The system issuing permits to leave Ukraine to men subject to military service was introduced shortly after the russian invasion for the obvious purpose of making volunteers’ and military’s work possible. However, suspicions about frauds and corrupt officials getting access to this system appeared quite soon.
Departure of 29-year-old Ihor Portnov, son of notorious Ukrainian pro-russian politician Andrii Portnov in March was among the most infamous incidents of abuse. Portnov received his permit from Lviv Regional Military Administration owing to a forged request letter from a non-governmental organization.
However, Lviv Regional Military Administration didn’t draw any conclusions from that story. Nashi Groshi.Lviv editorial team found quite a few forgeries that served as the ground for Lviv Regional Military Administration officials to grant permits for leaving the country to dozens – or, more likely, to hundreds – draft dodgers.
Our investigation proves that the system helping to leave the country through Shliakh [“Way” (Ukr.) – translator’s note] information system for a bribe has been in place for many months. It involves organizers, recruiters and public officials who were covering up seven-figure incomes received from men subject to military service who escaped abroad.
On Wednesday, November 2 last year, Tetiana Lesyk, the founder of Sambir CF “DO GOOD DEEDS!” received two formal letters from Lviv Regional Military Administration within several hours from one another. Those letters were the response to her foundation’s request asking for a permit for male drivers from her organization to go abroad. The first letter refused the departure of three volunteers and the second one approved permits for ten.
Tetiana was surprised, as her request concerned three volunteers only and it was rejected. Besides, she claims it was for the first time that she ever came across the names of ten volunteers who were granted permission to go abroad to fetch humanitarian aid for her foundation when she read them in the letter from Lviv Regional Military Administration.
All ten men were presumably local, living in various villages nearby Sambir and doing active volunteer work for “DO GOOD DEEDS!” foundation. However, all of that turned out to be a lie. It’s just each man paid $4000 to have unhindered possibility to flee the country at war.
Churning out requests from men to leave the country
Tetiana Lesyk registered her foundation only in July 2022. Until then she was cooperating with other activists from Sambir. Still, ongoing efforts of delivering humanitarian aid required official registration, documents and permits. Nevertheless, it turned out that official registration of the foundation could not guarantee the possibility to complete the set tasks.
According to her, it was at the same time that the problems with departure permits for her organization’s volunteers started. In August they received several rejections for her drivers to go abroad.
“For instance, in August I applied to Lviv Regional Military Administration to get a permit for one of our drivers through the Shliakh system, but I was rejected”, says Tetiana Lesyk. – I had to seek assistance from Mariia Kulchytska-Vovchko (deputy of regional council – ed.). She personally guaranteed that the driver will return. Only after that we managed to receive a permit for him to travel abroad”.
Lesyk sent another letter to Lviv Regional Military Administration in late October. She wanted to receive a permit for another three volunteers from her foundation, including the same driver who had left and had come back. However, what she received was another rejection under the pretence of insufficient substantiation of the need for their departure.
Actually, this rejection was received on the same day as the approval for 10 “volunteers” she didn’t know. She decided it was some mistake, and on the next day, November 3, she sent another request, enlisting Mariia Kulchytska-Vovchko’s support. Now it was the deputy who made surprising discoveries.
“I asked for assistance again and received an approval. But even after that another rejection was received. When we started looking for the reason of the rejection and searching for it, this shameful story came out. That is, while the foundation was waiting for the response regarding real volunteers and received refusals, simultaneously someone on their behalf was churning out requests for men to leave the country”, complains Mariia Kulchytska-Vovchko.
She would feel even more indignant, if she learned how fast the fake letter from “DO GOOD DEEDS!” foundation listing ten unknown “volunteers” was approved. This letter with a list of names dates November 1. It was delivered to the administration on the same day, and it was the same day that Andrii Hodyk, first deputy head of Lviv Regional Military Administration, signed the order.
It’s interesting that substantiation for departure in this letter didn’t contain any information about the amount of humanitarian aid or names of the countries it will come from. Still, the official considered such substantiation was sufficient.
Further events happened even faster. On November 2 some of the “volunteers” listed in the letter crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border. However, not all of them managed to leave. Some were detained by the police and the Security Service of Ukraine near Kalush in Ivano-Frankivsk region. We’ll talk about it later.
All the attempts of Nashi Groshi.Lviv editorial team to find out the reasons for rejecting the real letters and approving obvious counterfeits from Lviv Regional Military Administration were left unanswered.
A box and no CCTV
Unlike in the story of Andrii Portnov’s son departure using a fake letter, this request to Lviv Regional Military Administration wasn’t sent by email. It was brought on November 1. Someone just dropped it into a special box near the entrance to the administration building, informed Iryna Shurpiak, Lviv Regional Military Administration chief of staff.
