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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Journalists find Russian servicemen allegedly responsible for launching missile killing colleague

by Anna Myroniuk May 2, 2023 4:08 PM 6 min read
Vira Hyrych, a journalist and producer of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was killed by a Russian missile on April 28, 2022, in her apartment in central Kyiv. (Credit: Schems, RFE/RL)
This audio is created with AI assistance

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Top investigative stories

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RFE/RL finds Russian servicemen allegedly responsible for launching missile killing journalist Vira Hyrych

Schemes, an investigative project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reconstructed events of the missile attack on Kyiv on April 28 last year that killed their colleague, journalist Vira Hyrych, and found those allegedly responsible for it.

Schemes claims to have identified the people behind the strike on the residential building where Hyrych lived, the type of the missile, the model of the plane, and the Russian airfield from which it took off.

According to Schemes, Hyrych was killed by an X-101 missile launched from a Tu-95MS bomber that took off from Engels airfield in Russia on that day. Journalists sourced their findings with satellite imagery, expert assessments, and Ukraine’s official investigation results.

Schemes also identified the commanders of Russian military units based at Engels airfield who were allegedly supervising the pilots of the strategic bombers which attacked Kyiv that day. Among them is Colonel Nikolay Varpahovich, the commander of the 22nd Donbas Heavy Bombardment Aviation Division, Oleg Skitskiy, the commander of the 121st Heavy Bombardment Aviation Regiment, and Aleksandr Simonenko, the commander of the 184th Heavy Bombardment Aviation Regiment.

Separately, journalists found the identities of some of the secret unit's employees within the Russian military's main computer center, which programs the flight trajectory for missiles, including X-101s.

This proved possible thanks to the earlier findings of the joint investigation by Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel, which identified the head of the unit, Igor Bagniuk, and obtained metadata of his phone calls. Journalists shared the data with Schemes, which helped unmask the alleged accomplices Bagniuk talked to on April 28, 2022, the day of the attack.

They include Stanislav Minkov, a member of the team that programs trajectory for X-101 missiles, Dmitriy Gamaleev, part of the Russian Federal Security Service, Vyacheslav Aleksandrovich, a serviceman of Russia’s Armed Forces, and Pavel Obykhov, a member of yet another team of missile trajectory programmers.

Watch the full film, which marks the one-year anniversary of the death of RFE/RL producer and journalist Vira Hyrych, in Ukrainian with English subtitles via the link.

Ukrainska Pravda locates villas of Russia’s rich at Côte d'Azur


Russian elites close to the country’s President, Vladimir Putin, have luxurious villas on the French Riviera, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

Some of these properties are registered under the names of their relatives, which could help them evade sanctions.

According to the publication, Russian oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov, who’s under EU and UK sanctions, has a villa at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It is registered under the names of his ex-wife and children, Ukrainska Pravda found.

Oligarch brothers Boris and Arkadiy Rotenberg, also under international sanctions, allegedly have a few properties on the French coast. Among them, Ukrainska Pravda found Villa Shoshana in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, belonging to Arkadiy, and another property based between Monaco and Nice, belonging to Boris.

Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, often labeled in the media as Putin’s close ally and wallet, allegedly has a villa in Saint-Raphaël next to Saint-Tropez. After the Russian Anti-Corruption Foundation of Alexei Navalny first reported about it in 2014, the property was reregistered under Alla Rudkovska, who looks like a nominal owner.

When journalists were filming this villa, their drone was shot at with a gun.

To learn about all of the Russian villas Ukrainska Pravda found at Côte d'Azur, watch the first part of the story in Ukrainian with English subtitles here and the second part here.

The Guardian finds UK business registered to Russia’s proxy official despite sanctions

A U.K. business was allegedly registered to Russian proxy official Volodymyr Saldo five months after his name was added to a sanctions list, the Guardian reported.

Saldo has been working on behalf of Russia in the occupied Ukrainian Kherson Oblast, where he became the head of the regional occupation administration. He has also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and received Russian state honors.

Russia's all-out war in Ukraine has been going on for more than one year, yet "proposals that would make it a crime for people under sanctions to set up U.K. companies have yet to become law," according to the Guardian.

The U.K. froze Saldo's assets in June 2022 and banned him from entering the country. British officials have said he is guilty of "promoting policies and actions which destabilize Ukraine and undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine."

Despite this, since November, Saldo has been registered as the proprietor of a company registered in an office block in the Hatton Garden district of central London, according to the Guardian. A property representative then told the journalists that the company has no connection with the property. Five months later, the address was altered in a public filing.

However, the company, Grainholding Ltd., is apparently still listed as active, according to the Guardian.

Company documents show that Grainholding Ltd. has over $1.2 million in capital, half of which is allegedly owned by Saldo.

According to Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention, Saldo was also sanctioned by Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, and New Zealand after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion.

Read the full story via the link.

Leaked documents reveal Kremlin’s alleged 10-year plan to expand Russian influence on Baltics

An international consortium of journalists obtained confidential strategy documents detailing Russia’s alleged plans to exert its influence in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by 2030.

The documents show Russia's intention to hinder the construction of NATO military bases in the Baltic countries, weaken the local democratic governments, expand Russian cultural and linguistic influence, and back pro-Kremlin political organizations.

The documents reportedly originated in 2021 from the Kremlin’s Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation, the unit that allegedly drafted similar strategies for Belarus and Moldova, as earlier reported by the Kyiv Independent and media partners.

Read our previous investigations into Russia’s plans for Belarus here and for Moldova here.

Like in the Belarus and Moldova documents, Russia’s plans for the Baltic countries are divided into three sections: political, military, and security-related; trade and economic-related; and humanitarian or society-related. These sections are then further divided into milestones: the short term (by 2022), the medium term (2025), and the long term (2030).

Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine has undermined almost every aspect of these plans, according to the investigation.

Read the full story in English via the link.

Media: Ukrainian partners of Estonian charity Glory to Ukraine charged it twice the market price for car repairs

Ukrainian partners of Glory to Ukraine, Estonia’s largest Ukraine aid organization allegedly misused donations by paying twice the market rate for car repairs, according to the outlet Postimees.

Since March, Glory to Ukraine has been under internal audit following the new advisory board’s suspicions that the two Ukrainian partners could be pocketing donations.

In April, the Kyiv Independent and Delfi Estonia identified the Ukrainian entities under scrutiny, All For Victory, a charity, and IC Construction, a business. The two are closely connected.

All For Victory is a charity operated by former Lviv deputy mayor Hennadiy Vaskiv. The other one is IC Construction, a company run by Vaskiv’s friend and former colleague at the mayor’s office, Roman Panasiuk. It’s officially owned by a manicurist allegedly working at the beauty salon owned by Vaskiv’s wife.

IC Construction has received 1.5 million euros, about a quarter of all donations from Glory to Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent and Delfi Estonia reported citing people familiar with the case.

Citing Glory to Ukraine, Postimees reported that of this 1.5 million euros, 828,000 euros were spent on 2,300 pieces of winter military uniform, while the remaining 672,000 euros went to purchasing generators, charging stations, and turning vans into medical evacuation vehicles.

Johanna-Maria Lehtme, founder of Glory to Ukraine, told Eesti Päevaleht  that the charity paid 3,500 euros per car to repair and repurpose into a military ambulance. Postimees came to Lviv, where IC Construction is based, to check whether the price is fair. Having questioned car repair shops across the city and beyond, the journalists found that the price IC Construction paid was at least twice the average.

Read the full story in Russian via the link.

This Week in Ukraine Ep. 5 – Everything we know about Ukrainian attacks inside Russia
“This Week in Ukraine” is a video podcast hosted by Kyiv Independent’s reporter Anastasiia Lapatina. Every week, Anastasiia sits down with her newsroom colleagues to discuss Ukraine’s most pressing issues. Episode #5 is dedicated to Ukrainian attacks deep behind enemy lines – on Russian soil, and i…
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