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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Journalists find Ukrainian politicians, officials vacationing in France during war

by Anna Myroniuk and Alexander Khrebet June 6, 2023 2:44 PM 6 min read
Ukrainska Pravda finds Serhiy Levochkin and Hryhoriy Surkis, lawmakers with the banned Opposition Platform For Life party, arriving with their families in Nice, France, on a private jet from Vienna (Credit: Ukrainska Pravda)
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Ukrainska Pravda finds top Ukrainian politicians, officials vacationing in Europe during war

Representatives of Ukraine’s political establishment live in Monaco and France or visit the Côte d’Azur on personal business, in apparent violation of Ukraine’s martial law.

Amid Russia’s war, Ukrainian men between the age of 18 and 60 are forbidden from leaving the country without a special permit. Officials, including lawmakers, can only leave the country for work.

That isn’t stopping former and current officials, politicians and business people from vacationing in Europe during the war, Ukrainska Pravda discovered.

Among those whom journalists filmed at the French Riviera is Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s president in 1994-2005. Since 2014, Kuchma has been Ukraine’s representative in the Minsk peace talks dedicated to putting an end to Russia’s war in the Donbas. Despite his role, when Russia started its all-out war in 2022, it took Kuchma two weeks to first comment publicly on the war. He has been keeping a low profile ever since.

Kuchma was spotted on a stroll in the French community of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, one of the most expensive residential locations in the world, in early May. According to the publication, the ex-president stayed at the villa of his son-in-law, a Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk.

Ukrainska Pravda also spotted Serhiy Levochkin and Hryhoriy Surkis, lawmakers with the banned Opposition Platform For Life party, arriving with their families in Nice, France, on a private jet from Vienna. Citing their sources, Ukrainska Pravda reported that both had received permits to leave Ukraine on parliamentary business.

In the airport of Nice, Ukrainska Pravda also spotted Oleksandr Honcharenko, mayor of the front-line city of Kramatorsk, in the company of lawmaker Maksym Yefymov. The two reportedly received permission to go to Slovakia for work, which they did, but later ended up in France.

In Monaco, the journalists spotted Yuriy Ivanyushchenko, a fugitive politician of the Viktor Yanukovych era, wanted in Ukraine since 2015.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian with English subtitles via the link.

OCCRP: Belarusian-run cleaning company suspected of money laundering in Latvia, funneled money through Ukraine

Belarus native Eduard Apsit’s cleaning business, which stretches across Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, allegedly laundered $42.8 million through a notorious ABLV bank that was shut down under money laundering allegations in 2018, an investigation by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found.

Latvian law enforcement suspects Eduard Apsit, the owner of Clean World, of laundering a large chunk of money, a portion of which, $35.3 million, went through Apsit’s Ukraine proxy. They moved to freeze the assets in question. Apsit denied the allegations.

The Latvian investigators also allege that Apsit’s cleaning empire not only allegedly laundered a huge chunk of money through ABLV bank, but also created cartels to win state tenders in Russia (worth at least $128 million), Belarus ($42.7 million) and Ukraine ($8 million).

OCCRP found that after Russia had seized Crimea in 2014, an Apsit-affiliated company won a tender from the Russian Defense Ministry worth 49 million euros (around $58 million at the time) to clean the barracks now occupied by the Russian Army and the Black Sea Fleet on the peninsula.

According to OCCRP, all of the seven tenders conducted at the time were won by companies connected to one another and Apsit’s business.

Read the full story in English via the link.

RFE/RL: Lawmaker suspected of corruption left Ukraine at request of the country’s military

The Kyiv City Council deputy Vladyslav Trubitsyn, who is suspected of taking a bribe, left Ukraine on May 13, according to Schemes, the investigative project of RFE/RL. Despite being an official and a man of draft age, he was allegedly allowed to leave Ukraine due to a special permit given to him by  the country’s military intelligence at the request of Ukraine’s Special Operation Forces (known in Ukraine as SSO).

The SSO told Schemes that they had asked the military intelligence’s chief General Colonel Kyrylo Budanov to assist five people, including Trubitsyn, with the permits to leave the country as volunteers sourcing supplies for the military. The purpose was to provide the SSO with unspecified "special equipment."

According to the letter, they should have come back by May 25, but Trubitsyn didn’t. In Ukraine, Trubitsyn is charged with taking a bribe of Hr 1.39 million ($38,000). He denies the charges.

After Trubitsyn failed to appear in court for the second time due to his absence in Ukraine, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) requested to place Trubitsyn on the international wanted list. He was also dismissed from the “Servant of the People” faction in the Kyiv City Council in May 2023.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here. Lawmaker buys lavish cars, spends vacation abroad during Russia’s war

Lawmaker Bohdan Torokhtiy, representing the governing Servant of the People faction, has been living a lavish life beyond official income, Bihus.Info investigative media outlet reported.

Since the start of the Russian all-out war, Torokhtiy has changed three pricey cars, which he registered under the name of his wife, Alina Levchenko, and spent a vacation abroad despite the ban for men aged between 18 and 60 to leave the country, Bihus.Info reported.

It is unclear where the money comes from since Torokhtiy only declared a used Volkswagen Tiguan and around $220,000 in cash when he first became a lawmaker in 2019, Bihus.Info reported citing his asset declaration.

During martial law, lawmakers don't have to file online asset declarations.

The National Agency on Corruption Prevention found that his total income between 2007 and 2019 constituted Hr 959,000 ($26,000), way less than he officially declared.

When asked to explain, the lawmaker said the vast majority of the money he officially declared was either gifts from relatives or an income from selling a car.

During the Russian invasion, in March 2023, Torokhtiy bought a Mercedes and registered it on Alina Levchenko, according to the report.

Journalists found that Levchenko sold a Range Rover Sport in July 2022 for $76,000 and bought a Mercedes-Benz G400 worth at least $158,000.

In December 2022, Levchenko reportedly acquired a Range Rover worth over $200,000, only to buy a $197,000-worth Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 four months later.

By geolocating the pictures published online by Torokhtiy’s wife, journalists found that he spent a vacation in Bulgaria in August 2022, despite the ban for Ukrainian men of draft age to travel abroad.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.

Meanwhile, in Russia


Mediazona confirms identities of nearly 24,500 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine

Using open sources, Russian independent media outlet Mediazona and BBC Russia found 24,470 Russian soldiers killed during the all-out war against Ukraine.

1,184 names have been added to the list since May 19. The journalists and volunteers now have also identified around 4,500 former prisoners and over 1,700 mercenaries who have been killed in Ukraine.

According to Mediazona, obituaries published in Russian print and online rarely specify where exactly Russian soldiers died. Moreover, a significant portion of the data comes not from public reports, but from cemeteries across Russia that volunteers visit.

Nearly a dozen mass graves of Wagner fighters have reportedly been identified as of June 2.

BBC and Mediazona say that according to the most conservative estimates, Russia may have lost about 45,000 people. At the same time, Russia's total losses, which include wounded, killed and missing, may amount to 203,000.

Fifteen months into the war, the number of Russian military casualties verified through open sources has surpassed the official Soviet losses during the nine-year war in Afghanistan. Over 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in Afghanistan from late 1979 until early 1989.



‘Investigative Stories from Ukraine’ shortlisted for Publisher Newsletter Awards

The Kyiv Independent’s newsletter, Investigative Stories from Ukraine, a weekly digest of Ukraine-focused investigative journalism, was shortlisted for the 2023 Publisher Newsletter Awards.

The Publisher Newsletter Awards is run by Media Voices, an industry-leading UK-based weekly podcast.

Investigative Stories from Ukraine is shortlisted in the Best Politics category. Among other nominees is Belarus Weekly, another Kyiv Independent newsletter, alongside Inside Politics of the Financial Times, and Evening Blend of The Spectator.

The winner will be announced in London in July 2023.


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