Ukrainian crew member who tried to sink a Russian oligarch-linked yacht: ‘My first step was to war with Russia’


For 10 years, Taras Ostapchuk worked at what many would consider their dream job, as the chief engineer of Lady Anastasia, a 156-foot luxury yacht that mostly navigates from one upscale port to another across the sparkling Mediterranean.

But on February 26, with the ship docked on the Spanish island of Mallorca, in the Mediterranean, all that changed.

Ostapchuk saw media reports of a Russian missile attack on an apartment building in his home city of Kyiv. It was similar to the one in which he lived with his wife, when he was not on the ship.

At that point, he said, “I think my house could be next.” That’s when he decided to sink the yacht. “My first step was to war with Russia.”

In an interview with CNN Ukraine, Ostapchuk, 55, said he linked the devastation to his city directly to the man he calls Lady Anastasia’s owner: Russian oligarch Alexander Mikheev. He’s the CEO of Russian arms company Rosoboronexport, which sells everything from helicopters to tanks, missile systems and submarines.

Ostapchuk decided his mission: to thwart Mrs. Anastasia.

The latest stage of Russia’s war on Ukraine It had started two days ago with troops attacking from RussiaBelarus and Crimea, annexed by Russia. As the offensive began, the United States and the European Union responded with economic sanctions and confiscation of assets linked to oligarchs in Vladimir Putin’s circle.

And perhaps there are no assets that clearly symbolize how Putin’s enablers prospered quite as much as the oligarch’s yachts, some nearly as high as the Washington Monument, sports helipads, swimming pools, and sumptuous interiors.

Ostapchuk said he went to Mrs. Anastasia’s engine room, where he opened a valve attached to the ship’s hull. With the water flowing, he made his way to the crew quarters, where he opened another valve.

“There were three other crew members next to me. I told them that the boat was sinking, and they should leave,” he said in Russian.

By most standards, Mrs. Anastasia, with a crew of nine, is sumptuous: a main hall with a Carrara marble bathroom; cabins for 10 guests; Jacuzzi on the sun deck stable against the movement of the ship, etc.

Russian oligarchs have among the most luxurious yachts in existence. Dilbar, a 512-foot yacht, is owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, according to the Treasury, which on March 3 designated Dilbar a “prohibited property.” It has two helicopter pads and cabins for dozens of guests. Usmanov did not respond to CNN’s inquiries about the yacht.

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Or take the Amore Vero, the yacht that the French authorities seized on March 2. They say he is linked to Igor Sechin, a sanctioned Russian oil manager and Putin aide. (The company that operates the ship denies that it is owned by Sechin.) A former crew member of the yacht, who asked not to be named because he signed a nondisclosure agreement, said the Amore Vero includes a secure room on its lowest level. deck.

“It wasn’t even on the official drawings of the boat,” he said. There was a secret door with a hidden camera. And you could pull the wall away, and inside there were beds, emergency communications, a bathroom, and surveillance cameras. ”

yacht called

Although officials in various countries have attributed ownership of the yachts to the Russian oligarchs, the paper path between the ship and the owner is usually blocked, passing through shell companies and complex legal structures. Spain, for example, says it has “temporarily impounded” the yachts while their ownership is being sorted out.

The US State Department sanctioned Mikheev on March 15.

When CNN attempted to contact Mikheev about Lady Anastasia’s ownership, a Rosoboronexport spokesperson replied via email that the company “never comments on any information about employees’ personal lives and property, except for cases provided for by the legislation of the Russian Federation.”

But Ostapchuk said he had no doubts. “Why, you know, if a creature that looks like a dog, that barks like a dog, that bites like a dog, it is a dog. So, if the yacht is in ten years [was] It is used on holidays only [by] Mr. Mikheev and his family, I think he is definitely the true owner of this yacht.”

Amid a growing list of penalties and confiscations, yachts said to be owned by Russian oligarchs have been rushed to countries where sanctions are unlikely to be imposed, according to data from the website. Maritime traffic.

Reportedly two yachts owned by Roman Abramovich, an oligarch and Putin’s imposed ally by the European Union and the United Kingdom, docked at ports in southwestern Turkey on Monday and Tuesday. One yacht, Solaris, is docked in Barcelona until early March, while the Eclipse – is among the Biggest yachts In the world – he left the Caribbean at about the same time and crossed the Atlantic.

