“We’ll just add one or two children to your family”: how Telegram channels deceive men who want to leave Ukraine
Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this law that allow certain men to cross the border. These exceptions include single fathers and fathers with three children, men accompanying individuals categorized as first or second group disabled, drivers, and volunteers. Ukrainian border guards abide by these regulations when granting permission to cross the border. Fugitives primarily attempt to flee the country utilizing forged documents under these exceptions.
Andriy Demchenko, spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, says: “Some individuals forge death certificates of their spouses because single parents are permitted to leave. Others present forged birth certificates for their children since men with three or more children under the age of 18 can also cross the border. Documents related to being unfit for military service and permanently unfit according to military registration documents are also subject to falsification.”
The founders of Telegram channels offer assistance to individuals seeking to leave Ukraine but do not fall into any of the categories specified in the resolution.
The swindlers make enticing promises, offering a range of “services” such as “adding one or two children to your family”, “making you into a single parent”, “declaring you unfit for military service”, or “facilitating travel abroad as a volunteer”. This is just a partial list of the “services” they claim to provide, charging fees ranging from $1,500 to $6,000. Upon payment, the evader is required to pay up to half of the total cost immediately, after which the “benefactors” vanish without a trace. Understandably, the individual who has transferred money to the card would refrain from lodging a complaint with the police.
All Telegram channels operated by these swindlers maintain complete anonymity, and their organizers refuse any form of phone conversation or personal meeting. Alongside the list of “services”, these channels also feature posts containing comments from supposed “lawyers” who use intimidation tactics, asserting that no one can escape the war and suggesting that summonses can be delivered through relatives, etc. They also publish anonymous “reviews” from purportedly satisfied clients who have successfully crossed the border and settled in various European countries.
The author of this article, Iryna Hamaliy, approached three Telegram channels seeking advice on her husband’s alleged departure abroad. Out of the three, two channels responded. The administrator of one of the channels, identified as Ihor Volodymyrovych from kordon_ua, offered to provide an “official document from the Military Medical Commission on unfitness for military service” for a fee of $1,300. He claimed that this document would be issued for a lifetime, with removal of the candidate’s name from the military register.
“The document will be obtained through the Lviv military registration and enlistment office, with changes made to the military register (as residency registration is irrelevant during times of war). Personal presence will not be required,” Ihor Volodymyrovych explained.
The documents were said to be either delivered by a transporter or sent via email. The administrator mentioned that once the documents were ready, the client would receive a video of the conclusion and a photo from the database. Payment would then be made by card. The fugitive would be advised to cross the border in Lviv Oblast.
“We have contacts at the border; no one will raise any questions,” writes Ihor Volodymyrovych.
Interestingly, the administrator of another Telegram channel (zakordon_me) suggested communicating exclusively in russian due to the unavailability of a Ukrainian-speaking colleague, explaining that “the team primarily consisted of Moldovans”.
Roksolana Yavorska, spokesperson for the SBU office in Lviv Oblast, stated that there had been no reported cases of Telegram channel organizers in Lviv Oblast having links to russians. However, she clarified that she had no information regarding other regions in Ukraine.
Swindlers and instigators
Telegram channel organizers consistently conceal their activities, maintaining anonymity and withholding information about the individuals behind the registration and administration of these communities. There is a valid reason for this.
“This activity is illegal and falls under the scope of Article 190 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, specifically fraud,” asserts Yavorska. “If the perpetrators are identified and located, the SBU, in collaboration with the police and prosecutors, will hold them accountable under criminal law.”
Additionally, the organizers of Telegram channels face charges under Article 27 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which pertains to complicity. This article encompasses both the organizers of a criminal act and the instigators of criminal offenses who provide means to potential accomplices - individuals who have contacted these communities with the intention of illegally crossing the state border.
“The SBU employs monitoring techniques to identify the culprits, subsequently initiating prompt investigations to establish their involvement and ascertain whether the Telegram channel genuinely facilitates illegal border crossings,” explains the SBU spokeswoman.
She emphasizes that 99% of these Telegram channels are run by swindlers, who want to get rich by exploiting the desires of potential fugitives seeking to flee a country at war.
According to her information, there have been no reported cases in Lviv Region where fugitives successfully utilized anonymous Telegram channels to obtain false documents for crossing the border. However, there have been several attempts. In 2022-2023, the SBU Office in Lviv Region documented approximately 30 instances of illegal border crossings employing various schemes. Perpetrators assumed different roles, such as pretending to be drivers for freight transportation organizations, students studying abroad, or volunteers providing humanitarian aid with intentions to return.
“All these individuals obtained forged documents through alternative means, primarily through word of mouth. One person would provide information to another, indicating that a specific individual could illegally procure fake documents for evaders. The price of such documents varied between $1,000 and $18,000, depending on the circumstances, speed of service, and the quality of the falsification,” stated the SBU spokeswoman.
According to Andriy Demchenko, since the start of the full-scale invasion, a total of 5,700 individuals have been apprehended at checkpoints while attempting to illegally cross the border with fake documents. As of the end of March, border guards, in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, had identified over 160 organized groups involved in attempts to flee the country. These groups included both potential fugitives and organizers. There’s no available information regarding whether any of these groups tried to use Telegram channels as a means to leave the country.
Roksolana Yavorska underlines the extremely harmful impact of such illegal resources on Ukrainian citizens who are deceived and cheated out of their money. The SBU actively blocks such channels and prosecutes their organizers. However, new channels appear very quickly to replace them