«Your house is owned by the Ministry of Defense of Russia»: who helps Russians seize houses and apartments in occupied Zaporizhzhia region?

Russian military in occupied Zaporizhzhia region. Collage: investigator.org.ua

Russian occupation troops keep actively seizing houses of Ukrainian citizens in cities and villages of occupied Zaporizhzhia region. The Center for Journalist Investigations monitors movements of occupations troops and marks settlements, fully or partially occupied by the Russian military, on interactive map

The Center for Journalist Investigations regularly receives feedback from residents of the temporarily occupied territories and relatives of people whose houses were occupied by Russian soldiers. Over dozen of settlements, recently occupied by Russians, has been disclosed and marked since May 17. New markers have been added. They pinpoint those villages the occupied status of which has been reported by their residents or by local telegram channels. 

For example, Russian soldiers actively settle in villages around Kamyanka. Massive influx of Russian soldiers is expected very soon in Vershyna village. As local residents reported, collaborators visited the village on June 9 and showed Russian occupants «empty houses». Local collaborators have settled Russian soldiers in empty houses in neighboring Maryanivka village during two days, June 7 and 8, as reported readers of telegram channel «Anonimno Kamyanka» (Bilmak). 

«For example, there are villages with approximately 2 thousand houses. As of today, residents left half of them whereas Russian occupants settled in one hundred houses», as reported Viktor Dudukalov, Deputy Head of Berdyansk Raion Council. 

Berestove village in Berdyansk raion is an example. It has been regularly shelled by Ukrainian troops since May 3. 

The smoke over Berestove village in Berdyansk raion, 16.05.2023. Photo: t.me/brdnews

The Armed Forces of Ukraine made three successful hits on Russian armored vehicles and troops in the village. As an outcome, Russian soldiers became more cautious. 

«In Berestove, there are more Russian occupants than local residents. Russian soldiers are scared to spend the night in houses. They visit the village during the day; they prepare food, leave the village and sleep in their trenches», as told us local resident of Berestove. Her house has been occupied by Russian soldiers. 

Berestove village, 45 kilometers away from Berdyansk, photo by satellite Sentinel-2, 15.06.2023. White lines mark defensive areas of Russian troops 

«Soldiers from Russian region of Dagestan lived three times in my house. They left it recently. They stole my rubber boat, a pump and a welding machine. They put their vehicles in my court yard», as told us an inhabitant of a settlement near occupied Tokmak. 

Outcomes of the stationing of Russian troops in temporarily occupied village near Zaporizhzhia, spring 2023 

Some owners of houses occupied by Russian soldiers transfer coordinates of their houses to the Ukrainian military because they want Russian occupants to be killed by Ukrainian defenders.

Court yard near occupied Polohy: it has been occupied by Russian troops and then shelled by the Ukrainian army, spring 2023

Russian soldiers do not live long in occupied houses as they are regularly rotated after the Armed Forces of Ukraine started its tactical counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia region. On the other hand, number of Ukrainian villages, where Russian occupants stay, is increasing. 

«Today, it is easier to name villages where there are no Russian troops. They occupy almost all rural area and they regularly «migrate» from one village to another. We have an impression of chaotic movements. Some residents say that representatives of one Russian army unit know nothing about another Russian unit in neighboring village. They do not know for how long they will stay in the village. Local residents are scared to live near Russian occupants. Russian soldiers put their armored vehicles and trucks in people’s court yards and ammunition – in houses. We can only imagine what feel Ukrainians living near these «neighbors», as told us Viktor Dudukalov, Deputy Head of Berdyansk Raion Council. 

Recently, there are more reports about arrival of representatives of Russian Caucasian republics – Dagestan and Chechnya. There were a lot of them at the beginning of occupation of Berdyansk and its raion. Mostly, they served in the Russian Guard and performed police functions. 

«Kadyrov» people in Berdyansk and Berdyansk raion (identified by geo-tags in Instagram) 

As residents report, representatives of units from Russian Caucasus try to be far away from the front line. However, ethnic composition of Russian occupants in occupied Zaporizhzhia is very diverse. 