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The two ships appeared to circle EU waters on their way to Turkey, taking a winding path that circled several Greek islands. Turkey, although a member of NATO, has clearer It will not punish Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

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Small group of protesters waving Ukrainian flags and chanting “No to war in Ukraine” I tried to prevent The Solaris ship docks at a port in Bodrum, Turkey on Monday, as the mega yacht looms overhead. Some of the protesters were members of a Ukrainian junior sailing team who had left their country before the invasion to compete in a windsurfing competition in Turkey,BBC reported.

It seems that many other Russia-related yachts are heading to Middle Eastern or South Asian countries as well refrain from imposing Sanctions on Russia. MarineTraffic data showed Clio, a yacht owned by Putin ally and aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, and Quantum Blue, reportedly owned by retail billionaire Sergei Galitsky, were off the coast of Oman this week. Cleo listed its destination as Dubai before changing direction to Mumbai, while the Quantum Blue docked in Monaco before departing in early March. Deripaska has been punished by we And the United kingdomwhile Galitsky did not.

Meanwhile, at least six other yachts linked to Russian oligarchs have stopped sending location data entirely in recent weeks, according to Marinetrafic.

Galactica Super Nova, a yacht owned by Russian Oil Director Vagit Alekperov, was last recorded leaving the port of Tivat, Montenegro, and sailing in the Adriatic as early as March 2 – the day after the Montenegrin government announce It will join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia. While Alekperov was not punished, he was. included On the US Treasury’s 2018 list of Russian oligarchs.

MarineTraffic spokesperson Georgios Hatzimanolis said the most likely explanation for the lack of location data is that the yachts have turned off AIS, an automatic tracking system. International Maritime Regulations generally require Hatzimanolis said large ships such as yachts are tied to oligarchs to keep the AIS unless they pass through areas known to piracy. Turning off the transmitter may increase the risk of collision when ships are moving in crowded water.

It’s unusual,” Hatzimanolis said of the yachts that darkened. But these are unprecedented times for these yachts and their owners. They are trying to get out of the way and reach destinations where they will not be punished.”

Having begun to flood the cabins, Ostapchuk told the other three crew members on the plane what he had done.

He said they were also Ukrainians. But, fearing that it would only cost them their jobs, they yelled at him saying he was crazy, according to a brief statement in his indictment.

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Then they contacted the port authorities and the police. The port workers brought a water pump and prevented the boat from sinking. Ostapchuk was arrested.

“I made a statement to the police that I tried to sink the boat as a political protest against Russian aggression,” he told CNN.

“You have to choose. Whether you are with Ukraine or not. You have to choose, will there be Ukraine, or will you have a job… I don’t need a job if I don’t have Ukraine.”

Before trying to sink Lady Anastasia in protest of the Russian war on Ukraine, Taras Ostapchuk worked as a yacht engineer for a decade.  This photo was taken in 2013 in Corsica, in the Mediterranean.

In some cases, these jobs may be at risk anyway. On March 15, Spanish authorities temporarily detained Ms. Anastasia while it was determined whether she was subject to European sanctions and could be confiscated. It was one of three yachts associated with the Russian oligarch they seized that week. Others were detained or detained in France, Germany, Italy and Gibraltar.

On March 7, the company that operates the yacht Dilbar laid off all 96 crew members, saying the sanctions had prevented the ship’s normal operation, according to Forbes magazine.

The sanctions imposed on the Russian oligarchs seem to have provoked challenges and confusion among some of the yacht’s crews. Nautilus International held a question-and-answer session with yachting specialists earlier this month and received questions like, “Should we quit all Russian yachts?” and “What am I due if I am fired/discharged due to the penalties imposed on my ship?” Union representatives advised members to check the terms of their contracts.

When CNN spoke with Ostapchuk from Ukraine on Wednesday, the conversation was immediately interrupted by a warning of an incoming Russian attack. Later, after Ostapchuk returned from a shelter, he said that as soon as the Spanish authorities released him on February 27, he returned to Ukraine.

He said, “Now I serve in the army, and I hope that my service will bring us closer to victory.”

He added that he hoped the oligarchs who supported Putin would feel the sting of sanctions.

“They must bear responsibility, because, by their behavior, way of life and indomitable greed, they led precisely to this … in order to divert people’s attention from the real plunder of Russia by these rulers, transformative wars with other innocent nations.”

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