However, when we called the contact phone number on Lviv Regional Military Administration website to receive advice on permits to cross the border, we were told to send an email, just like the instruction says. Only after a clarifying question about the box it turned out that it exists and a letter can be sent through it.
Moreover, in its answer to our request Lviv Regional Military Administration wrote that “providing information about the person who had brought the letter isn’t obligatory within the procedure for documents registration”. It means that we have zero information about the person who had delivered the counterfeit letter. It also turned out that the footage from CCTV at the entrance to the Lviv Regional Military Administration building is stored for a very limited period.
The counterfeit letter from the Sambir CF “DO GOOD DEEDS!” states that all men presumably live in Sambir and the adjacent villages. It creates an illusion that these people have at least some involvement with the foundation.
We checked almost all the indicated addresses in Sambir district. For instance, no one has been living in Sambir, 11/2 Klynivka street for 18 months now. The house is owned by other people and they don’t know the person from the list.
We found the owner of the house from the list in Biskovychi village. Tetiana Paliukh informed us she didn’t know this man, and her family has owned the house for more than 19 years.
Some addresses were simply invented. For example, the last building in Popovycha street, Ralivka village is number 50, and the letter lists the number 96 in this street. Another address of this kind is Chukva village, 2 Parkova street. However, according to Vira Gabrel, Chukva village head, this street has only odd numbers. The building number 2 doesn’t exist, and she’s never heard about the person we mentioned.
We established that in actual fact all “volunteers” from the fake list are registered in Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv and Zakarpattia regions. However, it’s obvious that the person who forged the letter has a good understanding of local place-names in Sambir
“I’ve never applied to Lviv Regional Military Administration”
In reality, a fake letter from “DO GOOD DEEDS!” foundation is not the only forged document requesting permission to enter volunteers’ details into Shliakh information system that Lviv Regional Military Administration received in the last several months.
We found out that another forgery was sent on behalf of another Sambir NGO “Initiative and order”. Ihor Veselovskyi, the head of the said NGO, learned about it when Ivano-Frankivsk police investigators came to him with a search warrant.
“They came to search my parents’ house where I am registered. It was unexpected. I never applied to Lviv Regional Military Administration with letters to seek a permit for any drivers or volunteers to go abroad. Our organization didn’t have a need for that”, says Veselovskyi.
The investigators showed him a letter from NGO “Initiative and order”. It turned out the official seal bears no resemblance with the forgery, and the signature didn’t belong to Veselovskyi either. The IP-address the forgery was sent from didn’t coincide with the official one.
The request Veselovskyi supposedly sent also listed men registered in villages nearby Sambir. Our editorial team checked the addresses and found that these people’s real addresses were mostly in Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Presently Veselovskyi is a witness in a criminal investigation. These proceedings were registered in late September last year. As we learned from the court register, there are three suspects: two from Ivano-Frankivsk region and one from Sambir.
Most likely, Odesa resident Anatolii Donets, the founder of another foundation “Revival of our Ukraine” could make another witness. According to him, investigators didn’t give him a call yet. His foundation was also involved in illegal machination.
“I had a newly-founded charity foundation so they just found my contacts on the Internet. An Andrii called me. Later I learned his surname was Shpak. He said he needed a foundation to do charity work. But yes, I agreed to give him the foundation in exchange for a permit to leave the country. My business collapsed and my family was falling apart. If I hadn’t left, I would have nothing to live for”, openly told us Anatolii Donets who is presently abroad.
He claims he wouldn’t have agreed if he had known the scale of the machination. He sincerely believed that charitable work would be the above-mentioned Andrii Shpak’s principal activity.
“I was told that a large number of people left the country through my foundation. Had I known it would be like that, I would never have done it”, assures Anatolii Donets.
Donets informed he passed his foundation’s genuine seal in quite a strange way. He took a cab from Lviv to the meeting place; the drive lasted around 40 minutes, but he doesn’t remember the name of the inhabited locality. A man came up to the meeting point, Anatolii opened the window and gave him the seal.
Donets himself left Ukraine in late September. He said he had no difficulties going through Krakowiec border crossing point. When asked about the purpose of his departure, he answered he was a volunteer.
As we learned from the response to our request, Lviv Regional Military Administration received…8 applications from “Revival of our Ukraine” foundation in September-October 2022. Not a single application was refused. In each case, the applicants’ details were registered in the Shliakh information system, in accordance with the Lviv Regional Military Administration orders.
