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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Russian drone downed by Ukraine is full of Western components

by Daniil Ukhorskiy October 3, 2023 11:41 AM 6 min read
A Russian Ptero reconnaissance drone is seen after having been downed by Ukrainian forces near the border with Russia. It was found to consist of Western-produced components. (Credit: Trap Aggressor/State Watch)
This audio is created with AI assistance

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Top investigative stories

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Media: Russian drone downed by Ukraine is full of Western components

A Russian Ptero reconnaissance drone recently downed by Ukrainian forces was full of Western parts, according to Trap Aggressor, a Ukrainian investigative journalism project.

Trap Aggressor got access to the drone wreckage, identified the components, and found that they were manufactured in the U.S., Japan, and Germany.

In September 2022, the CEO of AFM-Servers, a private Russian company that makes the Ptero drone under state contracts, said that it operates thanks to a navigation system developed by Iridium Satellite, a U.S.-based company.

In the trade data, Trap Aggressor found that Iridium’s Russian subsidiary imported products directly from its U.S.-based parent as late as October 2022, the ninth month of the Russian all-out war.

The Moscow-based subsidiary is still under active state contracts to provide the Russian military with satellite communication services, Trap Aggressor reported, citing procurement data.

Following the publication, U.S.-based Iridium told Trap Aggressor that they do not condone the use of their technology in Russian drones and that they comply with U.S. sanctions despite evidence to the contrary.

A Ukrainian military expert told Trap Aggressor that without importing Western components, Russia could not sustain the production of drones it extensively uses in its war against Ukraine.

Read the full investigation in English here.

Journalists identify over 1,800 occupation officials, including over 1,500 Ukrainians

Ukrainian outlet NGL Media names 1,816 representatives of occupation authorities, most of whom are Ukrainian citizens.

The journalist investigation is based on data from the official Russian state register, which sources with internal access leaked to NGL Media.

Journalists found that 1,579 of the identified officials were Ukrainian citizens. The occupation authorities reportedly appointed Russians to key security service and justice posts, while other positions were held primarily by Ukrainians.

For instance, NGL Media found that Ukrainian collaborators headed 87% of local police stations and 80% of prisons and detention centers.

NGL Media created a database of the identified occupation officials and mapped their registered addresses in occupation territories.

Under Ukrainian legislation, those collaborating with occupation authorities by taking a leadership position in the courts or law enforcement agencies could face 12-15 years in prison or even a life sentence under exceptional circumstances.

Read the full investigation in Ukrainian here.

How Russian forces killed civilians on a highway outside Kyiv, burned evidence early in invasion

In the early days of the full-scale invasion, Russian soldiers killed at least 14 and wounded seven civilians along a short stretch of the E60 highway seven kilometers west of Kyiv, according to an investigation by Texty, a Ukrainian media outlet.

Texty’s story is based on interviews with local police, prosecutors, witnesses, and survivors of the attack, as well as on video footage. The investigation shows that Russian forces targeted civilian vehicles that were driving along the highway and killed people traveling on foot in the area.

According to the journalist investigation, Russian forces killed 27 people along this highway, including 14 civilians and eight people who have not been identified.

In an attempt to hide their war crimes, Russian forces burned the cars of the victims and their bodies, according to video footage and statements by local authorities.

Russian forces took up positions along the highway on March 3, 2022, drone footage shows. On that day, they reportedly killed a civilian man who was walking in the area. They used to regularly kill civilians there until the area was liberated in early April, according to the journalist investigation.

Local police and prosecutors told Texty that the 2nd battalion of the 5th tank brigade, a unit within the 36th Combined Arms Army, held the position. The 36th army participated in the siege of Kyiv, and authorities previously charged soldiers from the army for participating in the Bucha massacre.

According to Russian media, the commander of the 2nd battalion was later killed in action. Ukrainian prosecutors issued a notice of suspicion in absentia to two other soldiers from the unit in connection with the highway killings.

The Kyiv Independent’s documentary “Bullet Holes,” released on Sept. 14, told the stories of two children who were shot by Russian forces while fleeing front-line areas by car with their families.

Russian forces target civilian vehicles across Ukraine, according to the UN Commission of Inquiry.

Read the full investigation in Ukrainian here.

