Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has executed a major operation in the Mykolaiv region, exposing a significant Russian spy ring providing intelligence on Ukraine’s Defense Forces.
Mykolaiv, Ukraine – October 3, 2023 – In a groundbreaking development since the full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has successfully dismantled an extensive Russian spy ring operating within the Mykolaiv region. This operation marks a significant blow to Russia’s espionage efforts in Ukraine.
The SBU’s special operation revealed that the spy network included 13 local residents who were actively working on behalf of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). These individuals were tasked with gathering critical intelligence concerning the positions and movements of Ukraine’s Defense Forces in the southern Mykolaiv region, subsequently providing this valuable targeting information to the Russian Federation.
A tragic incident highlighted the gravity of their actions when, based on the coordinates provided by these informants, Russian occupiers targeted a high-rise building in Mykolaiv with an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system in the autumn of 2022. This attack resulted in the loss of seven innocent civilians, including a child.
The SBU’s investigation further revealed that these Russian informants relayed target coordinates to Russia’s FSB through an intermediary, identified as the pro-Kremlin blogger Serhiy Lebedev, known by his pseudonym “Lokhmaty.” Lebedev, operating under the guise of a “freelance correspondent” for the Moscow news agency RIA-Novosti, is currently in hiding in temporarily occupied Donetsk. He had previously faced exposure for his involvement in intelligence and subversive activities against Ukraine, resulting in treason charges earlier this year in June.
Under the direction of the FSB, “Lokhmaty” established his own agency within the Mykolaiv region, enlisting the support of 13 local subscribers to his Telegram channel. Through this platform, he recruited agents and received vital intelligence.
SBU personnel successfully identified and apprehended all members of Lebedev’s Russian agency at various locations. As a result, nine detainees have been formally charged with the “unauthorized dissemination of information related to the transfer, movement, and placement of weapons, armaments, and military supplies to Ukraine.” These suspects are currently in custody, while four other network members have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 8 to 15 years.
Lebedev faces an additional charge of treason, as part of an organized group during martial law. Recent weeks have seen a series of high-profile arrests by the SBU, including suspects involved in providing targeting information to Moscow’s forces, which led to the September 21 attack on Kyiv. President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized at the time that such actions served as “a clear warning to all traitors: retribution awaits.”
The SBU’s primary objective remains to identify and intercept spies at the preparation stage of their activities, thwarting their harmful missions. The agency employs a range of methods, from monitoring open sources to utilizing their own operational sources and obtaining testimony from previously exposed spies.
Russian agents have shown the capability to operate across Ukraine’s territory, with a particular focus on frontline and border regions, where Ukraine’s Defense Forces are concentrated. These areas are prime targets for Russian informants seeking coordinates for military operations.
Regarding the motives of those who collaborate with the Russians, SBU representatives note that crafting a generalized profile of collaborators is challenging, as they come from varying age groups and social backgrounds. However, the motives behind such collaboration typically revolve around support for the “Russian world,” financial gain, the promise of positions within occupation administrations, or coercion through blackmail and threats.
Since the conflict’s onset, the SBU has issued notices of suspicion to nearly 250 individuals for their involvement in assisting the enemy in targeting objectives. In the current year alone, 114 notices of suspicion have been issued.
The SBU clarified that a total of 213 individuals have received guilty verdicts, with 69 suspects being convicted. These statistics relate specifically to one article of the Ukrainian Criminal Code, which deals with the unauthorized dissemination of information about the Armed Forces.