Photos by Vadym Chuprina
- Tell us about yourself, how did you come to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), what is your career path?
- I entered the Kyiv Military Engineering School of Communications, graduated as an engineer of classified automatic communications. It was profound learning in one of the best educational institutions of communication technologies. In 1991, I was supposed to be assigned for distribution to serve at the special communication switch Rubin-SK, which is a system of communication of the military and political leaders of the USSR, based in Moscow. But the USSR collapsed, there was no job for my special skills in Kyiv, so I had to choose between a career and homeland. I didn’t have to think long - I was invited to a meeting by an employee of the newly created Security Service of Ukraine, and he said: "Why would you go to Moscow, you have all the roots, relatives, and your mother here, while it is another country there, we need you in Kyiv." And I took the oath of allegiance to the people of Ukraine. I was sent to the tenth department, to the accounting and inquiry, its common open name is "archival" department. It was intelligence service’s files - agents, personal files, and operational materials. At first, I was upset. But soon I realized that the SBU needed very skilled communication engineers, because the records and archives had to be converted into electronic data. All this very secret work was done by my group. I got to know the entire staff, because absolutely everyone was coming to the archive to get information, from generals to ordinary workers of the SBU, and I gradually got the specifics of how various departments worked, and this gave me an important understanding of motivations and personalities. And soon there was a case when the first Ukrainian World Congress was held for the first time in Kyiv. To ensure security, all units were involved, but there was not enough people, and they sent everyone to reinforce security, our unit also provided people, and, of course, first of all, they sent me as a young man. My head was Anatolii Leonidovych Kozhemiakin, the head of the Main Department "K" (MP Andrii Kozhemiakin’s father - Ed.). And after the end of the Congress, General Kozhemiakin came to me and asked: "Boy, why are you sitting in the archive? Come to work with me as an intelligence officer!" Of course, I was glad that I was offered a real job. When I came to "K", no more than 100 people worked in the central office, but we were constantly in business, did not sink in papers and formal replies, but performed operations with results. And right after my transfer to "K", a new division was created to combat illegal international drug trafficking. It was headed by Volodymyr Andriiovych Tymoshenko. And I became one of the first employees of this division.
I served there for 14 years, from an intelligence officer to a deputy head of the Main Department "K". I have gone through all the steps, never jumped over positions.
- What operations did you perform, for which you were awarded a medal by the FSB [the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation]?
- I was responsible for fighting international drug business, and I have received a lot of letters and insignia from foreign intelligence services and law enforcement agencies of other countries, primarily from the United States, NATO countries. We worked closely with US intelligence to combat the drug mafia like the Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Justice Department. Few people understand the scale of transit of large amounts of drugs through Ukraine in those years. After the USSR collapsed and Soviet ships were sold, tens of thousands of our sailors were thrown out onto the street. People desperately needed work, and for any money they agreed to work abroad, and Ukrainians quickly entered the top 3 hired sailors in the world. Naturally, many of our seafarers were invited by the international drug mafia to work for them, because main drug transportation is carried out by ships. Of course, when Ukrainians are sailing around the world on thousands of ships, they see a lot of what is happening on their ships. These are very valuable sources of information, and no one except us could build more trustful contacts with our sailors. We have identified drug trafficking routes not only through Ukraine, but also from Colombia to the US, for example.
There was such an operation. An ocean cargo ship was sailing, and one night in its nose compartment a hatch was cut right in the deck, and a chain was placed in the compartment, on which tanks with heroin were secured, dozens of kilograms. The hatch was soldered, camouflaged, no inspection would ever detect it. The cargo ship did not enter the port, but on the shallows near the territorial waters of the US, the cache was opened at night, and the drugs were dumped overboard, indicating the location of the laying by a beacon. Imagine, there was a luxury ocean yacht was close by, where owners seemed to be constantly having parties with musicians and girls. And this yacht got to the place where the cargo ship was, and while there was fun on board, divers dived and quickly lifted the cargo of drugs on board, and the yacht went to Miami. No one inspected them, such a transfer can only be detected promptly as both sailors were our agents. This method of drug trafficking in the United States was revealed by our division of the SBU. For such work we have been appreciated both by the Americans and other foreign colleagues, for organizing a large-scale intelligence apparatus abroad that constantly has given us results.
Another large-scale international operation that my unit carried out in conjunction with the US intelligence agencies was to destroy international heroin laboratories in Afghanistan. Heroin production requires so-called precursors, i.e. chemical reagents that ensure its purification. They are not in free circulation, but they can be legally transported with a license, they are purchased for various purposes around the world. Such precursors were produced in Ukraine, in Cherkasy, the so-called "p-2-p" (first - phenyl, second - propanone). They are packed in 200-liter barrels. We were aware that the international drug mafia has a great need for precursors, and our agents gave us information that these substances are purchased in Ukraine, and the documents for transportation are falsified. Then we began the operation to install radio beacons in different batches of barrels. We have established contacts with the intelligence service of Germany and the United States and handed them the frequencies of our radio beacons. And soon we discovered that some group of barrels with a precursor changed routes and entered Afghanistan. As soon as the barrels were brought into the Afghan laboratory, it became clear that heroin was being made in this place. The Americans received the exact coordinates, and these bases were destroyed by air strikes and ground troops. For such operations, the United States expressed gratitude at the highest level to the heads of the SBU and Ukraine.
There were drug transfer channels through Ukraine, and for example, I personally took part in arresting a drug trafficker in Nicaragua, his name is Larin, a citizen of Ukraine who organized the transfer of cocaine from Colombia. The authorities of Nicaragua overlooked drug trade, and we had to act on their territory without any sanctions and permits. We flew to arrest Larin on our own, found him, detained, searched without publicity, and took him to Ukraine, he went to prison. My contacts with the Americans allowed us to provide a corridor to take the drug trafficker with us, we did it without any permissions.
Since at that time the Ukrainian leaders pursued a course for peaceful good-neighborly relations with Russia, and since we have a common border, then, of course, we had quite a few operations to trace and eliminate drug trafficking channels.
For example, I supervised the well-known detention of Anastasia Voronina Francisco, a daughter of famous actress Fedoseyeva-Shukshina. Anastasia regularly transported heroin from Pakistan to Kyiv and Moscow, there was reliable information about it, she was completely searched in Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Russia - and always to no avail. Heroin is the most expensive drug. Whatever we did, we even installed a camera in an elevator of her house, but we could not find out how exactly she transported it. And so she flew to Kyiv again and was leaving for Moscow by train. But we could not just let her trick us and we were very excited about the case, so I left with the task force after her to look if maybe she would expose herself. When there was a border crossing, I again ordered an inspection. She calmly drank tea. And the train could not wait, it could not be kept indefinitely, but I decided that we would complete the inspection, despite the fact that the train had already left for Russia.
We made a list of her things and noticed that the only thing that Anastasia took with her on all trips and that she had with her on the train was two thermoses with tea. The thermoses were made in China, produced on a factory, everything was sealed, it is clearly impossible to take them apart, and yet my officer decided to break one of the thermoses right in the car. The thermos was opened, and then his flask cracked, and pure heroin started pouring from the flask! And the windows in the car were opened, wind blowed, and heroin scattered throughout the entire car! The passengers had a fun trip there, the heroin was clean, it was hundreds of doses, and we barely had time to collect a matchbox for evidence. I was very glad that the second thermos, which we also opened, with bated breath, also contained heroin. Voronina Francisco was passed to the Russians in Bryansk with all the evidence. It was a typical operation of the time, nothing special, except for her famous name. In 2004, a meeting of the heads of intelligence services of the US, Europe, and Russia, dealing with cross-border drug mafia took place in the SBU in Kyiv, and the Russians awarded me and many participants with FSB medals. I never wore it, I have two Ukrainian orders "For Merit". When the war started, I threw away my FSB medal, I do not need any honors from the aggressor.
- But why did you write in your election leaflet in October 2014 that you had an FSB medal? Did you want to impress the pro-Russian electorate?
- No, it was a stupid story. I asked my assistants to give information about me for an election leaflet of the Central Headquarters of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party, they took the information from my personal file, created a layout and printed a small amount of it, and there was my FSB medal mentioned there. When I found out about this, I immediately ordered to destroy this nonsense. But competitors still got this information and samples of leaflets and fervently used it against me. It is easy to verify, no one distributed such leaflets to anyone, it was a misunderstanding, the error was corrected, and people received information from me without mentioning the FSB. Although I had to explain this fact, I even wrote a Facebook post about it.
- Let's go back. What was your service after the Main Department "K"?
- Then for two years I was sent as a deputy chief of the Main Directorate of the SBU in Crimea. In 2007, by a decision of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, I was appointed the head of the tax police and served there for two years. But at the 2010 elections, it was not Yanukovych who won, but Russia, and the regime that came to power did not need the SBU. So I quit my job altogether. Putin was preparing to seize our country, and Yanukovych was the bridge for its surrender.
- What did you do after your dismissal?
- I was a military retiree. I was an assistant to MP Andrii Anatoliovych Kozhemiakin. He consulted many people on security issues, because with the bandits in power any business was under attack. Of course, when the revolution began, I strongly supported the Maidan. I was regularly in the headquarters, providing them with some information about plans and actions of Yanukovych’s security officials. As you remember, on February 14, when we met, I found out about surveillance on you personally.
- Yes, it was quite impressive when you approached a couple sitting in a corner of a cafe and asked a man: "Hey Iura, how are you, are you following someone here?" And he immediately stood at attention: "Good evening, Comrade General!"
- Yes, it happened that I knew this officer, an employee of the "T" Department, who was assigned to monitor you, he worked in the chief office in Kyiv. The SBU was used by Yanukovych to put pressure on all those who disagreed with his regime. Therefore, when the revolution won, I had no doubt what to do. With ex-President Yanukovych in Russia and the outbreak of the war, the new government found itself in a very difficult position. A coalition was formed, the UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) fraction got the SBU appointments, and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko became its head. Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov appointed me the first deputy head of the SBU, the head of the Main Department "K", he knew me well because was the head of the SBU in 2005, and I regularly reported to him about our operations. And in 2014, Turchynov immediately sent me to solve purely military tasks. At first, he hoped that the Anti-Terrorist Center of the SBU would be able to eliminate terrorists, but at war, not all leaders were ready to fight, able to give an order to fire. Therefore, after the capture of Sloviansk by the FSB detachment of Girkin, I was also sent there. Unfortunately, the local departments of the SBU were incapacitated, it was necessary to build work on the ground on our own.
- What tasks did you have and what specific operations did you conduct in the Donbas?
- Turchynov set the task to use all our capacities to protect Ukraine in the Donbas. It was necessary to destroy the terrorists, but also to avoid damage to civilians. For such actions, the SBU needed to pick up reliable local people who did not arouse suspicion, could move around the Donbas and go through any terrorists’ checkpoints with their documents, conduct reconnaissance and lead military convoys, who can be trusted with weapons. In short, we needed to create a combat group. I gathered a reliable group of officers of the Main Department "K" who were motivated to defend Ukraine. We acted together with counterintelligence units. It was time to test our strength, and it immediately became clear who was who.
At that time, many commanders avoided any responsibility, did not want to fight and were afraid to fight, I must say honestly. I never called to the center and asked what I should do in a given situation, whether to shoot or not, to delay or not. It's funny now to hear when someone complains that "in Crimea, Turchynov did not give the command to shoot" — the country's leaders issued all the necessary orders, I am a witness myself. But above all, I am deeply convinced that a Ukrainian soldier should not wait for any orders if he sees that the enemy is attacking our country and our citizens. The Motherland trusts us its defense, and we are obliged to act independently, according to the oath to the people of Ukraine and the Constitution.
The Ukrainian leaders expect from the military professional actions on their own, and responsibility is upon us. And in 2014, we did a lot of things that we shouldn’t talk about, but it was necessary under critical conditions, because Ukraine does not have a legislative base for effective struggle against saboteurs and terrorists.
It turned out that the majority of local residents in the Donbas had been turned into zombies by the propaganda against the Maidan, "junta", they watched only Russian television. Imagine how hard it was, if you go to a village, you make contact, and the crowd comes to you, and they say: "Go away, we are afraid that the Right Sector bandits will come and kill everyone, we don’t want to talk to you." In April-May, the anti-Ukrainian agitation was conducted in the Donbas openly, even military units were blocked and columns were stopped. We did not have time to persuade people with a word - Ukraine lost the war of words in the Donbas by then, it was necessary to show strength.
Very quickly we managed to establish contacts and started working with local true patriots of Ukraine. I would especially like to mention an outstanding person, whose name I do not have the right to say yet. His nom de guerre is "Forester", by my decision he was appointed a commander of a combat group, which soon grew to 26 people. I organized a car with all the necessary military equipment, and we were promptly arming all of our new employees who were in contact with various units of the SBU. There were problems like lack of sniper rifles and we assisted the "Forester" in buying precision weapons. "Forester" worked perfectly during the storming attack of the checkpoint at the fodder factory on May 2, and after that they performed a wide range of tasks. "Forester’s" group, in addition to reconnaissance and escorting columns, also carried out sabotage, participated in storming of checkpoints. They carried out the first exchange of our two National Guard soldiers under Sloviansk, there is a video. On the night before Girkin’s gang left, "Forester" managed to release three Ukrainian officers who were captured by the terrorists, and the terrorists did take the officers with them. Then they were the guides of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff command who were capturing Sloviansk.
Photo: Chief of the General Staff Muzhenko, Minister of Defense Heletei and agent of the SBU "Forester" immediately after entering liberated Sloviansk. "Forester" was one of the guides of the column.
Now in Kyiv it was also pleasant for me to meet Ihor Lukianov from Kramatorsk, his nom de guerre is "Macleod". He was also a scout of the SBU who then infiltrated Girkin’s group and gave us the most valuable information. Then, at the beginning of May 2014, he decided to fight the invaders as a volunteer, so he also received all the necessary information and weapons from us and acted fearlessly. Later Ihor distinguished himself as part of the 25th motorized infantry battalion "Kyivan Rus" in the battle for Debaltseve and was awarded the public award People's Hero of Ukraine.
Photo: from left to right: SBU combat group commander "Forester"; Vladyslav Bukhariev; young volunteer, intelligence officer of the SBU, soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, People’s Hero of Ukraine Ihor Lukianov. A meeting five years after the events near Sloviansk.
Also I want to mention a group of officers of the SBU from the Main Department "K" who worked with me in the Donbas. They did not stay safely in the home front but risked their lives. One of the officers, who is now a head of one of the security agencies, brought "people's mayor of Torez town" and a number of other accomplices to the court on our territory through terrorist checkpoints.
- Why, then, did President Poroshenko fire you on July 7, 2014?
- Perhaps he wanted to have a loyal person to solve his problems. I was fired when I was near Sloviansk, just recently liberated. I was upset, of course, because for more than four months I worked 24 hours for the Motherland, but my conscience was clean, I was not engaged in any private business. I was removed, without asking anything, particularly, about the results of my work, thus it means that there were other interests. I came to the head of the SBU unit in the anti-terrorist operation Vasyl Hrytsak and gave him the most valuable thing I had: our patriotic agents to communicate with. And they continued the war and achieved success, and they will write books about it at some point.
- Why didn't you find a common language with Poroshenko, why did you go to Batkivshchyna Party?
- I realized that I couldn’t work together with Poroshenko and his people as well as I couldn’t work with Yanukovych. The Main Department "K" was initially given the tasks that later made both Iurii Artiukhov and Pavlo Demchyn heroes of media scandals. I did not want to serve as a puppet. And in the fall of 2015, I run for an MP with the political support of Batkivshchyna Party in my native constituency in Lebedyn, the Sumy region. I won the election and became a member of the Batkivshchyna parliamentary fraction without being a member of the party. Why? I remembered that in the days of Yanukovych many were afraid, Poroshenko, for example, went to Azarov’s government, while his friend Lutsenko was thrown into prison. But Tymoshenko did not negotiate and she was also "closed up".
