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Ukraine’s security service hunts the spies selling information to Russia

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In the other direction, a van swerves and two men in combat gear and face coverings get out. The man in black drops to the ground, as if by instinct. The agents – from the Ukrainian Security Service, or SBU – searched him and recovered their precious evidence: his mobile phone.

In eastern Ukraine, the thuds of dueling Russian and Ukrainian artillery are an almost constant presence. Much of the Russian bombardment is indiscriminate, but some are aimed at high-value targets like military encampments, arms depots or the SBU’s own headquarters in Kramatorsk, which was partially destroyed in the first weeks of the war.

The SBU says Russian forces rely heavily on collaborators like the alleged spy CNN saw being arrested in Sloviansk over the weekend to identify their targets and gauge the success of their hits.

When confronted by an SBU investigator at the scene, the suspect quickly confesses to communicating with the enemy.

“What did he ask you?” asks the investigator.

“Coordinates, movements and so on,” the suspect said, his head down. “Hit locations. That sort of thing. The general situation, and so on.”

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“Did you understand why he needed the coordinates?”

“Yes, I understand. I realize.”

Ukrainian security service agents search the phone of a suspect suspected of sending information to Russian forces.

The SBU here says they do shots like this once or twice a day. This man has been under investigation for only four days.

Some of the suspects are classic infiltrators: Russian citizens, brought to the Donbass region at the start of the war, who live among the population. Others are political sympathizers. But the man running today’s sting, who we call Serhiy, says most people spy for money.

“There are fewer and fewer ideological traitors,” he says. “Even those who supported the aggression of the Russian Federation in 2014 in the Donbass, during the creation of the so-called DPR and LPR [Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics] — when they saw what happened with Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Bucha and dozens and hundreds of other places, they started to change their worldview on Russia.”

The suspect told the investigator over the weekend that he was offered just 500 hryvnia, or about $17, in exchange for information on the targeting. He says he was recruited through the Telegram messaging app by someone identifying himself as “Nikolai”.

The headquarters of Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) in Kramatorsk, which was only hit by a Russian strike in March.

The investigator reads their exchanges as SBU agents stand with pistols drawn.

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“You did a great job yesterday,” Nikolai wrote. “The same information is needed today. Photos, videos, geo-data of soldiers on the CNIL [a military encampment]. How long does it take to get the information?

“I got it, I got it,” replied the suspect. “I’ll text you back. One and a half to two o’clock.”

“Okay, in the meantime,” Nikolai replied. “Be careful. Watch out for the cameras so they don’t see you. Take photos and videos in secret.”

The investigator explains to the suspect that they are seizing his phone.

“Who should I call to inform you of your detention? asks the investigator.

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“My mother,” said the suspect.

“Do you remember the number?”

“There’s a number in the phone.”

With that, the man is led to the unmarked SBU car and driven away. Serhiy says he will be transferred west to Dnipro where he will stand trial. If it is proven that his spying resulted in death or “serious consequences”, a conviction could send him to prison for the rest of his life, Serhiy says.

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“These missiles arrive at the coordinates that are transmitted by such criminals,” he told us at headquarters. “People are dying from these missiles. Our soldiers are being killed and civilians are being killed.”

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He says he tries to keep his anger at bay, but it’s hard not to take the betrayals personally.

“Every time I arrest someone like him, I know one thing: I am from here myself. My relatives, all of my relatives, are from Lyman,” a nearby town that has been under heavy bombardment for weeks. Russians. said.

“At the moment they have no place to live, they have nothing. They have nowhere to come back to. I remember this every time. I remember Kramatorsk station every times,” he said, referring to a Russian airstrike in April. which killed at least 50 people.

“We were picking people up, piece by piece.”

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