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Investigative Stories From Ukraine: How men fake divorces, custody lawsuits to avoid draft

by Anna Myroniuk January 16, 2024 12:54 PM 4 min read
Fathers and their children are pictured visiting the zoo on Father's Day in Odesa, Ukraine, on June 18, 2023. (Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Top investigative stories

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Men fake divorces, custody lawsuits to avoid draft, flee Ukraine

Ukrainian men found a loophole to avoid mobilization by becoming the only legal guardian of their children through court, according to an investigation by the Lviv-based media outlet NGL Media.

The publication analyzed 30,000 children guardianship disputes in the Ukrainian court registry between 2021 and 2023 and found a trend: After the start of the Russian full-scale invasion in February 2022, men have increasingly started initiating and winning such cases over their wives.

A man who is the only legal guardian of a child is exempt from mobilization and can leave the country, something Ukrainian men of conscription age cannot do amid martial law.

Thirty percent of all the decisions in favor of fathers in guardianship litigations in 2023 were issued in one specific court in the city of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, 80 km away from Odesa, NGL Media found.

According to the publication, this small court attracted lawsuits from all across Ukraine, including Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Lviv. To claim the Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi jurisdiction, men from remote places could have rented apartments there and hired local lawyers.

This alleged draft evasion scheme has already caught the eye of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). The detectives suspect four judges of the Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi court, lawyers, and intermediaries to be part of the scheme, according to NGL.

According to the anonymous NABU sources of NGL Media, the “price tag” for a favorable decision in guardianship disputes over children amounted to $3,500, which male beneficiaries of the scheme paid as part of honorarium to their attorneys. The lawyers then allegedly passed over most of the sum to the judges as a bribe.

In 2023 alone, in this one court, the scheme could have generated $3 million for the people involved, NGL Media calculated based on the number of positive for fathers decisions the court issued on the matter.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.

Russia imports Dutch equipment for microchip production, bypasses sanctions

Russia bought used equipment for microchip production from the Dutch company ASML via intermediaries in a possible sanctions circumvention scheme, according to the investigation by Ekonomichna Pravda.

ASML is a leader in the production of microchip equipment essential to making hypersonic missiles or drones.

In 2014, the Dutch company stopped selling its modern microchip equipment to Russia, according to Ekonomichna Pravda. Since then, Russia has been investing in building up the domestic production of its own alternative to ASML products. However, the process moves slowly, and Russia is far from being able to rely on its own microchip equipment production and technologically catch up.

After the embargo came into effect, Russia continued to use foreign, including Dutch, equipment it had to produce microchips. To maintain the equipment it has, Russia found a way to import ASML-made spare parts despite the company’s ban on export.

Russian suppliers buy used spare parts for the ASML chip-making equipment on marketplaces from intermediaries in countries like Singapore and South Korea that didn’t impose sanctions against Russia.

Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Russia has involved multiple importers to supply second-hand ASML parts. Once one falls under sanctions, another one steps in, which proves individual sanctions ineffective, according to Ekonomichna Pravda.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.

Company monitoring media coverage for Ukraine’s leadership misrepresents critical journalism as attacks from opposition

A company called Mediateka, which analyzes media coverage for the President’s Office and government, omits to mention in their reports some important journalist investigations into top public figures and often misrepresents media criticism as attacks by rivals, according to Bihus.Info, an investigative media outlet.

The publication obtained dozens of reports prepared by Mediateka for the country’s leadership, paid for from the state budget. In 2023, according to Bihus.Info, the company received Hr 10 million ($264,000) for such reports. Mediateka is owned by Oleksandr Marikovskyi, a lawmaker with the ruling Servant of the People faction.

Journalists narrowed down their research to daily reports Mediateka put together for the President’s Office and the government and found that some vital journalist investigations are ignored while others are mentioned briefly as “criticism.”

In its analyses, Mediateka often attributed critical reports to “opposition media,” failing to name the media outlets perceived as such or explain what this term represents, Bihus.Info reported.

According to the publication, the analyses by Mediateka read as if most of the negative coverage were attacks from the opposition.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.

Meantime, in Russia

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Advisor to Putin’s ‘father-in-law’ sells $13 million worth of raw materials from occupied Donbas to Turkey, Albania

Adviser to Marat Kabaev, father of Alina Kabaeva, the rumored long-time partner of Russian President Vladimir Putin, imported natural resources from Russia-occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in 2023, according to IStories, a Russian independent media outlet.

Citing customs data, IStories reported that in 2023, Hong Kong-registered Green Rabbit Limited sold $13.6 million in wheat, coal, coke, and ore to Turkey and Albania.

Green Rabbit Limited is registered under the name of Muslim Temerkaev, an adviser on the coal industry to Marat Kabaev, the president of Russia’s International Islamic Business Association and the father of Alina Kabaeva, IStories reported.

According to the publication, Green Rabbit bought coal directly from coal mining companies, including Donbas Coal, Krasnoluchantracit, and MV-Sverdlovskugol as well as from an intermediary, Syndicat Promo – companies operating in Russia-occupied territory in breach of Ukrainian legislation.

Syndicat Promo is a Moscow-registered company that extensively used the logistical services of the company called Florance LLC in 2023. According to Current Time and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Florance LLC is associated with Ukrainian pro-Kremlin politician and Vladimir Putin’s confidant, Viktor Medvedchuk.

Green Rabbit also bought wheat from the Russian-registered company Agora, also harvested in Ukraine’s occupied territories, IStories found.

Marat Kabaev launched his business association in 2016 to support “business based on ethics and high morals.” His association includes businessmen from Turkey, he once said, according to IStories. He has openly talked about plans “to help develop the economy and business” in the Russia-occupied part of Donetsk Oblast.

All the involved parties either denied allegations of wrongdoing or didn’t respond to journalists’ requests for comment.

Read the full story in Russian language here.

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