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Investigative Stories From Ukraine: Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff lives in a villa owned by people tied to Yanukovych

by Anna Myroniuk December 5, 2023 4:38 PM 5 min read
The picture features a 600-square-meter villa in Kozyn, an elite settlement near Kyiv, which, according to the investigation by Ukrainska Pravda, deputy head of Ukraine’s President's Office Oleg Tatarov rents from a person allegedly linked to businessmen connected to Russia-backed runaway ex-president Viktor Yanukovych. (Photo: Ukrainska Pravda)
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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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The Kyiv Independent’s exclusive

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Kyiv Independent identifies Russians, collaborators who supervised infamous POW camp where Ukrainians were tortured, killed

Kirill Popov, the first deputy head of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service's Moscow branch, is likely to have overseen the work of the Olenivka camp for prisoners of war, located in the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast, according to the latest investigative documentary by the Kyiv Independent.

The facility held soldiers, including the servicemen from the Azov Brigade, and civilian hostages captured in Mariupol, most of them in May 2022, when the city fell. After their release, former captives spoke up about horrendous conditions of detention and torture, which the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine also confirmed took place.

The Kyiv Independent found evidence indicating that the horrors of the Olenivka POW camp were likely coordinated from Moscow, with the acting head of the city’s Penitentiary Service allegedly traveling all the way from home to Olenivka to oversee the process in person.

Journalists obtained Popov's phone location records, and found that he likely arrived in the occupied part of  Donetsk Oblast on May 16, 2022, the very same day when over 2,000 Mariupol defenders surrendered and were transferred to the POW camp in Olenivka, and stayed for a month before returning to Russia.

In conversation with the Kyiv Independent, three Ukrainian soldiers confirmed that they saw Popov in the POW camp giving orders and coordinating the work of other prison staff.

According to his phone geolocation records, Popov left the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast on June 17, 2022, and returned to Moscow. The Kyiv Independent called Popov, but he declined to comment on his role in the Olenivka POW camp.

On July 29, 2022, an explosion occurred at one of the Olenivka camp’s barracks, killing 57 prisoners of war and injuring over 100. Russians blamed Ukraine for the explosions, but these claims were disproved by a United Nations investigation. Ukrainian officials say that the barrack was blown up by Russians, but the investigation is ongoing to establish whether it was the result of a planted explosive or shelling.

Watch the documentary in English via the link.

Top investigative stories

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Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff lives in a villa owned by people linked to the fugitive president Yanukovych

Oleg Tatarov, deputy head of Ukraine’s President's Office, rents a 600-square-meter villa from a person allegedly linked to businessmen connected to Russia-backed runaway ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, according to an investigation by Ukrainska Pravda.

Tatarov is a top member of Zelensky’s administration whose role is to oversee law enforcement. He was the subject of a bribery probe, but the charges were dropped in December 2022 because the deadline for investigation had expired. As the case was ongoing, it was often disrupted by high-level attempts to sweep it under the rug, while Zelensky never suspended Tatarov.

According to Ukrainska Pravda, Tatarov lives at a villa in Kozyn, an elite settlement near Kyiv. The villa is reportedly owned by Volodymyr Kovalenko, who bought it in 2021 and rented it out to Tatarov just months later.

Kovalenko purchased the luxurious 600-square-meter villa for just 2 million hryvnias ($72,730), several times cheaper than normal for this area, from a Russian citizen, Suzanna Magakian.

Magakian's family co-owns a company, Retail Residents. Their partners in the company are the Rostomian family. This name has come up in Ukrainian investigative journalism before.

In 2015, one of the houses of Yanukovych, who by then fled to Russia following the EuroMaidan Revolution, was re-registered under the name of one of the Rostomian family members, according to Nashi Groshi, a procurement watchdog. Journalists believed it was an attempt by Yanukovych to secure his ownership through proxies.

Under the Yanukovych rule, Tatarov served as a deputy chief of the Main Investigations Department at the Interior Ministry and expressed no opposition to the police’s violent crackdown on anti-government protesters. Moreover, in the midst of the EuroMaidan Revolution, Yanukovych decorated Tatarov with the title of “Merited Lawyer of Ukraine,” according to Schemes, an investigative project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

According to Kovalenko, he rents out his villa to Tatarov for 75,000 hryvnias ($2,052) per month, something he couldn’t be able to afford with his official salary.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.

RFE/RL identifies Russians in the leadership of OSCE, raising questions of the organization’s neutrality

Three people in the leadership of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are Russians with a track record of service for the country’s government, according to the investigation by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. According to the publication, these findings undermine the organization’s supposed neutrality.

The OSCE is a Vienna-based security body consisting of 57 members.

After the start of the Russian war in the Donbas in 2014, OSCE stepped in as an on-the-ground human rights violations observer and as a mediator of the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. This resulted in two Minsk Protocols, roadmaps for conflict mitigation signed as part of the so-called Trilateral Contact Group, which Russia violated when it declared occupied Donetsk and Luhansk part of Russia days before the full-scale invasion.

When Russia declared its decision to illegally annex the regions in February 2022, the man announcing it in the Russian parliament was Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko.

As Rudenko was speaking, his wife, Saltanat Sakembaeva, was performing her duties as a senior political and administrative assistant in the OSCE secretary-general's office, RFE/RL found. This role gave her access to high-level OSCE meetings, events, and information she could have passed to her husband, RFE/RL reported, citing anonymous insider sources.

Another Russian at the top of the OSCE, who RFE/RL identified, is career diplomat Anton Vushkarnik. Before joining OSCE Secretariat as senior strategic adviser, he had served for four years at the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Among the OSCE's Russian employees is also Daria Boyarskaya, RFE/RL reported. According to the publication, Boyarskaya is a former diplomat who used to serve as an interpreter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Read the full story in English here.

Reaction

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The European Union plans to impose sanctions against Redut – a Russian private military company financed and controlled by the country’s military intelligence (widely known under its Russian acronym GRU) – but it targeted a legal entity that is not key to the organization’s operations in Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Previously, another investigation by Schemes and Systema, projects of RFE/RL, found that Redut, which takes an active role in the war, is run by the Russian GRU’s 16th Separate Brigade and that the name is just a label used to refer to around 20 units operating under the Redut umbrella.

This time, journalists obtained the leaked draft of the new sanctions the EU plans to impose by the end of 2023. The document lists Moscow-registered Redut Security LLC (previously sanctioned by the U.S.) as a company key to Redut's activities, which the journalists found it isn’t.

Having analyzed company records, RFE/RL learned that Redut Security LLC is barely involved in any financial activity and does not have adequate working capital, and thus, sanctions in their current form will have little effect on the private military company.

Read the full story about Redut’s corporate structure in English here.

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