Ukraine, early 2024. Demining of the territories contaminated by the Russian occupiers continues. Oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi is in a pre-trial detention center, but people associated with him continue their activities. The former head of the State Emergency Service (SES), Serhiy Kruk, is also suspected of bribery.

No, these are not just three random headlines but key markers from Channel 24's investigation into demining, Kolomoiskiy, the SES, a budget of over a billion Ukrainian hryvnias (UAH), and even the iconic Ukrainian demining dog, Patron.

The chain is complicated and intricate, but we strongly advise you to read it in full. This important story reveals who our state trusts to demine hectares of rich Ukrainian soil that can feed the world.

Six months after the start of the full-scale invasion in August 2022, the State Emergency Service under Kruk's leadership decided to purchase special equipment, including buses. For this purpose, it announced a closed tender for 1 billion 370 million UAH.

Less than two months later, on September 26, 2022, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) initiated a criminal investigation pertaining to the names of SES officials. In March 2023, Serhiy Kruk was named in connection with one of the rulings of the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine.

According to our colleagues from the Chetverta Vlada, this case is about a large-scale corruption scheme. Essentially, companies would sell SES equipment at prices inflated by 25-30%.

Part of this margin, about 10% of the inflated price, was earmarked for the wallets of SES officials. Of course, in this way, the state loses money that should be used to help people.

The members of the organized group formed commercial offers with prices artificially inflated by 25-30%. They created the conditions for further withdrawal of budget funds and caused grave consequences for the state,
– Court Document

Another ruling in this case reveals that one of the seized documents, a copy of a tender offer for the purchase of a boat, was addressed to the then head of the SES, Serhiy Kruk.

Serhii Kruk - former head of the State Emergency Service
Serhii Kruk, former head of the State Emergency Service /

The court document reveals that investigators seized an iPhone 13 mini from Kruk as material evidence during a search in January 2023. Phones were also seized from several other SES officials.

In the Court of Appeal, the defense asked the court to revoke the seizure of the cell phones, but the court refused. In fact, ironically, it was the appeal filed by Kruk's lawyers that revealed this story to the public. Until then, the court registry did not show anything in the criminal case that included Kruk's name.

The government dismissed Kruk from the position of the head of the SES on August 25, 2023. Importantly, Kruk was not dismissed due to allegations of corruption, but because of a January 2023 helicopter crash near Kyiv that killed the Minister of Internal Affairs and his deputies. Law enforcement later initiated a criminal case against the SES to investigate breaches in safety protocol.

If you are already outraged, be patient. There is more to come. This was just the beginning.

So, who won the closed tender for 1 billion and 370 million UAH? Two companies registered at the same address (4/26 Sholom Aleichem Street, Dnipro, office 936):

  • Techno Train, LLC
  • Scientific and Production Company Patron Demining, LLC

A photocopy of a document with a list of equipment supplied by Techno Train, LLC and Patron Demining, LLC was found... From the content of the document, it is clear that Techno Train, LLC supplied three units of products, and the amount of 226,262,000 UAH was indicated in the column "allocated funds" to the supplier Patron Demining, LLC,
Court Ruling.

The court document states that Techno Train delivered 17 units of products totaling more than 162 million UAH.

The ultimate beneficiary of Techno Train is Serhiy Kryvyi. Ukrainian media refer to him as the manager of oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi's companies, and we can assume that this is quite justified, as his name appears in court documents alongside the Swiss company ABRS Group.

According to the investigators, the suspect tried to move around 920,000 UAH and 38,700 USD of criminally obtained money to ARBS Group accounts in Switzerland.

The threads from this company lead not only to Kryvyi and Kolomoiskyi, but also to other dubious figures, such as Andriy Oleksandrovych Serbin, the director and ultimate beneficiary of Patron Demining.

In addition to running Patron Demining, Serbin works as a lawyer. Specifically, Serbin was one of Kryvyi's defense attorneys in the High Anti-Corruption Court in the case mentioned above.

Oddly enough, Serbin's name also appears in one of the rulings in this criminal proceeding. The court ordered the seizure of UAH 920,000 and USD 38,700, which were supposed to be transferred to Switzerland. The court document makes clear that law enforcement found the money in the office of Techno Train, located at the same address in Dnipro as Patron Demining.

Serbin's defense lawyers asked the court to lift the seizure of this amount, emphasizing that the money did not belong to Kryvyi, but to Serbin. Serbin's attorneys claimed that law enforcement officers "mistakenly" confiscated the funds because the two companies were registered in the same office. Of course, the court denied this appeal.

Andriy Serbin, head of Patron Demining, LLC
Andriy Serbin, head of Patron Demining / Photo from Facebook

By an interesting "coincidence", the company Patron Demining also shared a domain name with the Swiss-Ukrainian company ABRS Group in one of its email addresses – No one even bothered to conceal the obvious connection between Patron Demining and ABRS Group, which has a questionable reputation due to its involvement in criminal investigations.

If you study Serbin's biography, his association with the Ukrainian political party For the Future quickly becomes clear. Investigative journalists have repeatedly proven the connection between the party and Kolomoiskyi, one of Ukraine's leading oligarchs.

Kolomoiskyi made his fortune in the 1990s as a result of the large-scale privatization of oil and other industrial enterprises located in Eastern Ukraine. Kolomoiskyi later expanded into the Ukrainian media market and the banking sector. Until 2016, he was the ultimate beneficial owner of one of Ukraine's largest banks, Pryvat Bank.

Currently, there is a legal process underway alleging that Kolomoiskyi may have illegally transferred billions of dollars from ordinary Ukrainians' accounts in this bank to Swiss accounts. In 2020, according to the authoritative investigative agency OCCRP, Kolomoiskyi was among the top four most corrupt individuals in the world.

Ihor Kolomoisky in court
Ihor Kolomoisky in court / Getty Images

Among other things, Serbin ran for the Dnipro Regional Council and Kamianske District Council in 2020 as a member of the Kolomoiskyi-aligned For the Future party. He received enough votes to win the mandate of a district deputy, a local level political office.

In addition, Serbin, a lawyer-politician-businessman, defended the interests of the For the Future party in court and supported it with a personal donation of 399,000 UAH.

Introducing himself as a farmer from Kyiv region, a Channel 24 journalist contacted Serbin, the head of Patron Demining. Serbin claimed that his people are professionals and have experience in demining.

He refused to disclose the exact prices, saying that it "depends on the area" being demined.

How Patron Demining works / Photos from the company's Facebook page

Patron Demining received a certificate for demining operations from the Interregional Center for Humanitarian Demining of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, located in Merefa.

There is a tragic story associated with this Center. In May 2023, the demining center's press service reported that two SES employees had been killed. It later turned out that they were actually cadets of the National University of Civil Defense of Ukraine, which trains rescuers.

According to court documents and media reports, the young men were told to disassemble an unexploded artillery shell, which eventually exploded, apparently killing them.

The police opened criminal proceedings over the incident and suspected the supervisor, Oleksandr Ruslanovych Shevchuk, of having improperly ordered the cadets to neutralize the munition, leading to their deaths. At the time, Shevchuk headed the Department of Pyrotechnic and Special Training of the National Center for the National Defense of Ukraine. Shevchuk's father, Ruslan Shevchuk, is the head of the State Emergency Service in Vinnytsia region.

At the trial, the Patron Demining Charitable Foundation, led by Serbin, assisted Shevchuk by providing him with a teaching position. The suspect's lawyers stated that he had allegedly received an offer from the charity to take a teaching position at the Center for Mine Action and Sapper Training.

Patron Demining asked the court to place Shevchuk under nightly house arrest so that he could work during the day, training sappers for Patron Demining. However, nothing came of it: the court rejected the lawyers' motion, leaving Shevchuk under round-the-clock arrest.

The iconic SES demining dog Patron's name is often used without permission. We contacted the press service that manages Patron's social media to ask for a comment on Patron Demining, LLC. They answered that they had not consented to the use of Patron's name for the company brand.

No, this is illegal use, unfortunately. Our brand is often stolen from us. 90% of everything you see on the market is unlicensed. When it's like a situation with toys and something big, our lawyers and attorneys file a request with the offending company. We try to solve it peacefully. Unfortunately, we don't always,
– Press Office for Patron.

We were also told that the media image of the real-life SES mascot Patron had been registered in the name of its owner, Mykhailo Ilyev. The trademark is still in the process of registration. Patron's team hopes that all legal procedures will be completed within a month, as the application has been pending since May 2022.

SES Mascot Patron / Photos from the Instagram page

As a reminder, Ukraine has had a copyright law in place since the end of 2022. Its adoption was one of the important steps that brought our legislation closer to the European one and, in general, our country's accession to the European Union.

Although the illegal use of Patron's copyright may seem trite compared to other problems, such cases should not be neglected because they are significant for eventual EU accession.

In the fall of 2023, the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal said that the Russian occupiers had mined about 30% of our country's territory. This figure is not only a challenge for Ukraine, but also for the international community, which has never faced anything like this in history.

174,000 square kilometers still need to be demined, 6 million people are at risk, and billions of dollars are waiting for future demining contractors. If the certification process for private operators is not treated with care, both international assistance and the demining process can be disrupted.

We dare to assume that our government's safety standards will guide the entrance of private companies into the field of humanitarian demining. However, this approach is accompanied by a considerable number of risks that cannot be ignored.

Such scrutiny would allow companies with a safe reputation access to public money and investment from international donors. In the end, if we do not strive for a safety-oriented licensing program for private demining companies, we will only do ourselves more harm.