Alleged scammers may have stolen up to Hr 84 million ($2.3 million) from volunteers and charitable organizations on the pretenses of selling drones for the military, an investigation by Ukrainska Pravda published on Dec. 8 reveals.
Crowd-funding for humanitarian and defense purposes has soared since the start of the full-scale invasion, with around $2.7 billion collected by Dec. 5, the military said. Such a high demand also creates favorable conditions for fraudulent schemes.
According to the investigation, the supposed orchestrators of the fraud initially sold several drones at discount prices, establishing a trustworthy reputation with the potential customer base and attracting further orders.
After receiving millions in hryvnias in advance payments, the perpetrators allegedly withheld the money without delivering the drones.
According to information compiled by one of the victims of the scheme, the fraudsters reportedly received at least 49 million hryvnias ($1.3 million) from 559 drone orders by 172 buyers.
These numbers include only those who could have been safely identified, and one of the cheated volunteers estimates the full damage at Hr 84 million ($2.3 million) with around 1,000 undelivered drones.
As Ukrainska Pravda pointed out, in 14 cases, the alleged perpetrators of the scheme returned the funds to avoid publicity.
The people linked by the investigation to the scheme include entrepreneurs Iryna Prystupa, Olesia Matiakina, and Nazar Tkachenko, as well as volunteer Ani Sahakian.
A volunteer with an established reputation, Ukrainska Pravda noted that "it is quite likely that Sahakian did not have criminal intentions, but on the contrary, she was sure that she was doing a good thing." Sahakian's role rested mainly on receiving orders from volunteers and serving as the "face" of the scheme.
Some of the victims took the matter to the police, who reportedly carried out searches at the premises of the alleged perpetrators this month, Ukrainska Pravda said.