How Ukraine’s Corrupt Elites are Profiting from the Conflict

Olga Sukharevskaya
Ukraine’s newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) walks to his Presidential office after a ceremony of his oath in the Ukrainian Parliament, in Kiev, Ukraine. ©  STR / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Officials and oligarchs have diverted much of the financial support sent to Kiev

Since the beginning of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, the United States, the European Union – and their allies – have provided Kiev with $126 billion worth of aid, a number almost equal to the country’s entire GDP. Moreover, millions of Ukrainians have found refuge in the EU where they were given housing, food, work permits, and emotional support. The scope is huge, even by western standards. Considering that the bloc has been funding Kiev while coping with an economic and energy crisis of its own, the assistance is perhaps especially notable.

Kiev bases its endless funding requests on the collapse of its economy, due to the war, and its need to “resist Russian aggression.” But is the aid reaching its intended destination?

The Monaco Battalion

While Ukraine has undergone a general mobilization affecting all men under the age of 60, many former and current high-ranking officials, politicians, businessmen, and oligarchs have moved to safety abroad – mainly to the EU.

The mass flight of Ukrainian elites started even prior to the armed conflict. On February 14, 2022, 37 deputies from the Ukrainian president’s parliamentary faction “Servant of the People” suddenly went “missing.” Had MPs not been banned from leaving the country the very next day, others would’ve definitely joined them. Meanwhile, former officials and oligarchs enjoyed more freedom to move around.  According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, 20 business jets took off from Kiev’s Boryspol airport on the 14th as well.

Tycoons were at the front of the line. Entrepreneur and MP Vadim Novinsky, businessmen Vasily Khmelnitsky and Vadim Stolar, Vadim Nesterenko, and Andrey Stavnitzer all left the country on charter flights. Millionaire politician Igor Abramovich booked a private flight to Austria for 50 people – taking relatives, business partners, and fellow party members aboard. Oligarchs flew from Kiev to Nice, Munich, Vienna,  Cyprus, and other EU destinations. Another group of businessmen took off from Odessa on private planes. The owner of Vostok Bank departed for Israel, while the head of the Transship group flew to Limassol. An ex-governor of the Odessa region, Stalkanat’s Vladimir Nemirovsky, also left the country.

In the summer and early fall of 2022, ‘Ukrainska Pravda’ prepared several investigative documentaries about fit-for-service Ukrainian billionaires and officials spotted vacationing on the Côte d’Azur during the war. A movie with the ironic title “The Monaco Battalion” shows Ukrainian oligarchs resting at their villas, mansions, and on yachts. In the first part, we see businessman Konstantin Zhevago, who is included on Interpol’s wanted list, relaxing on his private yacht worth $70 million. The yacht graces the shoreline of the Côte d’Azur as Zhevago’s family disembarks. Kharkov entrepreneur Alexander Yaroslavsky, who promised to sell his yacht and transfer the funds towards the restoration of Kharkov, can be seen sailing alongside.

RTScreenshot ©  YouTube / Украинская правда

‘Ukrainska Pravda’ journalists also got a glimpse of the Surkis brothers in France, who’re currently renting apartments worth €2 million per year. Meanwhile, a $300,000 Bentley belonging to Ukrainian businessman Vadim Ermolaev was spotted near the casino in Monaco, and Eduard Kohan, the co-founder of Euroenergotrade, was seen at one of Monte Carlo’s chic hotels.

A whole colony of Ukrainian oligarchs has apparently taken up residence in the elite French commune of Cap-Ferrat. Land developer Vadim Solar, oligarchs Dmitry Firtash, Vitaly Khomutynnik, and Sergey Lovochkin are among those enjoying high life in the middle of the war. The Cap-Ferrat villa once belonging to King Leopold II of Belgium was bought by the richest Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. His neighbors are Alexander Davtyan, President of the Investment Group DAD LLC, and Vladislav Gelzin, a former deputy of the Donetsk Regional Council.

As the creators of the film repeatedly emphasize, deputies and businessmen of “pro-Russian” parliamentary factions left the country during the war. Yet many active supporters of the current government also prefer to defend their homeland from abroad.

‘Ukrainska Pravda’ managed to interview Andrei Kholodov, an MP from Vladimir Zelensky’s faction “Servant of the People”, from his current residence in Vienna. The Austrian capital was also chosen by nationalist Nikita Poturaev and Sergei Melnichuk, a former head of the Aidar battalion known for war crimes reported by Amnesty International. The former head of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, 59-year-old Alexander Tupitsky, and the 45-year-old ex-prosecutor general of Ukraine Ruslan Ryaboshapka also preferred foreign “trenches.”

Members of the Ukrainian parliament are in no hurry to adopt vitally important laws for the country during wartime. According to the Telegram channel “Volyn News,” as of March 11, 2022, more than 20 MPs had moved abroad for unspecified reasons. The geography is extensive: Great Britain, Poland, Qatar, Spain, France, Austria, Romania, Hungary, UAE, Moldova, Israel, etc. In March, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine launched an investigation into the actions of six parliamentarians who have remained abroad.

Apparently, neither war nor punishment can put Ukrainian legislators to work. Only 99 deputies out of 450 attended the session of the Parliament on July 20. Presumably distracted by summer, the Côte d’Azur, the Maldives, and yachts… As for defending Ukraine itself – just leave it to the foreign volunteers, they say.

RTA Lawmaker sits in an empty parliamentary chamber before the session. ©  Sergii Kharchenko / NurPhoto via Getty Images