The Lives of Ukrainian Soldiers Post-ATO: From Heroes to Bandits Under the Protection of the Prosecutor-General

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The Prosecutor-General Yury Lutsenko admitted that he closed tens of thousands of criminal cases against veterans of the ATO, thus violating the law. The “” publication decided to study the cases of those who the Prosecutor-General spared from justice…

Former fighters of Ukrainian voluntary battalions who received the documents of participants of military operations, benefits, and privileges are looking for an easy way to earn money. They join the ranks of criminals. Being written down as defenders of Ukraine in the past, they re-train themselves for a new profession as extortioners, robbers, and thieves, and some even undertake the dirtiest work — murders.

Money is money

A lot of noise was made in the summer of 2018 concerning the murder of the Berdyansk activist and veteran of the ATO Vitaly Oleshko – nickname Sarmat. He was finished off in the yard of his hotel, in front of his wife and friend in broad daylight via two shots to his back — something that is more reminiscent of an execution.

The killer quietly left the crime scene while the witnesses of the punishment bewailed over his body. Sarmat’s friends immediately stated that Oleshko was allegedly finished off because of his political position: he, apparently, crossed the path of a local deputy of the Verkhovna Rada.

But then the circumstances immediately emerged: besides his active civic stand and criticism of the authorities, Oleshko extorted earthly wealth for himself and his brothers-in-arms. In particular, he extorted 175,000 hryvnia from one of the local farmers, threatening them with trouble from the prosecutor’s office. And he in general became very known as a scandal magnet with alcoholic tendencies.

It became known that the perished Oleshko is the father of the well-known “porobot” [bot of Poroshenko – ed] Miroslav Oleshko, one of the leaders of the scandalous website Mirotvorets. But Oleshko Sr. abandoned his son in infancy, along with his wife. This, by the way, is also one of the versions of events of the murder.

It is necessary to pay tribute to the police: they worked very harmoniously and quickly in the search for the persons suspected of murdering Sarmat. On the same day suspects were detained: they were aged 30 to 40, all were out-of-towners, and one had been previously convicted for robbery and theft. The former ATO soldier Artem Matyushin turned out to be the killer.

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He served in the Tornado battalion, the leaders of which became well-known for rapes, robberies, kidnappings, and other terrible feats in Donbass, and then switched to the “Azov” battalion, which is close to the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

During the investigation it became clear that Matyushin was recruited by one of Berdyansk’s businessmen – the owner of “Mokhito” restaurant, who decided to get rid of his extortioner in the person of Oleshko. As the killer admitted, the restaurateur Sigida asked him to intimidate someone [Oleshko – ed] who calls themselves “a public figure and a fighter against corruption”, but in reality they are a racketeer and extortioner. He promised to give him money in return for business development.

Matyushin took his friends along for help and fulfilled everything as was asked. But Sarmat was shot and killed. Now Oleshko’s friends try to assure that he wasn’t a racketeer, but a fighter for justice. And the fact that one more volunteer turned out to be a murderer is just a coincidence.

Easy money

In Ukraine there is a mass of stories about how yesterday’s ATO soldiers went on a slippery path. On September 30 two unknown persons attacked the house of the lawyer Andrey Bush in the prestigious private sector of Kiev in the Pechersky district. The owner was waylaid in the yard, shot in the leg, and dragged into his house, the assailants having opened the door with his keys.

They locked his wife and baby in the toilet. They learned the code for the safe by torturing the owner. They took away $4300, €300, and a necklace with jewels. Leaving the crime scene, the robbers wanted to throw a grenade into the house, but the woman persuaded them not to do it.

Fortunately, the neighbours heard the shouting and called the police, who arrived unexpectedly quickly. A grenade flew towards the police officers, the criminals opened return fire from a pistol and sub-machine gun. The police officers also opened fire in response. Later, when the police were combing the territory, they came across the breathless corpse of one of the attackers — without documents.

A few days later the relatives of the deceased were found thanks to a photo that had been published in the media. It turned out that he was a resident of the Zhytomyr region. It was learned that the deceased was 35 years old, he served in the zone of military operation in Donbass in 2014, he was a reconnaissance officer, and recently allegedly worked in one of the security firms of Kiev. Who his workmate is who ran away together with the stolen goods, the police still doesn’t know.

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And shortly before this, on September 12, police officers detained the former commander of the unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs “Vostochny Corpus” [Eastern Corps – ed] Oleg Shiryaev on suspicion of carrying out an armed raider capture of the conveyor belt in the village of Zanki in the Zmiyevsky district of the Kharkov region. Shiryaev commanded a unit from 2014 to 2015 and then served in the “Azov” battalion. As it turned out, his former colleagues took part in the raider capture of an agricultural enterprise.

Some days later, in Kharkov, the head of the city association of veterans of the ATO Denis Semenyuk was detained after a firefight on suspicion of extorting money. He fought in Donbass as a part of the 92nd brigade. His colleague Semenyuk, the former ATO soldier Aleksey Litovchenko, was shot during detention when he wanted to set off a grenade.

According to field investigators, the former ATO soldier extorted $30,000 from businessmen, and promised to block the construction of a gas station should they refuse. Businessmen appealed to law enforcement bodies, who recorded the transfer of the first part of the money, and detained the extortioners during the transfer of the rest of the money – $20,000.

To enter politics or become bandits

But the cases described above are only the tip of the criminal iceberg, consider former Ukrainian law enforcement officers. Sad times for Ukraine are still ahead.

The soldiers who came back home from war have nothing to busy themselves with, they don’t find jobs. Thus gangs appear that consist of former ATO soldiers. This was described by Leonid Ostaltsev, who fought as a part of the 30th separate mechanised brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. After his return he launched the pizzeria “Pizza Veterano”.

“Veterans are that segment of the population that later changes the country for the better. In our case, this segment of the population isn’t allowed to spread its wings – the suitable conditions aren’t created. It is very sad because there are two options for how things can unfold. The first — we allow veterans to self-actualise, we create the opportunity to launch a business, to enter politics, to change the state. Or the second option — they will start to involve themselves in bad things. There will be more criminality and gang formations, which are already present,” noted Ostaltsev.

According to him, the lack of worthy compensation for veterans has already led to their groups uniting in order to milk business or to act as a private army.

“It doesn’t mean that these guys are bad. And what else can they do? After all, they aren’t able to do anything else. They came back from a war, they know how to shoot. They come back home: and what, they should work in a gas station? I wouldn’t go there,” said Ostaltsev.

Under Lutsenko’s protection

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According to the former employee of the criminal investigation department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Andrey Kondrashov, regardless of how the authorities try to flirt with ATO veterans, they will all the same search for easy money.

“Let’s start from the fact that initially battalions were formed from previously convicted citizens who were also involved in marauding in the ATO zone and violence in Donbass. Back then it was welcomed by the authorities, because they scared the local population.

But our governors miscalculated, because the bulk of these marauders returned to peaceful life. The problem is that they already tasted both the smell of blood and the ease of obtaining loot. And, being on peaceful territory, they are engaged in what they were engaged in before the ATO and being in Donbass. At the same time the police try not to advertise the participation of veterans in criminality, but you can’t hide an awl in a sack,” said Andrey Kondrashov to “”.

However, the main problem is that there are those who accede to inveterate criminals and protect them by all means. The Prosecutor-General Yury Lutsenko admitted that he personally closed tens of thousands of criminal cases against “volunteers who defended Ukraine”.

And impunity gives rise to permissiveness.

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