Four checkpoints of entry and exit at the line of demarcation in the Donetsk oblast are a Klondike. Even more - a place where you can make big money literally out of thin air. Not many did not use this opportunity for the past three years. Most of the money, however, was expected from activities that are completely amenable to legal regulation: passenger transportation.
An entrepreneur from Bakhmut, Dmytro Kononets, the director of a local carrier company, says he never claimed to work at the checkpoints. "I basically do not want to make money off of the war, especially of the most disadvantaged ones", - he said. The man, however, happened to be one of the first witnesses of the war that unfolded for this loot.
Along with the organization of trading platforms near the checkpoints, Pavlo Zhebrivsky instructed Fleet Vehicles public utility to organize passenger transportation. Logically, the FV promised to earn huge sums of money for the regional budget, but it still barely balances on the brink of loss and brings only new and new corruption scandals.
Yevhen Vilinsky, first deputy head of the Donetsk regional administration, had been just a political shadow of Zhebrivsky for a long time. For more than ten years, he worked with Zhebrivsky in Zhytomyr Regional State Administration, the Verkhovna Rada, the Prosecutor General's Office and the Donetsk regional administration. Almost all OstroV’s interlocutors, familiar with him, described the first deputy of the "governor" as much more intelligent person than his long-time boss.
To some extent or solely due to the efforts of Vilinsky, the first corruption scandal that shook Zhebrivsky's position, occurred. It was exactly eight months after his appointment, when the press began to make noise about the alleged search of the head of the region and his adviser.
One can only guess how Zhebrivsky’s adviser Andriy Lahunsky managed to walk away with a slap on his wrist. Most likely, the "governor" used all his levers in the capital and in the region in order to hush up the scandal, which, as it is believed, occurred due to Vilinsky's intrigues. Lahunsky simply disappeared from public space, and the first deputy head of the regional administration was thus able to get rid of the "competitor". The director of the public utility and his deputy were publicly made guilty for the case.
Initially, they tried to arrest Andriy Katyshev and his deputy as corrupt officials, but it soon became clear that at the time of the arrest, Katyshev had not worked at the Fleet Vehicles public utility for a month and a half. The trial, which left many questions, eventually sentenced both defendants to a probation one-year period, whereas in two years the court could not deliver either the victim or the main witness - as Katyshev believes, the SBU agents.
The circumstances of this incident are still vague. According to a copy of the order, which Katyshev showed us, Zhebrivsky dismissed him and appointed Ruslan Zakirov on his place on December 25, 2015. Until July 2015, Zakirov worked as a driver in the administration of economic and transportation support of the State Administration, and then became the personal driver of Mykhailo Necheporuk, who first worked as a deputy and later as an adviser to the head of the regional administration.
Necheporuk, who oversaw the construction of humanitarian and logistics centers, in which the FV was engaged, insisted that Zakirov should be employed there. Thus, being a driver for Necheporuk, he began to receive the salary of the chief engineer, and after the dismissal of Katyshev, he was appointed as acting director of the public utility (where he was seen only a few times).
After the change of management, the new head of the enterprise or its founder must make appropriate changes to the register. However, even after February 18, 2016, when the FV had a new director, Yuriy Zgursky (brought by Vilinsky), until early March, Katyshev continued to be listed as a director in that register. The victim and witness in the Katyshev case - the carriers Valeriy Omelyan and Serhiy Udovychenko - in their statements claimed that they did not know about his dismissal and addressed him as an official.
How the tribute was collected
Until December 2015, the Fleet Vehicles public utility, paradoxically, almost did not deal with transport issues. It signed several contracts for transportation in the "gray zone" between the block posts and the checkpoints, and the carriers, as former managers of the enterprise claim, were chosen by Necheporuk. Katyshev said that he came to the region to work at logistics centers, and did not want to delve into transportation issues. He, however, recognizes that transportation was a Klondike, if we talk about the potential earnings from the thousands of people who daily cross the four checkpoints.
Meanwhile, the scandals associated with the transportation at the line of delineation, began immediately with the appearance of the block posts and the checkpoints.
"At the time, when they have just built the checkpoint, the fare was $0.55", - Dmytro Kononets, the director of a local carrier company, said. "The Horlivka carriers and the Bakhmut ones were engaged into it. The mayor saw that it was profitable: each day, about three thousand people used the services of these carriers. Then they did a post, giving a monopoly on transportation to the mayor's company. Its daily profit was about $5700".
Donetsk regional state administration also allegedly insisted on the conclusion of the contract with Bakhmut Fleet Vehicles 11406. It was believed that the mayor of the city, Oleksiy Reva, had invested a lot of money in the construction of the checkpoint, so it had to be paid off. Katyshev said that Reva did not pay any money from this revenue to the FV. Two other interlocutors of OstroV, however, argue that Lahunsky received some money from the carriers and passed it to Zhebrivsky. It is not possible to verify the validity of these statements.
In 2015, Zhebrivsky three times "recommended" the FV to organize transportation between zero block posts and checkpoints. First, in July 2015, it was only about the Mayorsk checkpoint in Bakhmut district. Then, in August, Novotroitske near Volnovakha was added to the list. The last decree of December 16, 2015, "recommended" the FV to organize transportation between checkpoints Marinka and Pischovyk.
At the same time, instead of retired Necheporuk, Zhebrivsky assigned the odious Viktor Remskiy to control the execution of his order. He also headed the regional committee for holding contests for passenger transportation of suburban and intercity communications.
Even earlier, in the same month, allegedly due to the same Necheporuk, the FV had new potential partners: the owner of the group of SV Trans Plus enterprises Serhiy Udovychenko, who enjoyed an ambiguous reputation, and the director of the new association of citizens Horobyna, Valeriy Omelyan.
They both were offered a contract, additional terms of which stipulated payment to the utility for "information services" such as ensuring the uninterrupted passage through the checkpoints. 40% of the profit was left to the carriers as compensation for their costs, the remaining 60%, the parties divided equally. Lahunsky is believed to be an author of the formula. He allegedly insisted that all the money should be paid in cash.
For this cash, marked by the SBU and allegedly found in safe-deposit of Katyshev, he and his deputy were later thrown behind bars. In early December 2015, Omelyan wrote a complaint to the then head of the regional department of the Security Service, Oleksander Kuts, that Katyshev extorted money from him for signing a contract for transportation.
Thus, the profile activity of the Fleet Vehicles public utility began even worse than the attempts of the Regional Administration to organize the work of humanitarian and logistics centers through it.
Initially, the administration seemed to be thinking of buying buses for the FV so that it could act as a carrier on its own. Katyshev said that he planned to at least rent buses from small carriers or private traders. Under this plan, the FV had to monopolistically carry passengers between the checkpoints on the territory under Kiev's control.
The idea of monopoly was to be developed by the new management of the FV, and in a very perverted form.
Raidership of the "governor's" scale
There were scandals, related to the FV, for a year, when it had been managed by Yuriy Zgursky. But he failed Zhebrivsky's order to organize new humanitarian and logistics centers in the region. Local tax collectors, energy specialists, participants in the construction of the first humanitarian and logistics centers tried to make the FV pay its debts via courts. The fantastic trial, concerning the illegal attempt of the director of the Dnipro enterprise to trade at one of the already inactive humanitarian and logistics centers, faded away.
In July 2016, this director, leasing a counter at the humanitarian and logistics center from the FV, accompanied by the director of the public utility, got there a batch of banned for sale (and also illegally imported from Russia) power tools worth at least $100 thousand. The public utility was later involved in another large trial as a participant in the chain of illegal supply of goods to the uncontrolled territories. Moreover, the director bought the electrical equipment fictitiously and underpriced from a private entrepreneur in Dnipro, who in fact did not leave Donetsk and did not show signs of activity as individual entrepreneur since 2014.
But the most interesting — and again loud — processes with the participation of FV public utility began to occur in 2017 when the public utility changed management again.
In the spring of 2017, Fleet Vehicles has again changed registration for reasons undefined: from Kramatorsk to Selydove. The Regional State Administration briefly explained it by "the goal of optimizing the activity and functioning of the enterprise". Svitlana Shchukina, of whom there is no information on the web, became the acting director of VF. Her profile appeared on the website of the regional administration only after the OstroV's request. There are no income declarations of Shchukina on the website of National Agency on Corruption Prevention.
In July 2017, Pavlo Zhebrivsky "recommended" FV public utility to organize passenger transportation not only between the entry-exit checkpoints and zero checkpoints, but also between the entry-exit checkpoints and nearby controlled settlements — just like Katyshev planned. Only instead of own or rented transport, the public utility attracted all the same private carriers for this purpose again. As of mid-May 2018, passengers from "zeros" and entry-exit checkpoints were transported, in particular, by the enterprises of Reva and family of former "governor" Anatoliy Blyzniuk, as well as by one company and a number of individual entrepreneurs, which can be conditionally attributed to a kind of Pokrovsky "clan", which, according to the interlocutors of OstroV, eventually take the lead in FV.
However, the most interesting is not even with whom these agreements were concluded, but how it was done. FV public utility, which received a monopoly on transportation from the entry-exit checkpoints in all directions by "recommendation" from Zhebrivsky, actually attracted contractors, what is illegal in and of itself.
Obviously, in order to bend some inconvenient legislative provisions, Fleet Vehicles concluded agreements for "regular special passenger transportation" — perhaps, the most absurd part of this story. OstroV has an explanation of Minister of Infrastructure Volodymyr Omelyan, in which he notes that such wording implies transportation of organized groups, for example, of workers to an enterprise, or tourists for an excursion. Along with this, the passengers are not charged for such transportation. As a comparison, it is about $1.5 per person on Marinka — Kurakhove travel.
Real raider attacks started in the area of entry-exit checkpoints. An indicative and almost comic detail: even the structures of Vladislav Dreger, who had the greatest fame of raider before the war, started to feel themselves uncomfortable.
In the limelight
People of Dreger came to FV with their offer of cooperation back in 2015. The backbone of their idea was free transportation within the grey zone. When asked how they are going to make money in this case, they answered that they would take the cost on transportation between the checkpoints and cities of the controlled territory where they had an extensive network of bus terminals. The public utility considered the offer suspicious and preferred to reject it.
After the outbreak of war, enterprises associated with Dreger reduced their pre-war routes Volnovakha — Donetsk and Kurakhove — Donetsk according to the law and began to carry passengers to zero checkpoints. At the end of 2015, Kurakhove and Volnovakha routes, in accordance with Zhebrivsky's "recommendation", were pushed back from "zero", so they only drove to the entry-exit checkpoints from Kurakhove and Volnovakha. In 2016, the enterprise, now also connected with Dreger, won a rare competition and began to carry out transportation from Mariupol to Novotroitske.
However, in the summer of 2017, the Donetsk Regional State Administration terminated the contract for transportation to the Marinka entry-exit checkpoint, concluded for five years before the war: a carrier hired by Fleet Vehicles was on the route. Novotroitske route was even more interesting. In February 2018, Artem Litvinov, director of the department for development of basic industries of the Regional State Administration, sent a letter to the head of the regional border service, in which he listed all the buses entitled to carry out transportation on the Mariupol — Novotroitske route. In fact, he demanded not to let pass these buses to the entry-exit checkpoints.
Thus, a situation has arisen in Marinka and Novotroitske when of the two competing structures — enterprises of Dreger and enterprises connected with FV public utility — one receives all possible preferences, whereas the second is compelled to pick up and put down passengers at a considerable distance from the entry-exit checkpoints. What is more, FV enterprises drive only to Volnovakha from Novotroitske, while their sideline competitors have a more expensive, but also more convenient for many passengers route to Mariupol. However, passengers do not know about it since buses are forced to stop so far from the checkpoints that they are out of sight.
Dreger, as one might expect, did not give up. In addition to a number of initiated legal proceedings, his carrier began to implement his previous plan in a slightly modified form in Marinka and to transport people to Kurakhove free of charge — at a loss to himself, only to screw over FV.
Eventually, this tragicomedy attracted the attention of human rights activists and representatives of international humanitarian organizations. In the comment for OstroV, consultant on social and political issues of the Right to Protection charitable fund Denys Yaroshenko stated discrimination, first of all, not of the carrier, but of passengers who are actually deprived of the opportunity to make a conscious choice. Human rights defenders working with the UN now insist that boards with all existing routes, points of buses' departure and timetable appear at the entry-exit checkpoints. But if the idea was accepted with pleasure by Dreger, the public utility , as Yaroshenko noted, turned out to be "not really ready" for it.
And there is an obvious explanation: carriers hired by FV public utility do not have a timetable. Correspondent of OstroV was convinced of this at the Mayorsk entry-exit checkpoint and earlier in Kostiantynivka, waiting for the route to this checkpoint. The minibus, which was supposed to depart from Kostiantynivka at 8 a.m. according to the ticket sold at the ticket office, arrived at the station only at 08:30 and stood still for about twenty minutes, waiting for the filling of all vacant seats. As the driver tiredly explained, the "master" forbids him to depart, if there are vacant seats in the passenger compartment. But if in Kostiantynivka, where there is a bus station with ticket offices and, accordingly, tickets, you can have at least a starting temporary point, then people at the Mayorsk checkpoint are kept in total uncertainty. At the same time, there is no accounting of passengers at the entry-exit checkpoints. On the request for a boarding pass, drivers answer that they have no tickets.
Recently, not only journalists and human rights activists, but also law enforcers drew attention to strange practices in FV public utility. There is a court decision of October 31 last year in the court register giving the investigation team of the National Police access to data on the flow of funds on two accounts of Fleet Vehicles in Oschadbank.
In the declaration of intent, referring to the investigator's request, the court noted, in particular, that the public utility concluded contracts with carriers without having the powers, since such contracts can only be concluded by the authorities. In addition, the checks showed that drivers of these carriers do not have many necessary documents, including the route schedule and certificate of accident insurance for passengers. At the entry-exit checkpoints, ticket inspectors and dispatchers were not found: the money was collected by the drivers themselves, without giving tickets and taking any account. Collected in this way, they transferred this money to the public utility in cash.
Having visited Novotroitske and Pyshchevyk, the investigators acknowledged the fact that "between the above-mentioned points, from two to five buses with a capacity of 90-100 people carry out transportation, while the cost of the trip is $0.6 at a distance of transportation from 500 m to 7 km, and on the average, each bus makes 10-15 transport operations, that is, the daily ticket office of one bus is about $572, profit up to $2.3 thousand comes from one checkpoint. These funds are not going into the budget of the oblast, but are distributed between the officials of Fleet Vehicles public utility and Donetsk Regional State Administration in percentage correlation".
Further fate of this case is unknown to OstroV: there are no other documents with the appropriate number in the court register.
Bait for Kuts
The Donetsk Regional Administration is now undergoing changes. A few days ago, following Pavlo Zhebrivsky, deputy head of the Regional State Administration Viktor Remsky, who was in charge of the most important areas, from infrastructure restoration to transportation, left the office.
Two carriers have confirmed to OstroV that the Regional State Administration has not carried out any tenders for passenger transportation in the region for several years, when five-year contracts are being concluded with the winners. The announced competitions were simply canceled several times — when it became obvious that favorite of the Regional State Administration would not be the winner. "As of today, 80 percent of transportation in the Donetsk oblast is carried out by legal carriers in such a way: the term of contracts has expired, new competitions are not held", — says Timofey Shkinder, director of OOO Shidni Avtovokzaly, controlled by Vladislav Dreger.
Passenger transportation, especially to the entry-exit checkpoints, remains almost the most lucrative business in the region, bait for any official. The decisions they make — or their absence — will probably be the first test for the new head of the regional administration.
New competitions should start in the region, including among those who aspire to transportation in the grey zone and in the oblast from the entry-exit checkpoints.
An honest and responsible leadership should appear at Fleet Vehicles public utility, or the enterprise itself, which has no facilities and resources, but annually receives a million inflows from the regional budget, must be closed down.
Responsible for the described miracles, both from FV and Regional State Administration, must still answer in law.
Yulia Abibok, OstroV
The source of data from the state registers used in the article is YouControl analytical system