Welcome to Investigative Stories from Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent's newsletter that walks you through the most prominent investigations of the past week.
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Kyiv Independent’s exclusive
Russian military helicopters get Czech components despite sanctions
Russia uses a chain of intermediaries in Asia to get the vital Czech parts for the Mi-8 transport helicopters involved in the war against Ukraine in an apparent breach of international sanctions.
Trap Aggressor, a project of Ukrainian NGO StateWatch, did an exclusive investigation for the Kyiv Independent, revealing that at least 20 Czech power units required to set in motion the main engines of the Mi-8 helicopters have ended up in Russia after the start of the full-scale invasion bypassing sanctions.
The producer of these power units, First Brno Engineering Plant Velka Bites (PBS Velka Bites), claims to have sold the parts to the Indian Air Force, Aircraft Repair Plant No. 405 in Kazakhstan, and an Indian company, Deep Engineering Industries. These power units, however, then ended up in the hands of intermediaries that then passed the helicopter components over 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.
Read the full story in English here.
Top investigative stories
‘Cyprus Confidential’: Journalists reveal extent of Russian reliance on Cyprus as hub for dirty money
Cyprus acted as a main hub for dirty money from Russian politicians and oligarchs, whose investments were facilitated by financial service providers as big as accounting firm PwC, according to an investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
For eight months, journalists from the ICIJ network and 68 media partners, including the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, analyzed a leak of 3.6 million documents from Cyprus.
The journalist investigation found that Cyprus’ weak financial regulations attracted more than $200 billion in Russian money of questionable origin as of 2020.
Journalists also found a total of 96 Russian individuals under EU sanctions in the leaked records, which date as late as April 2022, three months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Transparency experts told ICIJ that Cypriot financial services providers may have been violating EU sanctions by aiding those Russians in concealing their funds, and the government was not doing enough to solve the problem.
The documents also showed that out of Russia’s 104 billionaires, 67 kept money in Cyprus. Among them, Roman Abramovich, Petr Aven, and Alexey Mordashov, all sanctioned by the EU. They all reportedly used the Cypriot financial services firm Cypcodirect to move their funds.
Cypriot officials told ICIJ that it has significantly cleaned up its banking sector from money laundering and dirty Russian money since 2013, citing reviews by the European Commission and the U.S. State Department. Yet, weeks after Russia's 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as sanctions on top Russian oligarchs loomed, the Cypriot branch of accounting giant PwC helped move Mordashov’s money out of Cyprus to shell companies outside the EU to protect his fortune, according to the journalist investigation.
Among those who used Cypcodirect to move his billions is also Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch.
Journalists reveal coercive Russification campaign in occupied territories of Ukraine
Russian occupation authorities torture Ukrainians they perceive to be nationalists, withhold essential services from those who refuse to obtain a Russian passport, and indoctrinate children as part of an intense campaign of Russification, according to the European Broadcasting Unit’s (EBU) Investigative Journalism network.
Russia’s actions amount to violations of international humanitarian law, which must be respected by the occupying power, and acts like torture and forced deportation amount to war crimes.
According to UN figures, as many as 11 million Ukrainians could be living under Russian occupation in the partially seized Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherzon, and Zaporizhizhia oblasts, as well as Crimea.
Survivors of Russia’s occupation told EBU that authorities detained and tortured those who demonstrated Ukrainian identity, especially police officers or former soldiers. In October 2023, the UN Commission of Inquiry reported a “widespread and systematic use of torture by Russian authorities.”
According to the EBU investigation, Russia is coercing Ukrainians to take up Russian citizenship by withholding essential services from those who refuse. A Russian occupation official in the Kherson Oblast said on social media that diabetics without a Russian passport would not receive insulin, EBU reported.
Russia is indoctrinating Ukrainian children with a propagandistic curriculum and military training, according to the journalist investigation.
One parent told EBU they could lose their children if they refused to subject them to the new Russia-imposed curriculum. The children could be adopted and transferred to Russia in a campaign of forced deportation, as featured in the Kyiv Independent’s documentary “Uprooted.”
The coercive Russification campaign puts Ukrainians living under occupation in an extremely difficult position given the broad and controversial Ukraine’s collaborationism law, under which any cooperation with Russian authorities could mean criminal prosecution after territories are liberated, according to human rights experts interviewed by EBU.
Read the full story in English here.
Media: Ukrainian men find ways to flee, avoid the draft aided by corrupt officials
A BBC Eye investigation revealed that nearly 20,000 men have illegally fled Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion to avoid being drafted into the military, using smugglers who take them on perilous routes, or relying on fake documents prepared by corrupt officials.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine has prohibited men between 18 and 60 from leaving the country without special permission.
