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Ukraine war latest: Scammers reportedly cheat volunteers out of millions on drone purchases

by Alexander Khrebet and The Kyiv Independent news desk December 8, 2023 10:35 PM 6 min read
DJI Matrice 300 reconnaissance drones are seen during test flights in the Kyiv region on Aug. 2, 2022, prior to being sent to the front line. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
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Key developments on Dec. 8:

  • Investigation reveals scheme to steal money from volunteers on drone purchases
  • Germany hands over shells, drones, other equipment in latest delivery to Ukraine
  • Ambassador: Russia holds 500 Ukrainian medical workers captive
  • Russian strike on Dnipropetrovsk Oblast kills 1, injures 8

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 revealed.

Since the earliest days of the all-out war, Ukrainian local charities and volunteers have been campaigning to crowdfund and get the much-needed supplies needed for soldiers, civilians and animals.

Crowdfunding 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 a 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.

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Germany hands over shells, drones, other equipment in latest delivery to Ukraine

Germany handed over its latest delivery of military aid to Ukraine on Dec. 8, which included vehicles, drones, artillery shells, and other equipment, the German government reported on Dec. 8.

The delivered items included 11 reconnaissance drones, six border protection vehicles, eight off-road Zetros trucks, 100,000 first aid kits and other medical materials, 33 GMG automatic grenade launchers, and additional 155mm artillery shells.

The previous delivery included vehicles, drone-detection systems, ammunition, and other equipment.

A study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel) released on Dec. 7 found that newly announced international aid for Ukraine between August and October had dropped to its lowest levels since January 2022, before the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

The U.S. remains Ukraine's largest military contributor, with a total volume of over $47 billion, the IfW Kiel wrote. However, Germany is reportedly catching up fast, having committed around $18 billion in military aid for Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate voted against a funding bill on Dec. 6 that contained $61 billion in aid for Ukraine.  

Earlier the same day, the U.S. announced a $175 million defense aid package for Ukraine from previously directed drawdowns, in what Secretary of State Antony Blinken said would be one of the last military aid packages to Ukraine if Congress failed to pass additional funding.

Francis Farrell: Ukraine could still lose the war. Let’s get some things straight
This November has been a particularly grim one here in Ukraine. Over the past month, two media sensations in big Western magazines served as a sober wake-up call about the state of the war. First, Simon Shuster’s profile in TIME magazine on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “lonely fight”

Russia holds 500 Ukrainian medical workers captive

Russia holds almost 500 Ukrainian medical workers captive, Ukraine's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said, calling it a violation of the Geneva Conventions on Dec. 8.

Moscow has been repeatedly accused of violating international humanitarian conventions, most recently when a group of allegedly Russian soldiers was recorded allegedly executing two Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The video of the execution is being investigated by Ukrainian authorities.

“They (medics) can only be detained to provide medical assistance to Ukrainian prisoners of war and must be released as soon as their assistance is no longer needed,” said Yevhenii Tsimbaliuk, representing Ukraine at the OSCE Permanent Council.

“According to available data, there are about 500 medical workers in...(Russian detention),” he said during the council's meeting in Vienna on Dec. 7.

The Geneva Conventions say that medical personnel “shall be respected and protected under all circumstances.”

They “may not be retained after they have fallen into the hands of the enemy” except for mutually agreed cases to provide medical care to their captured compatriots.

Tsimbaliuk added that Russia has not provided the International Red Cross with unimpeded access to Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine wrought extensive damage to the country's medical infrastructure. Almost 1,700 medical facilities were destroyed or damaged, of which around 850 have been restored, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said.

A report by a coalition of Ukrainian and international institutions said that as of summer, 148 medical workers were killed and 106 were wounded due to Russia's war.

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Russian attacks

The number of injured in a Russian missile attack against Dnipropetrovsk Oblast's Pavlohrad district on Dec. 8 has risen to eight, Governor Serhii Lysak reported.

One person has been confirmed dead as Russia attacked Ukraine with 19 cruise missiles in the morning strike.

The victims include men aged between 32 and 66. Two of them are recovering at home and the rest are in the hospital, Lysak said.

Two of the hospitalized victims are reportedly in serious condition.

Damage was reported in Pavlohrad itself, as well as in the Ternivka, Yuriivka, and Mezhyrich communities.

Some 20 residential buildings were damaged, as well as a school, a power line, and nine other buildings, the governor said.

Pavlohrad, a city with a population of around 100,000, lies around 60 kilometers east of the regional center of Dnipro and 150 kilometers west of the front line.

Meanwhile, forensic experts identified the body of the fifth victim of Russia's Nov. 29 missile strike on Novohrodivka in Donetsk Oblast, the National Police reported on Dec. 8.

The body fragments found at the site belonged to a 33-year-old woman, whose husband and eight-year-old daughter were also killed in the Russian attack, according to the National Police.

Russian forces launched six S-300 missiles on Novohrodivka and two other towns in the Pokrovsk district, injuring 10 people, including four children.

Russia has occupied part of Donetsk Oblast since 2014. Towns and villages near the front line have suffered regular hostilities since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion.

Many of the front-line towns have been badly damaged and largely depopulated as a result.

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