July 15, 2024

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Top investigative stories

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RFE/RL: Ukrainian parliament remains closed to journalists, raising transparency concerns

Ukraine’s parliament remains closed to the press two years into Russia’s all-out war as legislators use vague security concerns as a pretext to deny access and avoid journalists’ scrutiny, according to an investigation by schemes, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty project.

Verkhovna RadaBefore the full-scale invasion, journalists had access to plenary and committee meetings in parliament and could approach lawmakers for comment in the halls of the .

This isn’t the first time the Ukrainian parliament has shut its doors for journalists: access was also limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, also raising concerns about the parliamentarians overusing the pretext of the pandemic to keep the press out.

Ruslan StefanchukNow, journalists can’t freely enter the government quarter in Kyiv, where the parliament is based, or the building itself. Neither the parliamentary press service nor parliamentary speaker could point to the legislation that justified banning journalists from the area, schemes reported.

In conversation with schemes, Stefanchuk, who has the power to re-open sessions to journalists, pointed to vague security considerations and war-related dangers to lawmakers in justifying the policy.

Since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022, plenary sessions have been broadcast with a delay on the parliamentary TV channel Rada. In the meantime, journalists have had no access to committee meetings, where the laws are drafted and discussed.

Several members of parliament told schemes that the justification for keeping journalists out of parliament was questionable and expressed their support for easing the rules to allow access.

Schemes also spotted several members of parliament arriving in luxury cars. Journalists estimated these vehicles to be worth over $100,000 and be registered to the lawmakers’ family members. Registering expensive assets under the names of relatives indicates their possible illicit origin.

Additionally, journalists found that one member of parliament had racked up more than 20 unpaid speeding fines on his BMW.

Watch the full story in the Ukrainian language here.

Ukraine’s defense ministry paid over $37 million for Croatian ammo that never arrived

Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske exposed a complex scheme for ammunition procurement under which Ukraine’s defense ministry paid $37.5 million upfront and has not received a shipment over a year later.

Yurii ZbitnievLviv arsenalIn October 2022, Ukraine’s defense ministry contracted a privately owned Ukrainian company, , to supply 100,000 mortar rounds by October 2023 and paid upfront. The company’s director turned out to be a well-connected former member of parliament from the 1990s, , according to the journalist investigation.

A July investigation by Ukrainska Pravda flagged that not a single mortar bomb had been shipped under the multi-billion hryvnia contract Ukraine’s defense ministry signed with Lviv Arsenal.

Lviv ArsenalHromadske’s November investigation took it further and found that was not an ammunition producer but one intermediary in a chain of three. The seemingly unnecessary intermediaries connected Ukraine’s defense ministry and a Croatia-based arms manufacturer.

More than a year later, none of the ammunition arrived in Ukraine, and the Croatian manufacturer pulled out of the contract after it allegedly didn’t receive the payments from the intermediaries.

Also, the contract’s paperwork did not include export permissions to supply arms from Croatia to Ukraine, allegedly showing the government did not do their due diligence on the contract, according to the journalist investigation.

Dana YarovaIn an interview with Hromadske, , a volunteer who sits on the defense ministry’s procurement transparency council, questioned the government’s decision to pay the entire contract upfront before getting clarity on its logistics. Following the journalist investigation, the council asked the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) to investigate the matter.

According to the journalist investigation, two out of three intermediaries involved in the 100,000 mortar rounds purchasing scheme in October 2022 had previously failed to deliver on contracts for the defense ministry.

Slovak-based SevotechIn April 2022, agreed to supply $15 million of protective gear to Ukraine but delivered only a fraction. In December 2022, Croatian WDG Promet agreed to supply $35 million of tank ammunition to Ukraine, but not a single round has arrived.

Oleksandr Liyev, former defense ministry official in charge of military procurement, who signed the October 2022 contract with Lviv Arsenal, couldn’t explain to Hromadske why the chain of intermediaries was needed. He said he was familiar with two of the companies in the chain. Liyev stepped down in January 2023 after a journalist investigation revealed he supported Russia’s illegal Crimea annexation in 2014.