BBC journalists followed border guards along parts of Ukraine’s southern border with Romania and Moldova, the most popular route for men trying to flee conscription. According to border statistics data BBC collected from across bordering Ukraine countries, more than 40,000 Ukrainian men have attempted to flee the country since the full-scale invasion. Almost 20,000 were successful in claiming asylum in neighboring countries.
The crossing can be dangerous, and Ukrainian authorities have found 19 bodies along the river that separates Ukraine and Romania, according to the BBC.
Draft dodgers also use corruption schemes. Some Ukraine officials offer phony documents to get men medical exemptions from the draft that allow them to travel, according to the journalist investigation.
Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of parliament from the ruling Servant of the People faction, told the BBC that authorities are aware of the corruption problem. In August 2023, President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Ukraine’s military enlistment office chiefs in an anti-corruption drive.
Venislavskyi also said he believed those trying to flee represented a small minority and did not critically undermine Ukraine’s war effort.
Watch the full story in English here.
Russian army supplier bought $4.1 million of materials from EU companies
According to an investigation by Trap Aggressor, a project of a Ukrainian watchdog NGO StateWatch, manufacturers of footwear for the Russian military bought $4.1 million of materials from EU companies, bypassing sanctions.
Citing import-export data, Trap Aggressor reported that Italian company Conceria Cervina Spa exported $1.7 million of materials to Faraday, a Russian company producing boots for the country’s military.
EU companies can still export so-called “dual-use” goods used in civilian and military applications to Russia since such items are not yet covered by sanctions.
An October 2023 investigation by independent Russian media outlet IStories highlighted that electronic components exported for dual-use goods continue to fuel Russian missile production.
Read the full story in Ukrainian here.
Publisher halts sales of Putin biographies by German author after journalists reveal Russian payments
German publishing house Hoffman und Campe is stopping the sales of two non-fiction books praising Russian president Vladimir Putin by journalist Hubert Seipel after an investigation by a journalist consortium revealed the writer was paid under a Russian “sponsorship agreement.”
The revelations about Seipel came as part of a large-scale journalist investigation led by the International Coalition of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that centered around a leak of documents from Cyprus.
According to the journalist investigation, Alexei Mordashov, a sanctioned Russian oligarch and an ally of Putin, organized payments of at least 600,000 euros to Seipel through shell companies in compensation for his books about the Russian president.
Seipel previously told journalists that he had met Putin nearly 100 times, and his 2015 and 2021 biographies were widely seen as sympathetic to the Russian dictator.
Seipel did not deny the payments but maintained that they did not affect the independence of his work, which the publishing house had fact-checked.
Ukraine’s president sanctions six top collaborators following Kyiv Independent investigation
President Volodymyr Zelensky introduced sanctions against six top political figures who collaborated with Russia, according to an investigation by StateWatch, a Ukrainian transparency watchdog, produced exclusively for the Kyiv Independent.
The StateWatch and Kyiv Independent investigation published in September 2023 identified 25 influential pro-Russian politicians and businesspeople who publicly spread pro-Russian views yet to be sanctioned by the Ukrainian government.
Sanctions unlock the ability to seize the individual’s assets and use them for Ukraine’s reconstruction.
The journalist investigation highlighted that instead of punishing the “big fish” with power and money, authorities sanctioned hundreds of low-level collaborators who lacked influence and assets to seize.
In June 2023, StateWatch submitted a list of 35 people to Ukraine’s parliamentary working group on sanctions.
On November 10, 2023, Zelensky passed a decree sanctioning six of the figures named by StateWatch, including introducing new measures against Russia-aligned former Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and ex-Ukrainian member of parliament, who is now a collaborator in occupied territories, Oleh Tsarov, which will allow for the confiscation of their assets.
Ukraine sanctions collaborator facilitating deportation of children, identified in Kyiv Independent documentary
On Nov. 18, Ukrainian authorities sanctioned Svitlana Maiboroda, a former Ukrainian official in occupied Donetsk who collaborated with Russian authorities and facilitated the deportation of children to Russia.
“Uprooted,” a Kyiv Independent documentary, looked into Russia’s systematic deportation and indoctrination of Ukrainian children and revealed Maiboroda’s direct participation in the transfer of two kids to Russia.
The documentary showed that along with the Russian military and officials, Ukrainian collaborators are a crucial part of Russia’s campaign of child deportation and indoctrination.
In March 2023, the International Criminal Court indicted Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and children’s rights ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova for the war crime of forced deportation of Ukrainian children.
Ukrainian families, civil society activists, and officials are working hard to return children from Russia and occupied territories.
On Nov. 19, 2023, Bohdan Yermokhin, a Ukrainian teenager deported to Russia 18 months ago, safely returned home following a months-long advocacy campaign by lawyers and journalists.