Journalists identify Russian military training facilities in southern Ukraine

An investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism, a Ukrainian media outlet, identified more than two dozen Russian training camps in occupied southern Ukraine, including Crimea.

Journalists used satellite imagery, photographs posted by Russian channels on social media, and reports of Ukrainian strikes on the facilities to geolocate the training camps, some of which were built before the full-scale invasion.

Satellite imagery shows the expansion of the facilities and intensification of training exercises, the Center for Investigative Journalism reported.

According to the journalist investigation, Russian training exercises have caused significant environmental damage in occupied territories, including possibly starting a massive fire that affected 50,000 hectares of land.

Read the full investigation in Ukrainian, and see the map of facilities here.

Ukrainska Pravda finds Ukrainians wanted under corruption charges living luxuriously in London

Journalists from Ukrainska Pravda located and confronted two influential Ukrainians subject to corruption charges enjoying a luxurious life in London.

Among them is Pavlo Fuks, at one point one of the richest men in Ukraine who now faces charges of tax evasion, and Andrii Dovbenko, whom the Ukrainian media described as the “grey eminence” behind the country’s justice ministry in 2017, indicted in absentia for fraud. Both denied the allegations in their respective cases.

London is a popular hiding spot for Ukrainian oligarchs and other influential figures who face domestic legal troubles, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

Ukrainska Pravda confronted Fuks, a suspect in a fresh tax evasion case and subject to domestic sanctions since 2021 imposed on him as a person "of increased criminal influence," stepping out of a chauffeured Range Rover in London.

According to the Pravda investigation, Fuks was never recorded crossing the border when he left Ukraine two days after the start of the full-scale invasion. He told the reporters he had stayed in the UK under a residence permit ever since and said he plans to fight the charges against him in person once the war is over.

Pravda also confronted fugitive lawyer Dovbenko at the doorsteps of his multi-million-pound home in west London, reportedly registered in his wife's name.

In the Ukrainian media, Dovbenko used to be portrayed as a grey eminence in the justice ministry in the times of President Petro Poroshenko, allegations which he had denied. Dovbenko is wanted in Ukraine on fraud charges and was indicted in absentia in April 2023.

According to the report, Dovbenko, who claims he is not hiding from Ukrainian authorities, is seeking asylum in London.

Watch the full investigation in Ukrainian, with English subtitles here.

Impact

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Journalist investigation leads to criminal corruption probe connected to presidential advisor

Following an investigation by Bihus.Info, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Agency launched a criminal probe into associates of Rostyslav Shurma, a deputy head of the President’s Office.

In August, Bihus.Info published an investigation showing that since the summer of 2022, energy companies swindled the Ukrainian government for up to Hr 320 million ($8.7 million) for solar energy it couldn’t possibly receive.

The investigation showed that two of the energy companies that were paid by the state were co-owned by Oleh Shurma, Rostyslav’s brother, and another company was co-owned by Rostyslav’s old business associate.

The latest update by Bihus.Info says that the anti-corruption investigation is looking at five firms from “Shurma’s orbit” mentioned in the August story.

The National Anti-Corruption Agency is investigating suspects for embezzlement through abuse of office. The suspects, who are yet to be announced, face up to 12 years in prison.

Meanwhile, in Russia

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Russian construction giant funds mercenary unit fighting against Ukraine

A major Russian construction company is funding a volunteer unit fighting against Ukraine, according to an investigation by Russian independent media outlet iStories.

The “Russian Legion” was reportedly founded in May 2022. The unit’s leader boasted on social media that he has been recruiting Russians to fight against Ukraine since 2014.

Mercenaries are paid huge sums by local standards, according to advertisements and a contract obtained by iStories, with a starting bonus of more than $6,000 and a monthly salary of $3,600.

When joining the “Russian legion,” fighters signed contracts with Investinform, a company founded in August 2022 that operates as an intermediary for major Russian construction company PIK, according to the journalist investigation.

IStories contacted the legion under the guise of being a potential volunteer, and a recruiter confirmed to the journalists that PIK financially supports the unit.

Russian corporate data shows that Investinform currently owns a company previously connected to PIK. PIK denied any connections to Investinform.

A previous investigation by IStories showed that PIK was funding Russian military recruitment through a different intermediary.

Read the full investigation in Russian here.

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