro office building in Bulgaria. Chepa also reportedly bought a $2.5 million apartment in Miami that he later transferred to his niece.
According to the ACF, Russian politicians and oligarchs often use their family members to hold property on their behalf to bypass sanctions.
Watch the full story in Russian here.
Media confirms 1,248 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine in past two weeks
At least 1,248 Russian soldiers have been killed in the last two weeks, according to the latest update to the countdown of Russian soldiers killed during the full-scale invasion run by the independent Russian outlet Mediazona and BBC Russia.
Like Ukraine, Russia doesn't make its casualty statistics publicly available. Russia’s Defense Ministry said in late September 2022 that only 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in Ukraine.
For the count conducted by Russian independent journalists, they rely on information from obituaries, social media posts by relatives, regional news reports, and statements by local authorities.
Since the latest update in September, a total of 1,248 names have been added to the list. The project's authors said the actual totals are likely considerably higher.
The latest update identifies three high-ranking officers, a colonel and two lieutenant colonels, killed in Ukraine.
The update also highlights that Russian volunteer units have experienced the greatest number of casualties since the summer. Earlier this year, prisoners used by the Wagner Group private army experienced the highest death toll.
Check out the joint project by BBC Russia and Mediazona here.