Mykola Starodub, head of “Commission on countering corruption in the city of Sambir” NGO told us about a similar incident.
“I was asked to affix a seal, so I did, for I thought someone needed to bring in the humanitarian aid. Later I received a call that someone left the country using my organization’s documents”, said Starodub.
However, when he was talking to our journalist, he claimed he didn’t remember who was asking him or when, but he is “concerned about this situation”.
Owing to our requests, we learned that “Commission on countering corruption in the city of Sambir” NGO sent 12 applications for permits to leave the country, and all of them were approved by Lviv Regional Military Administration orders.
In case of the “Commission on countering corruption in the city of Sambir” NGO and CF “Revival of our Ukraine”, it was Maksym Kozytskyi, head of Lviv Regional Military Administration who personally signed all the orders. In 12 cases out of 20 the orders were issued on the day of the request, in five more cases – on the following day and in three more – in two days.
Nevertheless, the administration categorically refused to provide the annexes to these orders containing lists of people who had received permits to leave the country. That’s why we don’t know the number of men who had left.
Lviv Regional Military Administration used to give us these annexes in the past, redacting all information except for the applicant’s name. We also received the very copies of applications from foundations and NGO. As soon as Lviv Regional Military Administration realized what is the subject of our investigation, they closed access to this public information under the confidentiality pretence. We can only presume that since Shliakh information system exists, hundreds of men managed to leave the country owing to permits received from Lviv Regional Military Administration.
“Andrii Sambirskyi” and the criminal code
Andrii Shpak whom Anatolii Donets “gave” his foundation is one of the suspects in case of illegal traffic of men across the state border presently investigated by the police of Ivano-Frankivsk region. According to the police, this case alone identified 150 men who left Ukraine owing to the letters to Lviv Regional Military Administration and never came back.
Despite the fact that none of the above foundations and NGOs are formally connected, our source who agreed to talk to us in confidence claims what he is familiar with some of these and they are “Shpak’s foundations”.
Andrii Shpak, a 40-year-old businessman from Sambir is a founder of Start World LLC that deals in transportations. However, in the past, from 2004 to 2011 he was an official of Sambir District State Administration. One of his jobs was the head of department for businesses support and development.
Several years ago, Shpak tried to became a detective with Territorial administration of State Bureau of Investigations located in Lviv. At least, in September 2019 he submitted an income declaration for the previous year as a candidate for this position.
According to our source, Shpak was using details and seals of various organizations. As we learned from the Getcontact application, people put the corresponding names for his number in their phone books: “Can provide for the border crossing” or “Andrii, can help leave the country”.
Moreover, Ivano-Frankivsk police investigation is hardly the first one with Andrii Shpak as a suspect. We found confirmation of this fact in the court register.
Back in June 2022 he promised a draft dodger to register him in Shliakh information system in exchange for $2,500 per person. As there were three candidates, the price would be $7,500. Shpak was additionally explaining that with this money he was going to send an application from a charity organization to Lviv Regional Military Administration which would give a permit and the men will be registered in Shliakh.
He asked for a $1,000 advance, to start with. In July he received personal details of three people and the promised thousand dollars at a car parking in Horodotska street in Lviv. He was arrested the same day and served with a notice of charges under ч. 3 art. 332 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – illegal traffic of people across the state border of Ukraine. In two days’ time he was released on bail of 198 thousand hryvnias.
This crime is punishable by 7 to 9 years in prison. However, Shpak was tried in Lviv court for something totally different – for fraud (part 2 art. 190 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), maximum punishment being three years in prison. The victim also “supported the charging document on the change of the charge” and asked “not to impose severe punishment on the defendant”.
Andrii Shpak told the court a story that he wanted to use the money to repair a vehicle and donate it to the frontline troops. The judge believed the story. On December 13, 2022 Zaliznychnyi district court in Lviv found him guilty of fraud but only placed him on one year probation.
“I have no involvement with anything”
While Lviv judges and prosecutors were mitigating Andrii Shpak’s sentence, he found himself under investigation in another case.
According to the information contained in the court ruling, even prior to receiving the sentence, while being on bail, he continued searching for those who wanted to go abroad using Shliakh system. He raised prices, through – in autumn the passage became more expensive. Now the sum was not $2,500, like he asked at the car park, but $4,000.
In November, as the result of investigation by Ivano-Frankivsk police, he was arrested again. Another preventive measure was applied. However, it was already on November 8 that he was released again on 843,500,000 hryvnias bail.
From the conversation with our sources, we learned that in Ivano-Frankivsk region Andrii Shpak wasn’t searching for those who wanted to use his services on his own. He paid “recruiters” $400 per person, and presumably took $2,500 for himself. It’s not clear yet how the remaining sum was distributed.