Former defense minister Oleksii Reznikov resigned in September 2023 after a series of scandals involving procurement at inflated prices of delayed and disrupted supplies for the military. One of the scandals, centered around allegedly overpriced jackets, also involved a scheme with intermediary companies and a questionable supply chain.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.

Ukrainian NGO identifies Russian commander behind deadly Kramatorsk cafe attack, argue it was war crime

An investigation by Ukrainian NGO Truth Hounds identified the Russian perpetrator of a June 2023 attack on a cafe in the eastern city of Kramatorsk that killed 13 people, both civilians and military. The researchers argued the strike was a war crime.

The attack was reportedly aimed at soldiers in the cafe, but according to Truth Hounds, the immense destructive potential of the Iskander-k missile used in the attack and the timing of the strike indicate that the attack could not distinguish between civilians and soldiers and thus amounts to a war crime.

Colonel VitaliyKrasnodar KraiFrom the missile type and direction of travel, Truth Hounds identified the military unit that carried out the attack, the 47th Missile Brigade based in the in southwest Russia, and the commander responsible, Bobyr.

The investigation by Truth Hounds also highlighted other Russian attacks purportedly designed to target Ukrainian soldiers but, in practice, killed scores of civilians. Truth hounds concluded that the pattern of attacks shows the complete disregard of the Russian armed forces toward the potential civilian victims.

Among the 13 victims of the Russian June 2023 attack on Kramatorsk was Victoria Amelina, a renowned Ukrainian author turned war crimes investigator. Amelina had joined truth hounds following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine to use her storytelling and research abilities to document Russian war crimes.

Read the full story in English here.

Meanwhile, in Russia

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Journalists reveal Russia’s tactics in indoctrinating Ukrainian children

Russian boarding schools teach Ukrainian orphans abducted from occupied territories to glorify Russia’s war against their home country, an investigation by Russian independent media outlet IStories details.

According to Ukrainian authorities, since the start of the Russian all-out war, Russia has abducted almost 20,000 Ukrainian children and sent more than 8,000 to “re-education camps.”

IStories found seven Ukrainian children held in a boarding school in Naryshkino, a town in southwest Russia 200 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. School workers there reportedly taught children to glorify a former convict who invaded Ukraine as part of the Wagner mercenary group, designated as a terrorist organization by the U.K. and France.

At least nine Ukrainian children are held in a facility in the Lipetsk oblast in southwest Russia, according to IStories. There, the children have to write letters to Russian soldiers participating in the war in Ukraine and collect materials like clothing and camouflage to support them.

IStories also identified three of nine Ukrainian orphans held in the Lipetsk oblast and found that they are up for adoption in Russia, likely in violation of international law.

Maria Lvova-BelovaRussia’s children’s rights ombudsperson, , indicted in March 2023 by the international criminal court for participating in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children, has denied that Russian families can legally adopt any Ukrainian orphans.

The Kyiv Independent’s documentary, “Uprooted,” investigated how Russian authorities systematically abduct children and allow their adoption by Russian families.

Read the full story in Russian here.

Russia uses high wages to attract recruits to go kill Ukrainians, fails to pay

The Russian government is failing to pay the volunteer soldiers it recruited to fight against Ukraine, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s investigative project, Systema.

Russia relies on volunteers lured by financially lucrative terms as Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to avoid a repeat of the profoundly unpopular and chaotic September 2022 conscription drive. Russia, however, fails to pay the high wages and bonuses promised, according to Russian soldiers, their relatives, lawyers, and activists specialized in military issues interviewed by Systema.

Thousands of convicts, recruited primarily by the Wagner mercenary group, were promised a pardon for going to fight in Ukraine. Systema talked to prisoners turned soldiers and relatives of those killed in action, who told the journalists that they were unable to get any pardon or compensation from the state.

A Russian soldier told Systema that after five months without any pay, he chose against prolonging his contract, after which his commanders tortured him. According to the journalist investigation, this is a common practice in many Russian units.

Read the full story in English here.

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