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Investigative Stories From Ukraine: Russia receives Ukraine-made aviation spare parts despite war

by Daniil Ukhorskiy and Anna Myroniuk November 29, 2023 12:54 PM 8 min read
Censor.NetThe picture features the equipment and the workers of the Kharkiv FED machine-building plant. (Photo: )
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Top investigative stories

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Russia keeps receiving Ukraine-made aviation spare parts via intermediaries

Avia FED Service, a Russian daughter company of a Kharkiv FED machine-building plant, supplied Ukraine-made spare parts to the Russian aviation industry after the start of the Russian war against Ukraine and despite sanctions, according to a joint investigation by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Russian independent media IStories.

Since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022 and until July 2023, Avia FED Service supplied Russia’s aviation industry with goods worth at least 650 million rubles ($7.3 million), journalists reported citing customs data from ImportGenius.

Most of them, worth 370 million rubles ($4.2 million), came from Ukraine. In particular, 120 million-rubles-worth of airplane parts came from the Kharkiv FED machine-building plant, 67 milion-rubles-worth parts came from the Kyiv Radar plant, and an unspecified amount of parts and engines came from Motor Sich,  Kyiv Artem plant, Kharkiv aggregate design bureau, and other manufacturers.

Read also: Ukrainian aerospace company allegedly supplied military helicopter parts to Russia during war

Russian Avia FED Service fell under Ukrainain sanctions as early as 2018, four years before the start of the all-out war, and thus used an intermediary, a United Arab Emirates-based company Linker, for the supply of Ukraine-made parts to Russia, according to the journalist investigation.

Read the full story in English here.

Construction company linked to politician wins shady tender, raising corruption concerns

Navitechservice, a Kharkiv-based company with a well-connected director, secured a suspicious Hr 600 million ($16 million) reconstruction contract, raising corruption concerns, according to Ukrainian media outlet Bihus.Info.

The contract concerns rebuilding an apartment complex in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv that was occupied for almost a month at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, suffered extensive damage, and where civilians were terrorized by Russian forces. Ukrainian police found 269 bodies in mass graves in Irpin.

In August 2023, Transparency International already warned that suspicious companies were winning contracts for reconstruction in Irpin. In November, Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) announced investigations into two lawmakers’ alleged attempt to bribe officials in charge of reconstruction.

Navitechservice’s bid listed certain materials at inflated prices and was $5 million more expensive than the only other bid for the tender, and still won, according to the Bihus.Info investigation.

According to the publication, Navitechservice co-founder and director Maryna Tkatchenko has no experience in the construction business, working as a party planner, but has family connections with influential people.

Journalists revealed that Tkatchenko is the sister of the wife of Hennadiy Plis, former deputy mayor of Kyiv and former head of the State Audit Service. At the same time, Tkatchenko’s mother works for the father of the wife of Denys Konymarnytskyi, a Kyiv construction magnate previously involved in suspicious deals.

Russia’s invasion has reportedly caused at least $138 billion in damage across Ukraine, and according to Transparency International, Ukrainians see corruption in the reconstruction sector as one of the main challenges for the country’s future.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian with English subtitles here.

Russian occupation officials train children to operate military drones

Russian occupation authorities organize courses teaching children in occupied territories to operate military drones used in its war against Ukraine, according to the southern Ukrainian regional outlet Center for Investigative Journalism.

According to the journalist investigation, Russia’s government allocated six million rubles ($68,000) for training programs across all of the Ukrainian territories Russia occupied to teach 400 children aged between 11 to 16 how to operate first-person view (FPV) drones, which Russia extensively uses on the front lines in Ukraine.

According to a public announcement, the regional branch of Russia’s military-civilian cooperation organization in Sevastopol, Crimea, received a grant directly from Russia’s Presidential fund to provide for “systematic training” of young drone operators.

Social media photographs show young children in military uniforms training to operate the kinds of drones regularly used for reconnaissance and air attacks on the front lines of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The indoctrination and militarization of children in occupied territories is a longstanding strategy of Russian authorities and amounts to a violation of international humanitarian law and human rights violation.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here. Interested to learn more about the Russian militarization of Ukrainian children? Watch this explainer by the Kyiv Independent.

Chernihiv OblastJournalists identify Russian officer allegedly responsible for war crimes in

Suspilne, a Ukrainain media outlet, identified one of the officers who allegedly administered a notorious basement detention center in the then-occupied village of Yahidne, Chernihiv Oblast, where more than 360 people were held in torture-like conditions.

Russia occupied Yahidne on March 3, 2022, as part of its failed attempt to encircle the cities of Chernihiv and Kyiv. Following the liberation of Yahidne on March 31, 2022, reports of war crimes emerged, and Ukrainian law enforcement later announced 15 suspects in a war crimes case.

An April 2023 investigation by Suspilne revealed that Russian forces kept 299 adults and 68 children in a school gymnasium in brutal conditions that led to the deaths of 10 older people and caused health problems for many others.

According to Suspilne, soldiers also threatened detainees with violence and execution and sexually harassed female detainees.

Former detainees told Suspilne that the detention center was administered by two Russian officers, known by their call signs “Pauk” and “Klyon.” Yahidne residents recognized Klyon when he appeared in a propaganda music video recorded to promote Russia’s war and raise soldiers’ morale.

Suspilne journalists tracked Klyon through social media and identified him as 36-year-old Captain Semyon Solovyov of the Russian 228th Regiment.

Over the phone, journalists reached a person likely to be Solovyov, who first confirmed that he was in Russian-occupied Luhansk but began to deny everything once questioned about Yahidne.