Andrii Shpak is denying any accusations and is just “playing dumb”.
“Why do you think I have anything to do with it? Was I found guilty in those proceedings? So, I have nothing to comment! I don’t have any contacts at Lviv Regional Military Administration!”, claimed Andrii Shpak in a telephone conversation with Nashi Groshi. Lviv journalist.
He answered out phone call when he was going to lunch in a military camp. Andrii Shpak was drafted on 21 November 2022, just after he had been served with a notice of criminal charges. We didn’t manage to find out how he ended up at the military base. Whether he volunteered or received summon – this secret is safe with the local recruitment office.
Andrii Shpak is also keeping a secret about his role in this case. He claims he sent no letters to Lviv Regional Military Administration, he has never heard the names of foundations indicated in the letters and in general: “I have no involvement with anything. Ask the law enforcement”.
We did ask the law enforcement, but they traditionally refer to the secrecy of investigation. Nevertheless, the sentence passed on Andrii Shpak in July is no longer a secret of investigation. And the reasons for his arrest and conviction bear strong resemblance with the materials of new criminal proceedings.
“You have the court ruling on the first case, everything is there. I don’t remember how it was. There is no money whatsoever. Get familiar with the materials and you will understand everything. No one gave me any money. Whatever was written there about Shliakh and leaving the country – this is just wording”, Andrii Shpak is openly using manipulations when talking to the journalist.
It’s a blatant manipulation, because the ruling clearly states the reason for his conviction. And words “Shliakh” and “Lviv Regional Military Administration” are not “just wording”.
– I was slandered!
– By whom?
– What do you mean by whom? Everything is there in the court case materials! Are you conducting some investigation of your own? So, it wouldn’t be difficult for you to ask the law enforcement who was writing what about me.
– Has someone made a complaint about you? Who slandered you?
– I don’t know precisely who it was. I have no involvement with any processes or actions. Get familiar with the materials and you will understand everything. No one gave me any money. I’m at a military camp now, I can’t talk, I’m at lunch.
Ivano-Frankivsk regional prosecutor’s office wrote us a dozen paragraphs containing explanations why they can’t give us the details of the investigation. They only confirmed there were three suspects on the case. Again, there was no answer whether they’re checking involvement of any officials of Lviv Regional Military Administration with the scheme of issuing illegal permits to leave the country.
All roads lead to Lviv Regional Military Administration
However, we found an interesting statement in the ruling of Ivano-Frankivsk court on this case:
“The majority of the letters containing information about the persons who had illegally crossed the state border were intentionally deleted from the mailbox Humtransport1@gmail.com (it is the official email address of Lviv Regional Military Administration – ed.), which is evidence of hiding a trace of crime”.
Lviv Regional Military Administration claim that all applications, including those related to crossing the border by drivers subject to military service, which they receive to their mailbox, are stored for short period of time and then deleted.
We were surprised that Lviv Regional Military Administration officials were categorically declining the interview about Shliakh system. They kept saying we should submit a request, that’s all. So we did, but in a week’s time we were informed that our questions don’t qualify as public information. So they will respond to it as citizens’ communication. We did receive a letter another week later. However, not all the answers. Sure enough, it wouldn’t be that easy to avoid uncomfortable questions face-to-face.
We wanted to know how the applications to go abroad get rejected. What are the grounds and criteria? How was it possible to take diametrically opposite decisions regarding volunteers of the same organization within one day? How could Andrii Hodyk, first deputy head of Lviv Regional Military Administration, sign the permit for departure of fake volunteers from “DO GOOD DEEDS!” and simultaneously refuse the real volunteers?
The request we sent to Lviv Regional Military Administration contained not only questions about the procedure of registering people in Shliakh system, but also what system for verifying applications was introduced by the administration, if at all. If they at least conducted internal investigations on the disclosed cases of Shliakh system misuse.
The answer to all these questions is no.
There was no internal investigation. And indeed, “Regional Military Administration or its officials are not authorized to conduct verification of data contained in entities’ application regarding information about drivers subject to military service they submit, as the submitting entity itself is liable for the accuracy of the information”.
The regional administration disregarded our question whether any Lviv Regional Military Administration officials contacted the suspect, Andrii Shpak.
We have one more question to ask Maksym Kozytskyi, head of Lviv Regional Military Administration who’s signing permits for departure. Is he sure that documents he had signed don’t contain names of people who just paid a bribe of 4,000 US dollars?
The material was prepared with the support from Internews Network. The material reflects the editorial team’s views and does not necessarily reflect the official views of Internews Network.