Extortion, threats, fear, traitors: How Russia recruits Ukrainian spies

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Russia is using an array of tactics, including threats of physical harm to family members in occupied territories, to try to force Ukrainians to aid the Kremlin’s war effort.

A member of the Security Service of Ukraine enters a building during an operation to arrest suspected Russian collaborators in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in April 2022. KYIV — The Ukrainian soldier had been fighting the Russians on the battlefield when they came for his parents in occupied eastern Ukraine. They were taken from their home and tortured, according to Ukraine’s security service.

Now, more than two years into the war, there are fewer Ukrainians with pro-Russian sympathies, especially in positions of influence, willing to help Moscow. The Ukrainian soldier — the SBU has not disclosed his identity — communicated with someone from the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, through the Telegram encrypted messaging app. In text messages that the SBU has made public, the FSB agent asked the soldier to provide information on his military unit — what its tasks were, who was part of the command structure and photos of their positions.“We don’t ask the sort of information we don’t have to know,” the soldier replied in one message.

Yana’s mother was eventually released and no longer lives under Russian occupation after Ukraine recaptured most of the Kharkiv region in September 2022. An SBU counterintelligence officer who has investigated such cases said he “feels sorry” for people whose family members are threatened, but said they should contact the authorities as soon as Russian special services make contact, “to make it impossible or minimize the damage from the barbaric actions” of the Russians.


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