Suspilne passed on the information connecting Solovyov to the crimes in Yahidne to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which is conducting the war crimes investigation.

An SBU representative from Chernihiv Oblast told journalists that the conditions in the Yahidne detention center amounted to torture, a war crime.

Watch the full story in English here.

Sanctioned Belarusian steel producer bypasses sanctions through Lithuania

Sanctioned state-owned company Belarusian Metallurgical Plant (BMZ), which produces a variety of steel products, bypassed EU sanctions with the help of Lithuanian companies, according to independent Belarusian media outlet Euroradio.

Belarus has directly and indirectly supported Russia’s war against Ukraine and helped Russia circumvent sanctions in the past. As such, the EU, the U.S., and other Ukrainian allies introduced sanctions against Belarus, including a ban on purchasing steel from the country.

According to leaked documents obtained by Euroradio, two Lithuanian companies, Milca Baltija and Eurologistikoz baze, signed a contract to purchase steel products from BMZ and sell them to Turkey after import restrictions were introduced.

A previous journalist investigation by the Belarusian Investigative Center revealed that Milca Baltija was masking Belarusian fertilizer as originating in Uzbekistan to evade sanctions.

The leaked documents also show companies in Turkey and the UAE, both owned by Ukrainian citizens, are acting as intermediaries, helping BMZ export steel products and obtain machine tools from Europe.

Read the full story in Belarusian here.

Journalists expose fake ‘foreign media’ at Russian proxy’s press conference in occupied Donetsk

Regional Ukrainian outlet Novosti Donbassa identified the so-called “journalists” who appeared at a press conference organized by Denis Pushilin, Russian-appointed head of occupied Donetsk Oblast, and found that they are nothing but noname propagandists posing as legit press.

The conference was organized by Russian proxies and was reportedly dedicated to spreading propaganda about life in occupied territories.

Self-proclaimed foreign journalists attending the press conference came from countries including Spain, Iceland, and Peru, according to Novosti Donbassa. The journalist investigation found that almost all the people attending the press conference had been, in fact, based in Russia or occupied Ukrainian territories and were longstanding propagandists known for spreading Kremlin disinformation.

For instance, journalists revealed that one of the Donetsk press conference attendees, Haukur Hauksson, a citizen of Iceland, has been living in Moscow since 1990 and worked for Russia’s Federal News Agency. Hauksson published numerous conspiracy theories, such as the debunked claim about U.S. bio laboratories in Ukraine.

Watch the full story in Russian here.

Reaction

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Czech firm subject to Kyiv Independent sanctions evasion investigation denies allegations, threatens to halt support to Ukraine

Reacting to the Kyiv Independent’s investigation into the alleged sanctions circumvention by Czech company First Brno Engineering Plant Velka Bites (PBS Velka Bites), the firm’s CEO Milan Macholan issued a statement addressing the Ukrainian government and President's Office on Nov. 22.

In a letter, Macholan denied the allegations that his company supplied helicopter parts to Russia via Kazakhstan and India after the start of the all-out war in breach of international sanctions and threatened a “temporary suspension of our planned projects to support Ukraine.”

Macholan calls the article an attack and claims the information is false.

On Nov. 20, the Kyiv Independent published an investigation alleging that PBS Velka Bites could have supplied vital parts for Russian helicopters via intermediaries in Asia after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in breach of international sanctions.

The information is based on trade data from the Export Genius database. According to it, at least 20 PBS Velka Bites’ power units required to start the main engines of the Mi-8 helicopters have ended up in Russia after the start of the all-out war.

PBS Velka Bites told the Kyiv Independent it had sold 14 out of the 20 parts in question to buyers in India and Kazakhstan. These buyers apparently resold them since the parts with identical numbers later ended up in the hands of intermediaries, who then passed them over to Russia.

In its Nov. 22 letter, the company denied its buyers re-exported the helicopter parts to Russia.

The EU sanctions regulations say companies must run due diligence checks to ensure that the goods they supply to third countries don’t reach Russia.

Meanwhile in Russia

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Leading Russian MP adopted child abducted from Ukraine

Sergey Mironov, a senior lawmaker who leads Just Russia, an establishment political party, adopted a Ukrainian child abducted by Russian forces from occupied Kherson, according to an investigation by independent Russian media outlet IStories.

Ten-month-old Marharyta Prokopenko was taken by Russian authorities from an orphanage in Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine that was occupied between March and November 2022, under the guise of traveling to Moscow for medical treatment, according to IStories.

When Prokopenko arrived in Moscow, Mironov changed her last name and citizenship, falsely changed her place of birth to Russia, and adopted the girl, which amounts to a violation of international law according to experts interviewed by IStories.

As documented in the Kyiv Independent’s documentary film “Uprooted,” Russian authorities have systematically deported Ukrainian children from occupied territories. In November 2023, “Uprooted” was shortlisted for Ukraine’s National Investigative Journalism Competition.

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and Russian child rights ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova for the crime of forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.

Read the full story in English here.

At least 13 Russian lawmakers, themselves or via their family members, own luxury properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, according to an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

The ACF identified properties and their owners through Dubai’s land registry system, finding dozens of apartments totaling over $50 million.

For instance, records showed that Grigoriy Anikeev, a lawmaker from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party who is sanctioned by the U.K., owned the most expensive property, valued at approximately $22 million.

Anatoliy Bifov, a Russian Communist Party lawmaker, has four family members who own properties in Dubai, according to the ACF. He denied any knowledge of the properties when contacted by the ACF and claimed his daughter, who owns one of the apartments, had never been there despite Instagram posts showing the contrary.

Watch the full story in Russian here.

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