«There may be burglars and marauders who came and steal everything they like. There may be people recently mobilized to the Russian army who do not understand where they are and what they are doing there. Their attitude towards Ukrainian residents and behavior is like «Russian roulette». But we know that dozens of war crimes are committed each day on occupied territories. Information about them is scarce. Local residents fear to report about them. Russian occupants regularly suppress mobile and Internet communications and conduct so-called «filtering» of local people», as reported Viktor Dudukalov. 

Then, local residents are pressured by forced passportization, i.e. forced acceptance of Russian citizenship and passports. Recently, occupants launched violent campaign to impose Russian passports. 

«15 members of the Russian Guard broke into the house with two 27 years old guys at night. They searched the house and claimed there should have been «the third guy». As it turned out the violence has been caused by the refusal of the family to accept the Russian citizenship. This violent attack was followed by Russian police raids over the village, with searches and temporarily arrests. Young people were beaten», as told us former resident of the village in Berdyansk territorial community who left occupied territory in April 2022. 

Luckily, long awaited counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has already started. First villages of Zaporizhzhia region have been liberated from Russian occupants. Reports of the Armed Forces of Ukraine initiated the new term – «Berdyansk direction of the counter-offensive», separate from «Zaporizhzhia direction». It gives hope to people living on occupied territories.

The Center for Journalist Investigations will keep collecting testimonies of people who became victims of the Russian occupation and will identify all traitors and occupants who committed war crimes. 

Who committed mentioned war crimes?  

Occupation administration of Zaporizhzhia region headed by Yevhen Balytsky carries illegal robbery of property of Ukrainian citizens. It is a direct violation of international law and Geneva Convention about Protection of Civilian People. 

Balytsky is a puppet manipulated by Kremlin. The highest political leadership of the Russian Federation takes key decisions about war crimes in Ukraine. Local collaborators are its accomplices. They will be brought to justice by Ukrainian law enforcement bodies and courts.

«Russian occupants came to the woman who rented my house, took her phone and called me. They politely told me: «Now you house is owned by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. As long as the special military operation is carried on in Ukraine, only Russian soldiers will have an access to your house». It is precise quotation of what they have told me. I answered them that my house was leased by woman with a handicapped child, her house in Mariupol was ruined by bombs, that is why, she lived in my house. I failed to persuade them to leave her in my house», as told us resident of the village in Berdyansk territorial community. Upon «advice» of his neighbors-collaborators, soldiers of the Russian Guard occupied his house in April 2023.  

Balytsky publicly declared about so-called «nationalization» in June 6, 2022. In practice, Russian occupants started stealing small and medium size businesses, regional industrial companies, grain, equipment and transport since first days of occupation.

In March 2022, local traitors composed lists of apartments and houses of people who left occupied territories. 

Later the Russian occupation government set up «the Ministry of property and land relations» with the aim to identify owners of stolen property. This Ministry has over dozen of various units. 

We studied available documents of this Ministry and identified the following people who have signed decisions about «nationalization» of Ukrainian state property as well as private houses and apartments of Ukrainian citizens. Their list is presented below: 

  • Andrii Kozenko is the Deputy Head of the Russian occupation government of Zaporizhzhia region. He is renowned Crimean collaborator and friend of Sergei Aksyonov, «Head of Crimea». He has been dismissed from State Duma of the Russian Federation (lower chamber of the Russian parliament) after corruption charges and found job only on recently occupied territories of Ukraine 
  • Volodymyr Gamanov is the acting «Minister of Property and Land Relations», he is collaborator from Crimea
  • Ignat Yaremchuk is deputy of Gamanov and Russian citizen. He has been a member of the city council of Russian Sochi and activist of Russian Zhyrynovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia 
  • Andrii Petrov is the only local resident in this list. He is collaborator from Tymoshivka village. He has been the deputy of the «Head of Mykhailivka» village. Now he is the head of enterprise «Directorate of property» within the «Ministry of Property and Land Relations»

Local collaborators, «nationalizing» houses of Ukrainian citizens on temporarily occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia region.

Russian occupants use local collaborators to commit war crimes, steal houses and other immovable property of Ukrainian citizens who were forced to leave their native villages and cities after full scale Russian invasion. 

Occupation «heads» of cities and villages, heads of condominiums are the lowest layer of collaborators. They compose lists of houses and apartments of Ukrainians who fled from the Russian invasion.