Who are the Ukrainian ‘traitors’ passing secrets to Russia?

Top prosecutor becomes most senior official arrested since invasion began

Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to reporters during a visit to Bucha
Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to reporters during a visit to Bucha
(Image credit: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A high-level Ukrainian prosecutor has been arrested and denounced as a “traitor”, becoming the latest senior official to be detained on charges of working for Russia.

The head of the Mykolaiv district prosecutor’s office was held after “allegedly passing sensitive military information to Russian security services in exchange for his guaranteed safety should the southern region fall to invading forces”, The Times reported.

A video posted by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) showed officers bursting into his office in the southern city before pushing him to the ground and arresting him.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The detention is the latest crackdown on Ukrainian civilian and military officials suspected of collaborating with Vladimir Putin’s forces. The arrests have raised fears over the extent to which Moscow’s intelligence agency has penetrated the country’s establishment.

Flushing out ‘rats’

Following the arrest of the prosecutor, Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, said in a statement: “We have recorded that this prosecutor is ashamed to say that he performed the criminal tasks of the representatives of the aggressor state.

“He hoped to continue working for the prosecutor’s office in the event of an enemy capture of the region but forgot that such actions would result in life imprisonment. His activity was stopped in time and more serious consequences were avoided.”

According to The Times, the individual “used a go-between to conceal his collaboration” and “funnelled information about the operational situation in Mykolaiv”.

He is believed to have shared “lists of killed military personnel and civilians; the locations of prisoners of war; the outcomes of strikes on Mykolaiv; and daily passwords used to get through checkpoints”.

He was caught after a “special operation” in which the SBU “spread fake military intelligence”, the paper added. Days after the fake information, which included “fictitious lists of killed servicemen”, was disseminated, “a Russian representative who was also under SBU surveillance was found to have acquired the same lists”.

The office of the attorney-general of Ukraine said in a statement that it was determined to flush out any “rats” collaborating with Moscow, adding: “We know all of you. Those who repaint and change their shoes on the fly will face the maximum penalty.”

Russian collaborators

The arrest of the prosecutor came just days after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stripped two generals of their military rank, labelling them “traitors” and “antiheroes”.

Zelenskyy said during an address last Thursday that Naumov Andriy Olehovych, the former chief of the main department of internal security of the SBU, and Kryvoruchko Serhiy Oleksandrovych, the former head of the Office of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Kherson region, no longer held military rank.

The president “did not elaborate on the reasons behind the decision”, NPR reported, but did strongly imply that the pair “had not been loyal to Ukraine”.

“Those servicemen among senior officers who have not decided where their homeland is, who violate the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people as regards the protection of our state, its freedom and independence, will inevitably be deprived of senior military ranks,” he warned.

“I do not have time to deal with all the traitors. But gradually they will all be punished.”

The sacking of the two generals also came after “a member of the Ukrainian negotiating delegation that met with Russia was shot dead” by SBU agents as they attempted to detain him, Ukrainska Pravda reported in early March.

Intelligence service officials later said they had “strong evidence” that Denys Kireyev, a former deputy chair of Ukraine’s state bank, was leaking sensitive information to Moscow. A source told the paper: “He was an agent. You know why agents are killed.”

Spy games

Since the invasion of Ukraine, the US and Europe have begun to “crack down on Russian spies”, Axios reported. Around 400 Russian diplomats and embassy staff have been expelled since the unprovoked attack, most of whom were declared “persona non grata”.

Many are “alleged intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover”, the site said. And their removal from diplomatic posts “should degrade Russia's ability to spy and carry out subversive activities on Western soil”.

Moscow was also “embarrassed” when Ukraine released “a list of what it claims are the identities of more than 600 Russian spies, including one who appears to fancy himself as James Bond”, in late March, The Telegraph said.

The agents, “who are meant to stay in the shadows”, had their “passports, phone numbers and even their drinking habits” exposed in the leak, eliciting “smirks in Western intelligence agencies”.

But Ukrainian officials also accused the spies of being involved in “criminal” activity in Europe, the paper added, raising the prospect that “some of the people identified on the list are working as spies in Britain”.

While both Ukraine and the West have been quick to respond to any suggestion that it is harbouring spies, the repeated arrests of senior Ukrainian officials have raised the prospect that Russia is having some success in recruiting foreign moles.

Nonetheless, the “stuttering progress” of Putin’s invasion “has thrown an unwanted spotlight on the Russian intelligence services”, France 24 said, with allegations mounting that they “failed to prepare the Kremlin for the realities of the assault”.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.