- And your consent to head the SZR - does it mean a break with Batkivshchyna Party?
- Yulia Volodymyrivna [Tymoshenko] has publicly congratulated me with the appointment. But everyone in Batkivshchyna knows that I was not bound by anything, any obligations, I was not a member of the party. And everyone knows about my friendship with Kvartal 95, I have never hide the fact that for me it is very personal. Working in intelligence, I will be able to serve the Motherland more effectively than in the hall of the Parliament.
- What binds you to Zelenskyi, when did you meet?
- Now it's hard for to recall when it was. We know each other for more than ten years, I like their work, the courage with which they have been making a satire on power. Look, after all, they were not afraid of anyone when others were silent. I started going to Kvartal 95 concerts when they first started in the KPI [Kyiv Polytechnic Institute]. I just like it, and at some point we get to know each other. Then one day I invited them to come to my native Lebedyn to give a concert there. And imagine, they agreed! I just want to say that I have never hired Kvartal 95 for money, it's just a personal thing. They came to Lebedyn on their own, by the way, they often do that. For example, many times they gave free concerts in the ATO zone and in military units. And this is another reason why I really respect this team.
- So these huge concerts of Kvartal 95 in Lebedyn are not funded by you?
- Of course not. It began in 2015, and it is an honor for me that since then Kvartal 95 has included Lebedyn in its schedule of performances. This year, by the way, they also have Lebedyn on their schedule for August 23, I wonder who will be free from their work in the government to come. The concerts of Kvartal 95 were "huge" not because I made them huge, but because tens of thousands of people came to the events. The concert is an open air, last year there were about 100 thousand people from the entire Sumy region.
- Do you consider it professional for Zelenskyi to appoint you the head of the SZR as his friend, while you were not an intelligence officer before?
- Let's look at the situation carefully. First of all, I was a permanent officer of the intelligence services, I have long and successful experience of working abroad and creating an efficient intelligence network, I have well-established contacts with Western intelligence services.
Secondly, I went through the entire career path up to a position of the first deputy of the SBU, I consider myself a professional who can demonstrate the results of my work.
Thirdly, I have got combat experience during the war with Russia, I am on the Russian sanctions list and I will do everything to liberate our country from the occupation, I am ready to take responsibility for my actions.
Fourthly, I know many employees of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, which until 2005 was a part of the Security Service of Ukraine, and many officers of the SBU left for the SZU. I can understand the peculiarities of its work very quickly.
And finally, fifthly, I believe that for such positions the Supreme Commander should choose people who are trusted, have contacts, and this is a normal practice for Western intelligence agencies. We can see that sometimes during the war with Russia lack of attention to intelligence data led our leaders to wrong conclusions about the situation and sometimes to tragic consequences, as it was at Sloviansk, Ilovaisk, and Debaltseve.
- When did you earn money to buy a house and apartment in Kyiv and Crimea, where did you get 15 million hryvnas that was a gift to your daughter, how could the General of the SBU and his wife, an ordinary teacher, make such savings by their honest work only?
- There is nothing supernatural in my income. I received an apartment from the SBU in the Kharkiv neighborhood in Kyiv, I lived there for many years. I bought my private property not immediately, but when I was 50 years old, when I became a lieutenant general. I have often been abroad on service, conducted operations, getting per diem and travel money, and my wife and I made certain savings. The money for construction was borrowed. As the family grew bigger, we needed more living space, and during the construction boom in the 2000s, we invested in an apartment building on Biloruska Street, in a house that had not yet been built, so the price was affordable. We have recently decided to gift this apartment to our daughter, and I asked a notary to give an honest assessment of the apartment, not to underestimate anything. The notary looked at Internet prices and immediately entered the price that is ten times higher than the purchase price was. I did not give any money to my daughter, you need to understand that my declaration shows the price of the apartment, prices are up, of course, after the house was built, and, well, it has turned out to be a popular place.
- Well, you also have a house in Vyshenky [ a village near Kyiv] and an apartment in Crimea...
- I explained about the apartment, but about Vyshenky, is it some kind of a luxury place? It has one of the lowest land prices, it is not Kozyn or Koncha-Zaspa. And we got this land for nothing - it once belonged to my father-in-law, we inherited it, 25 sotkas (1/4 of the hectare). And we were building the house for a long time, everything was bought gradually, bricks in one place, roofing in another, we ordered, waited, and built it. Immediately I want to explain about Crimea - I don’t own anything there, when I served there, I was given an apartment, but I made my choice in 2014 right away, now I have nothing there.
When I was an MP, I was included in the Russian sanctions list because I voted for all the laws that aimed to protect Ukraine from the Russian aggression. Therefore, the question about Crimea is now closed for me.
- But you were in charge of the tax police for two years, and there are ambiguous assessments of your work.
- In our country, if you are responsible for something, then you are doomed to receive quite opposite assessments. Look, when Yanukovych came to power, Klymenko and many others were very eager to expose me in some way, as a person who worked in Tymoshenko’s Cabinet of Ministers to press additional charges against her. They were looking for cases of illegal actions by the tax police, but there were no scandals when I was there, I did not rob anyone or take their business away, I did not humiliate or insult anyone. They inspected me and my family and all the property very thoroughly. They were looking for any clue - and they didn’t find anything illegal. So, no accusations were made against me.
Moreover, I fully declared all my property, while still working at the SBU, then every year I filed a declaration as an MP. My property has not grown, the apartment, gifted to my daughter, was already there in the declaration. I honestly declared everything that our family has. I was also checked by all the services and the NAPK (the National Agency on Corruption Prevention), because I was a member of Batkivshchyna Party. I had all the same property in the previous years, but they decided to make a sensation out of it only now, after I was appointed to the SZR.
- Will you classify your declaration?
- As an employee of the SBU, I also had the opportunity not to declare my property and money. But I did not use this right, my declaration has been submitted every year and it is open. I am not going to classify my declaration even after my appointment to the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine. My opinion is that secrecy is necessary for intelligence officers, while heads of intelligence agencies are public figures, they are obliged to submit declarations to allow the public oversight of such agencies.
- What did President Zelenskyi tell you signing your appointment letter?
- He said that he trusts me one of the most important agencies for the country's security, especially in a time of war. That we must not repeat what happened at the beginning of the war, when the leaders were blind, and that I must not to fail.
- In what condition is the SZR now? In our foreign intelligence, despite the war, for more than two years the chief had not been appointed, it was ruled by changing acting heads. Then Bozhko was appointed for several months and immediately fired.
- I saw that the country's leaders for many years were not interested in foreign intelligence. President Zelenskyi set me a task of making intelligence efficient. There are many obstacles. What are the objectives of my work, what are the results achieved until now? The apparatus is inflated, but at an expense of operational units. A large number of acting heads of departments tell about absence of proper management and failures of personnel policies. All this needs to be corrected and skills and abilities of foreign intelligence must be raised. The main thing is to create conditions so that it is not "sons of majors" who go to the intelligence service, but motivated patriots. That there should be incentives for people who are ready for heavy challenges and risks for their lives, capable of intellectually resisting strong Russian intelligent services, able to anticipate and predict the actions of the enemy.
- After the first round of elections, President Poroshenko announced that he fired Semotchko, the notorious first deputy head of the SZR. But there are rumors that Semotchko sometimes for some reasons still visits the SZR.
- Of course, he visits, because Petro Oleksiiovych [Poroshenko] has been actually kind of lying, Semotchko is de facto on military service at the disposal of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine. Poroshenko announced his dismissal – but he did not dismiss him. Well, we will solve this problem.
- What will be Zelenskyi’s policy, what tasks will foreign intelligence have, is there a threat of peace agreement by capitulation?
- I do not have the slightest doubt that the new leader of Ukraine will protect national interests, I say this looking at the tasks set to me by the President. There will be a victory when intelligence provides the head of the country with an accurate understanding of the enemy and its capabilities, indicates risks and threats to allow him to make right decisions and right strategies. To win, intelligence must become a top priority.
Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET