On July 09, the Border Guard Service of Ukraine reported the arrest of Valeryi Gratov, a Russian citizen and a self-proclaimed colonel, who used a fake Ukrainian passport while attempting to make his way to the unrecognized Transnistria. Ukrainian Cyber Alliance gained access to the mailbox of Gratov. In this article, hacktivist Sean Townsend tells the story of the colonel and his self-made rank, about the involvement of fake veteran services organizations in smuggling of illegal goods, and how Zakharchenko, himself a fake general, almost promoted Gratov to the same rank.
In many photographs, the colorful Valeryi “Sanych” Gratov poses wearing a colonel’s uniform with the patches of Airborne Forces and Russian recon troops; he is joined by well-known warlords and terrorists, such as Mozgovoi, Givi, Motorola and double “Major General” Zakharchenko.
At first, we were confused by his Order of the Red Star (the border guards made the same mistake), however, looking closer, we realized it was actually a cheap novelty medal called “Order of Army General Margelov”. One of our readers counted a total of seven fake awards.
Sanych finished serving his regular army duty in 1971, and that was likely the end of his real military career, so he couldn’t have a rank higher than sergeant. As was noted in one of forum discussions, the self-appointed hero wears neither good conduct nor military college graduation pins. It’s a wonder that he’s not wearing the “To the Daughters of Homeland” medal.
Gratov tells everyone that before 1989 he worked as a karate coach for the KGB personnel in MSSR (Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic) and earned the champion title in 1983. However, his name is not listed for the championship of that year. In the rare version of his biography (based on contents of his mailbox) we discovered that he worked as a boxing coach at a youth athletic school. Starting from 1989, Gratov worked in the security service of the President of Transnistria, where he likely was given the extraordinary military promotion. In 1996, Gratov obtained Russian citizenship.
After that, he attached himself to veteran organizations like the Union of Russian Paratroopers and the International Union of Paratroopers. Perhaps, Gratov would have managed to get into the interplanetary union of paratroopers, however, with the start of the war in Ukraine, he decided to try his luck in the occupied territories, where the competition from other pseudo patriotic con men would not be as strong. In Donetsk, he was given an apartment (likely illegally taken) and, as he himself said in many emails, was offered meals, since didn’t qualify for a salary. Although Gratov has a certificate issued at the military unit 08805 (“Oplot”) of the Russian occupation troops, that he performed combat duty and “lifted up the patriotic spirit” of the invaders, he never mentions his heroic deeds; despite his apparent delight in posing in many photos with a rifle amidst ruins, he modestly writes “was located in the area of combat operations”.
The letter in the screenshot above is addressed to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Gratov sent out this type of messages in bulk, attaching his certificates, biography, and photo album. He sent messages to Russian statesmen like Iosif Kobzon or Pavel Astakhov, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He met the famous Doctor Liza and arranged for the supplies of medicines for wounded soldiers of the Russian occupation troops. He busily built his social network, attempting to get a personal meeting with the Russian General Sergei “Cobra” Solomatin, met a member of the State Duma Zhuravlev (EML letter). Everything as usual: “there are no Russians in Donbas”.
In December 2014, Gratov decided to return home to Transnistria, but was detained at the Chisinau airport by the Moldovan state security service, even though he had nothing suspicious on him, just the flag of Novorossia and photos with known terrorists. Gratov was accused of mercenary activities, but the Russian embassy came to his rescue, and he was deported to Russia, later going back to the occupied territory of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
The tragedy for the self-appointed colonel is in the details of regional geography: Transnistria borders Moldova, where he is well known to the authorities, on one side, and Ukraine, where he would get an equally friendly welcome and hopefully a well-deserved criminal charge for terrorism – on the other. Thus, the only way for him to go home, as some Russian embassy employees joked, would be ‘inside a diplomatic pouch’ (a message from the Union of Afghanistan Veterans, EML). Another option would have required the assistance of the Russian FSB that could put him on a flight taking Russian troops to their base in Transnistria. However, Gratov was told by FSB that to them he is a nobody, and so the “colonel” decided to use a fake passport for his journey. He owns two such documents, one for Belorussia and one for Ukraine. While using his fake Ukrainian passport issued to Valeriy Georgievich Voitenko, he was detained by Ukrainian border guards.
And all this after almost becoming a general (the screenshot below shows Gratov preparing for that).
No one can tell if the terrorist “republic” would have survived having two such generals (in this photo, they both are still “colonels”):
Besides the endless photoshoots and medal handouts, it is interesting to get a closer look at Gratov’s financial activity. His close connections with the leadership of the fake republics open fantastic opportunities for smuggling, similar to what the Sheriff group does in Transnistria. This could include food items, coal, metals, and other goods.
‘Crimea is really interesting! We need to find contacts there! There’ll be rewards!
Alexei, I gave them your number, if you get a call referring to Sanych, that’s about brandy, and if you have contacts about Bouquet of Moldova then go ahead too. And if there’s a possibility for supplying food items to Donbas, there are people ready to consider this issue. For example, from the Sheriff company. I have a contact in that company’s leadership, you probably know him – Ruslan Petrovich (former head of the organized crime unit in Transnistria police). So just think about making connections. Also, I know people among the heads of the Unions of Paratroopers of Russia and Crimea, we can work with them on these issues too.
Alexei, as for the price, as far as I understand, it depends on where the coal is located. If you need the ex-works price, that’s one thing, but as far as I understand there’s also price as delivered to the destination. I can probably find the ex-works price, but there’s still a problem with rail cars here. I can’t send cars from Rostov since Ukraine will scream that Russian rail cars are entering its territory. So we’ve been asked to wait a little, maybe the repaired cars will be provided, at least I was promised that. Please give us the coal prices and who to sell the alcohol to, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go.
Alexei, today I went to the Head of DPR, he asked me to register immediately the Charity Fund “They earned it…” in the territory of Donetsk Republic and an LLC with its own checking account, he’ll sign everything, so there’ll be really two ways to operate. If this is interesting, I’ll order the lawyers to prepare all the necessary paperwork as soon as possible, and we could start working.’
Together with Valeriy Gratov, the smuggling of contraband through the territory of DPR is managed by Denis Namashko, who works with the support and full knowledge of Alexander Zakharchenko. On multiple occasions, he crossed the state border of Ukraine illegally at the uncontrolled points of occupied territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and Crimea.
A Russian company registered in Hong Kong plans to deliver coal from Donbas to Finland (letter PDF, letter EML). Zakharchenko personally blessed the deal that also involves the Union of Novorossia Paratroopers, headed by Victor Alexandrovich Demidenko, who is engaged in the smuggling of fuel and food items. Russian entrepreneurs are prepared to pay for the coal in cash.
There are new business opportunities for the smugglers. Gratov business skills would have appeared absurd if not for the difficulty of gaining the trust of the leaders of the fake republics (letter EML).
‘Good morning! There is a proposal, so we should meet and develop the overall concept! We need to understand the DPR market, if there’s current interest. What exactly is needed there at this moment. The customs is really like a goldmine. My understanding is that it works the same way as Sheriff does it at home. Very favourable customs fees. Then transport either to Russia or Ukraine. Last night I spoke to Victoria, explained her who you are and what kind of access to the authorities you have. I asked her to explain to you everything she wants. I offered her to work either via the Fund or your legal entity. My understanding is that she does not make decisions personally, there are guys behind her, who are the actual businessmen investors. It would be good to have your talks directly with these investors. They have interest in our prices and opportunities to find the goods they’re interested in. My proposal is to manage the deal through your entity.
Denis, yesterday I saw the head of DPR, Zakharchenko. He asked me to immediately establish my own Charity Fund ‘They earned it…’ (I created one like that in Transnistria), and to register a company, my own LLC, in the DPR territory so we could start working, he’ll give us benefits in customs fees etc. I told the lawyers to prepare proper statutory documents for the CF “They earned it…” and the LLC (we have to think about the name). If you have any proposals on these issues, we can include them in the initial stages of the paperwork preparation. Waiting for your proposals.’
In addition, Gratov somehow becomes involved in the sales deal for rolled steel with a company based in the city of Chelyabinsk (total value: 2,300,000 rubles and $18,000, letter EML). The serious business partners in Chelyabinsk took the money, but have not yet delivered pipes to the new republic.
The con men don’t lack for imagination. They are ready to consider any projects, from mushroom growing to participation in prisoner exchange. Jointly with Russian partners, they manage delivery of military gear for the terrorist groups in Donbas (letter EML).
And, of course, they do currency exchange at extortionate rates (letter EML).
‘Victor, good evening, the phone number for sunflower seeds: +380506893853 (Anatoliy) referring to Dmitriy Zakomoldin. We need hryvnias in any amount for exchange to rubles, what’s the rate so we both could have some profit, this is not a one-time case, the rubles are already here.
Victor, good afternoon, regarding your question, there are two options: 1 in Chechnya, 2 in Rostov available within a month but it is expensive in my view asking for 1 mln rubles.’
And one of the best achievements of Russian wannabe paratroopers – Margelovsky liqueur, sold for 590 rubles wholesale and 750 roubles in retail. Like the paratroopers’ slogan says, “No one but us!” (letter EML).
The con man Gratov may appear like a comic character. However, his network of close personal interactions includes warlords, leaders of the self-proclaimed republics, members of Russian political and military circles; he is engaged in propaganda campaigns, developing schemes for smuggling of goods and supplies for terrorists. Valeriy Gratov should be able to offer a lot of interesting information to the investigators. The infamous characters of the hybrid Russian aggression like Motorola, Mozgovoy, and Givi were also freaks with no military training. But we should never forget that the former Transnistrian presidential security guard went to Ukraine to kill and steal. His patrons in Moscow didn’t just tolerate his antics, but also supported his propaganda activities. It is unlikely for a regular person to arrange meetings with parliament members, generals of the FSB and the Russian Army, to obtain fake documents and support for return travel to Transnistria. There is no doubt that Valeriy Gratov works for the Russian intelligence services. Now the final word in his story belongs to the Ukrainian courts.
The complete archive of the correspondence of Valeriy Gratov and the Union of Novorossia Paratroopers was provided to InformNapalm by the hacktivists of UCA for its exclusive use. To request a copy of archive, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Publications based on this article or the archive copy must include references to InformNapalm and UCA. InformNapalm is not responsible for the sources of information and extraction methods.