Ukraine arrests security staff on suspicion of being members of Russian spy network as Avdiivka battle intensifies

Kyiv sacks senior official over surveillance of investigative journalists

Ukraine said it had detained five current and former security service staff on suspicion of spying for Moscow, as officials in the frontline town of Avdiivka said the situation in some districts was becoming “critical” amid relentless attacks by Russian troops.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said an employee of one of its regional departments was among those held, along with former officials from Kyiv’s GUR military intelligence agency and foreign intelligence service. The spy network was allegedly co-ordinated by a member of Russia’s FSB security service in Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.

The SBU said the “powerful” network spied on the Ukrainian military and arms supplies from western allies; gathered intelligence on energy facilities, including nuclear power plants; and geolocated Ukraine’s defences around Odesa on the Black Sea coast.

“According to the investigation, the FSB recruited members of the group using, among other things, threats to kill their families. In addition, for each completed task, the perpetrators received funds from the Russian Federation,” the SBU said.


The agency publicised the case as its chief, Vasyl Maliuk, was summoned to Ukraine’s parliament to report on alleged surveillance of investigative journalists from the Bihus.Info outlet by the SBU’s department for the protection of national statehood.

Mr Maliuk said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy had sacked the head of that department at his request, and vowed that the SBU would not harass the country’s press.

“Today, we are not just building a renewed SBU but protecting democratic values, including freedom of speech and media independence. For me, personally, this is a top priority from now on,” he added. “This is what makes our country different from authoritarian Russia. And it will be different in future.”

Moscow’s invasion force is mounting heavy attacks in several sectors of the 1,000km front line in eastern Ukraine, where officials in Avdiivka – a devastated industrial town on the outskirts of the occupied city of Donetsk – said Kyiv’s troops were under severe pressure.

“The situation is very difficult, very tense. If we said a few weeks ago that it was difficult but controlled, then now it is really difficult, and we can even say that the situation in some places is critical,” said Vitaliy Barabash, the head of the Avdiivka administration.

“Of course, this doesn’t mean that all is lost… but the enemy is throwing very large forces at our city. No matter what, they’re trying to complete the task that they’ve been set. Above all, that is to take the city of Avdiivka before the pseudo-elections in the Russian Federation,” he added, referring to presidential elections scheduled for March 17th.

Moscow said its forces had “improved their positions” near Avdiivka and elsewhere in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and shot down seven Ukrainian drones over the Russian border province of Belgorod.

Heavy shelling continued to hit the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine, where officials said a two-month-old boy was killed in a Russian strike that also injured his mother and two other women.

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Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe