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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Journalists help abducted teenagers flee from Russian captivity

by Anna Myroniuk April 4, 2023 5:47 PM 3 min read
Father of Masha Senchuk, 17, hugs his daughter for the first time after she fled from Russian captivity, where she had spent half a year. (Credit: Slidstvo.Info)
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Top investigative stories

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Slidstvo.Info journalists help abducted teenagers flee from Russian captivity

Journalists of Slidstvo.Info investigative journalism agency devised an escape plan for two teenage girls from Kherson held captive by Russians in the occupied territory – and turned their journey into a documentary.

In September, half a year into the Russian occupation of their home city Kherson, Masha Senchuk, 17, and Nastia Mitrofanova, 18, agreed to go on what they were told would be a two-week vacation in Russia-occupied Crimea. Instead, they ended up spending 6 months in prison-like conditions.

Upon the end of the planned two-week stay, the two asked the summer camp director whether they could go home. He refused to let them go.

When the Ukrainian military liberated Kherson in mid-November, the girls realized they were trapped and won’t be let go.

They were soon moved to live on the premises of a local college, in a cold room. They also said they were forced to apply for Russian passports.

Journalists of Slidstvo.Info came across their social media posts and offered help.

Under the pretext of visiting one of the girls’ mothers over a weekend, the two ran away. On a series of buses and private cars arranged by reporters, the girls traveled for four days on a roundabout journey through multiple countries. They eventually got back home to Ukraine and reunited with their families.

Thousands of Ukrainian children remain in Russian captivity, with many forcefully deported to Russia.

Watch the full story with English subtitles via the link.

Journalists identify tech company developing cyber attack software for Russian government

A Moscow-based tech company Vulkan develops software for Russian cyber attacks, “bot farms,” and Internet censorship, as well as software for the Russian military and special services, according to an investigation by an international consortium of media outlets.

The clients of Vulkan include the Russian Defense Ministry, Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Service, according to the leaked documents obtained from an anonymous source. Intelligence analysts and cybersecurity experts who reviewed the documents concluded they appeared real.

The project, called “The Vulkan Files,” was a collaboration between the Washington Post, the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Paper Trail Media, and iStories, among others.

One of the primary products of Vulkan is software called Amezit. It was reportedly developed in 2016 under an order from the Russian Defense Ministry to surveil and control the Internet outside of Russia, including in Ukraine. The leaked documents don’t reveal how the software was used.

Other tasks of Amezit included enabling social media disinformation campaigns. One concerned the 2017 assassination of Ukrainian military intelligence serviceman colonel Maksym Shapoval in Kyiv.

Ukraine accused Russia of ordering the killing. Meanwhile, a social media bot army created by Vulkan started spreading messages accusing Ukraine’s own Security Service of Shapoval’s murder.

Another program of Vulkan, Crystal-2, reportedly offers training to cyber specialists on how to bring down critical infrastructure, including air, sea and rail transport.

The investigation also found Vulkan’s links with the notorious hacking group Sandworm, which the U.S. government has blamed for causing two blackouts in Ukraine and launching NotPetya, the most economically destructive malware in history.

Read the full story in English via the link.

Impact

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Four bankers convicted of helping hide Putin’s fortune in Swiss accounts following Panama Papers’ expose

A court in Switzerland convicted former executives of the Zurich branch of Russia's Gazprombank of helping Sergei Roldugin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, to park millions of dollars in Swiss accounts in 2014-2016.

The court ruled on March 30 that the bankers failed to establish the source of Roldugin’s funds. Roldugin, a cellist, has been considered by the Swiss government to be the keeper of Putin’s fortune.

The CEO and three employees of Gazprombank, the main channel for Russian oil and gas payments, got suspended jail sentences and fines amounting to $800,000.

In 2016, Roldugin’s financial maneuvers were first uncovered in the Panama Papers investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Panama Papers is a leak of millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s biggest offshore law firms. The records journalists obtained showed that Roldugin owned offshore firms that were part of the larger network that moved at least $2 billion upon the direction of Putin associates. The records showed that Roldugin was listed as the owner of offshore firms that received tens of millions in wire transfers.

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