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Investigative Stories From Ukraine: Millions of dollars could have been stolen from the state humanitarian fund

State fund overseen by the deputies of (C) ex-Minister of Social Policy, Maryna Lazebna, (L) Yevhen Kotyk, and (R) Borys Lebedtsov, allegedly lost to fraudsters a quarter of the donations designated to help Ukrainians affected by Russia’s war. (Photo: Slidstvo.Info)
by Anna Myroniuk December 12, 2023 6:05 PM 5 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

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Top investigative stories

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Millions of dollars in humanitarian aid donations could have been embezzled from the state fund

Five charity foundations could have misspent a quarter of the donations, around Hr 164 million ($4.4 million), in the fund set by Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy to help those affected by the war soon after the start of the Russian full-scale invasion in 2022, according to the Ukrainian investigative journalism agency Slidstvo.Info.

None of these five charities that received money from the ministry are widely known. Two are allegedly registered to a married couple, and thus are connected. Besides, many of the contractors of all of the five charities were the same, Slidstvo.Info reported.

Journalists obtained materials from the criminal probe led by the National Anti-Corruption Agency into the alleged embezzlement of donations in the governmental fund. The reporters then found and approached the charitable organizations subject to investigation and the communities they were supposed to help and learned that the sums the charities received from the government significantly exceeded the help they delivered to those in need.

In one case, a charity, through a chain of sham firms, bought medical kits at four times the market price from a company, named Elite Advice Trading House, which was already investigated as part of a different probe into the embezzlement of state funds. Elite Advice Trading House has received money from all five charities in question, according to Slidstvo.Info.

The allocated money was supposed to pay for humanitarian aid for the communities in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv oblasts, heavily affected by Russia’s war. Instead, according to Slidstvo.Info, most of the Hr 164 million ($4.4 million) in question could have ended up in the pockets of fraudsters.

Former officials of Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy who managed the fund at the beginning of the all-out war told the reporters that no misuse of funds took place.

The donations to the ministry’s fund totalling Hr 625 million ($17.2 million) came in the first months of the all-out war from both Ukrainian and foreign givers.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian with English subtitles here.

Ukrainian state entities, businesses used CCTV cameras with Russian software for decades

Thousands of CCTV cameras with Russian software TRASSIR have been operating in Ukraine for two decades and could have been passing over the information to Moscow, where the provider’s servers are based, according to the investigation by Schemes, an investigative project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Together with cyber experts, the journalists conducted an experiment and learned that before ending up on the user’s phone or laptop, it first goes directly to the Russian company’s servers in Moscow.

On Feb. 27, 2022, a few days into the Russian full-scale invasion, Ukraine banned access to millions of Russian IP addresses, including the addresses of those companies that own the camera servers. These limitations, however, are reportedly easy to bypass using a VPN with a Russian location.

Most of the state institutions and businesses, known to Schemes as users of CCTV cameras with Russian software, claimed to no longer be customers of the service, with a few exceptions.

In 2017, the Poltava City Council bought the Russian TRASSIR software and installed 300 CCTV cameras across the city. The cameras are still operational despite the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine.

Responding to the journalists’ request for comment, the city council claimed that the information from the cameras was secure and couldn’t be passed to the servers in Russia. At the same time, the council said they are looking for funds to replace the CCTV cameras with the ones that don’t run on Russian software.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.

Journalists identify 13 members of local councils who fled Ukraine in violation of travel ban

At least 13 members of local councils across Ukraine left the country following the Russian full-scale invasion misusing the exemption in the rule that bans men of conscription age from going abroad under martial law, according to a Lviv-based investigative outlet NGL.Media.

The law, enforced immediately after the Russian full-scale invasion, bans men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country. One of the very few exceptions is the “Shliakh” (Path) system. It allows drivers transporting humanitarian aid to leave Ukraine for a limited period of time.

NGL.MediaAt least 13 local council members exploited “Shliakh” to leave Ukraine and avoid conscription to the military, found. Seven of the runaways reportedly resigned as lawmakers, while the rest kept their mandates despite bailing on their constituencies.

Among those hiding abroad in lawmaker status is, for example, Vitaliy Abramov, a 31-year-old member of the Kharkiv Oblast council.

Abramov used a volunteer permit and left Ukraine on Jan. 31, 2023, by car. On the very same day, the car returned back without him. Abramov is a local lawmaker with a now-banned pro-Russian party, Opposition Platform For Life.

NGL.MediaIn its previous investigations, found that NGOs helped thousands of men dodge the draft and exposed a Lviv city councilman and the son of a Ukrainian parliamentarian who illegally left the country.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.

Impact

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Prosecutor General's Office starts internal investigation after media report shows gifts arriving at its headquarters

The Prosecutor General’s Office claimed on Dec. 5 to have initiated an internal check following the publication of a video report showing gifts being dropped off at its Kyiv headquarters on Dec. 1, marked in Ukraine as the Prosecutors' Day, a professional holiday.

On that day, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet watched the Kyiv headquarters of the Prosecutor General’s Office and filmed dozens of people arriving with gifts, packages, and flowers over the course of the day.

The video sparked concerns about the independence of the office in light of Ukraine's anti-corruption efforts.

One of those filmed visiting the Prosecutor General's Office on Dec. 1 is Hryhorii Mamka, a lawmaker for the now-banned pro-Russian party, Opposition Platform For Life.

When asked about the reason for his visit, Mamka said he had come for an event related to the holiday as a representative of the parliament's law enforcement committee.

Recognition

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Kyiv Independent’s documentary wins national investigative journalism contest

The Kyiv Independent’s investigative documentary "Uprooted" on Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children won the 2023 National Investigative Journalism Competition, one of the most important journalism awards in Ukraine.

This is the first award of the Kyiv Independent’s War Crimes Investigations Unit, which has produced three documentaries since its launch in March this year.

The "Uprooted" investigative film, authored by a journalist Olesia Bida, follows the stories of Ukrainian children forcefully deported to Russia from the occupied Mariupol and names those collaborators and Russians responsible for their abduction.

The unlawful transfer or deportation of civilians to Russia violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime under international law.

The National Investigative Journalism Competition was established in 2014 by the Media Development Foundation and YanukovychLeaks, a Ukrainian initiative that has studied and published documents left by ex-president Viktor Yanukovych who fled to Russia after the EuroMaidan Revolution in 2014.

Last year, the Kyiv Independent’s investigation into leadership misconduct in the International Legion made it to the finals of the 2022 National Investigative Journalism Competition.

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