A documentary film by a British journalist
Vladimir Putin was preparing not only hundreds of thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of units of military equipment for the war with Ukraine. Russia’s special services have worked actively with their intelligence networks: regional elites, criminal circles, and the network of the Russian Orthodox Church, known in Ukraine as the Moscow Patriarchate. These topics are covered in the new journalistic investigation, ‘Russia Returns To Ukraine: Kherson fell. Are all cities focused on the real enemy?’, by the prominent English journalist Tim White.
In fact, politicians and experts have been talking about the dangers of an intelligence network under the guise of the Russian Church in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war. And these discussions have been in place since 2014, when the Russians annexed Crimea and invaded Donbas. However, both former President Petro Poroshenko and current leader Volodymyr Zelenskyi ignored the warnings. Kyiv also turned a blind eye to a Russian agency under the guise of pro-Russian politicians, former members of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which operated under the “Opposition Platform – For Life” party. Such negligence has led to catastrophic consequences.
Tim White points out that after a full-scale invasion, the Russians managed to capture only one city of regional significance – Kherson. There, the occupiers bet on Volodymyr Saldo, a former member of the Party of Regions. He and other pro-Russian figures in the Kherson region cooperated with the Russians. Now, they hunt down Ukrainian patriots. Also, unfortunately, the loss of Kherson led to the occupation of the Ukrainian Azov region and the blockade of Mariupol, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Tim White, investigative journalist (Great Britain)
Tim White: “The task of Special Services is to plan ahead, not to clear the ruins. Why did Authorities interact with local “kings” before the war? “Kings” is how modern feudal lords in Ukraine are referred to. For some reason they decide their region belongs to them, including the industry and the population. But there’s an even bigger question – why do Ukrainian officials still continue to interact with such “kings”? Even after the start of the war, when everyone saw that this could lead to the situation in Kherson?”
Putin’s next goal after Kherson could be Dnipro, a key Ukrainian city in terms of industrial and human potential, logistics, and rehabilitation of wounded Ukrainian service members. And even more – it is the symbolic “capital of Novorossia”, which is expected to display the collapse of modern Ukrainian statehood.
Today, the city is a real outpost – well-fortified and secure. But the future of Dnipro is worrisome. Because there, like in Kherson, the Russian Orthodox Church has a very strong influence. Its faithful parishioner is Boris Filatov, the mayor of Dnipro. Dozens of deputies from the Opposition Platform – For Life, a political party headed by Vladimir Putin’s friend, Viktor Medvedchuk, work in the city and regional parliaments. One of the deputies of this political party – Mykhailo Koshlyak – is a long-time friend and partner of Mayor Filatov. Currently, Koshlyak is the curator of the mayor’s so-called “private army” called “the Municipal Guard”, which is not subject to any other special bodies in the city.
Borys Filatov, mayor of Dnipro, media.slovoidilo.ua
Local crime in Dnipro has been closely linked to Russian criminal circles and intelligence services since the 1990s. And the mayor’s closest friend, Hennadiy Korban, is a former specialist in illegal business takeovers and a former business partner of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who was placed on the US government sanctions list for suspected corruption.
Tim White: “I was in Dnipro last summer. It’s a beautiful city where sincere, friendly, and brave people live. These days Dnipro too is under fire. But Russia isn’t only seeking to destroy infrastructure, as its propagandists claim. Mainly, they strive to instil fear in the hearts and souls of citizens. So far, it doesn’t work. The courageous people of Dnipro were the first in 2014 to keep pro-Russian separatists at bay and buried the “Russian Spring” almost immediately. However, the city is restless now. And not just because of Russian rocket attacks. Some in the city say there is another element of instability and chaos here – and they say the element is the mayor of Dnipro Borys Filatov.”
Today the mayor of Dnipro, Borys Filatov, is trying to sow panic and force blind compliance among business circles and small entrepreneurs among the refugees. He is playing with fire in a key Ukrainian city near the front line of a war. For example, on May 9, armed men destroyed the trading sections of Dnipro entrepreneurs in the city’s largest market, Ozerka. The attackers were forces of the Municipal Guard – the militarized group that reports to the city council.
Not only locals lost their jobs but also immigrants from eastern Ukraine. There, their homes and jobs were stolen by Putin and his horde. And here – stolen by special forces of the mayor. People are understandably upset. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the market has been at the heart of volunteerism. Evacuees found refuge here, and a humanitarian headquarters was established. Dozens of people come here for help every day.
Russians have a term: “preventive cleansing” – preparation for the occupation of a territory. This cowardly attack on entrepreneurs could undermine the economic basis of the patriotic masses of the city, capable of self-organization.
Tim White: “I saw similar scenes last year when I visited Dnipro. Back then, I met with entrepreneurs who had small shops in the city centre. They were also destroyed by well built guys in camouflage from the Municipal Guard. Back then, I spoke with journalists from a TV channel which opposes Mayor Filatov. Their colleague was filming when beaten by the same guys from the mayor’s private army. I do not know if those people faced any repercussions. But, as my colleagues from Dnipro assure me, they all escaped responsibility. Is it a stretch to link events here with what happened in Kherson? If a regional government is putting itself above the law, pursuing a policy independent of the state – it is a very dangerous sign. Especially when the front line of a war is only 100 kilometres from the city.”
This is the complicated context in one of the key cities of Ukraine. On the one hand, the mayor and his team claim to be on the side of Ukraine and against Putin. But attempts to undermine peace in the city, showing their strength both to residents and President Zelensky, raises many questions. Filatov’s close ties with representatives of the pro-Putin Opposition Platform for Life and devotion to the Moscow Church, of which Filatov has long been a faithful parishioner, do not instill confidence in the future. Not so long ago, Filatov called the German Chancellor Scholz and French President Macron “liars” and “pathetic leaders” on social media. This certainly does not strengthen Ukraine’s relations with its partners. Or maybe someone does not need a strong anti-Putin coalition?
Ukraine, with the support of its allies, is going to win this war. But it is paying a terribly high price for victory. While the Armed Forces of Ukraine are wearing down the “second army in the world” in Donbas and the South, it is important to maintain an effective rear. What is even more important is that President Zelenskyi and his special services don’t overlook signals in the regions.
Tim White is a British investigative journalist known for his high-profile investigations into Russian hybrid influences, including “Nothing but lies: Fighting fake news” (exposing Russian propaganda and the Kremlin’s hybrid influences), and “One World Cup, One War, One War, How Much Corruption” (about the corrupt cooperation with Russia during the selection of the host country of the 2018 FIFA World Cup) and “Russia Returns to Ukraine: Oligarchs, Criminals and Local Elites” (about new security threats arising from the intensification of networks of Russian agents in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries).