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Russian soldiers at a commercial farm near Melitopol. July 14, 2022

‘Pure looting, thievery, and banditry’ Russia has seized roughly 1,000 businesses in Ukraine’s annexed regions, new investigation finds

Russian soldiers at a commercial farm near Melitopol. July 14, 2022
Russian soldiers at a commercial farm near Melitopol. July 14, 2022
AP / Scanpix / LETA

Journalists from Novaya Gazeta Europe have discovered 1,150 companies on Ukraine’s annexed territories that are registered with the Russian government.

80 percent of these companies also exist in Ukraine’s registry of legal entities, which indicates that they existed before the start of Russia’s occupation and were subsequently registered in Russia. They include agricultural holdings, bakery complexes, mining companies, factories, food processing plants, markets, pharmacy chains, malls, and other types of businesses.

Most of the companies’ new owners are Russian citizens. Additionally, many Russians have opened new manufacturing facilities or expanded their pre-existing ones in Ukraine’s annexed territories. The owners are most often from Moscow, the Rostov region, and Crimea. One registered business owner shares a name with Yelena Kozenko, the wife of former Russian State Duma deputy Andrey Kozenko.

At the same time, Novaya Gazeta Europe noted, only 260 of the roughly 1,000 companies newly registered in Russia have owners indicated in their records. According to Ilya Shumanov, the general director of Transparency International Russia, this is primarily due to business owners wanting to evade international sanctions.

Many of the businesses on Russia’s registry are ones that were previously declared “ownerless” by occupation authorities in the annexed regions, according to Novaya Gazeta Europe. In particular, the Russian-installed administration in the occupied part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region announced in June that it was “nationalizing” property whose owners were not registered with the Russian tax system. These assets have been transferred either to the Russian state or to new private owners.

According to Ivan Fedorov, Melitopol’s Ukrainian mayor, hundreds of businessmen have contacted the Ukrainian police and the Ukrainian Security Service to report the seizure of their property since the start of the occupation. “To prove ownership [to the occupation authorities and keep your property], you have to bring them your documents, but that doesn’t guarantee that the property won’t be confiscated. If they want it, they’ll take it, and if they don’t want it, they won’t,” he said.

Businesses in the annexed territories whose owners have been replaced have been repurposed for the Russian market, and some are even used to supply the Russian military, Novaya Gazeta Europe reported. A company called Berdyansk Harvesters, for example, which previously manufactured agricultural machinery, is now being used to make anti-tank barriers and stoves for the Russian army.

Some businesses in the annexed territories have had their products and equipment seized and sent to Russia. Numerous sources, for example, have reported grain and other agricultural products being taken. “Everything is occupied, nothing is working; it’s all been looted,” the manager of Agroalliance, one of the companies affected, told Novaya Gazeta.

Ukrainian businessmen from the annexed territories have been recording their property losses as part of ongoing criminal cases, and the owners of the largest companies, according to Ivan Fedorov, have even filed suits at the European Court of Human Rights.

“When Russia pays reparations, it will be essential for it to cover all of the damage it’s done to businesses, since what’s happening today is pure looting, thievery, and banditry,” Fedorov said.

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