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What We Know About the Man Accused of Plotting Babchenko’s Murder

The alleged mastermind before the assassination plot targeting the Russian journalist claims that he was a counterintelligence agent – or was he? From Hromadske International.

6 June 2018

On 31 May, Borys Herman – the man whom the Ukrainian security service and the chief military prosecutor have accused of organizing the “terrorist attack” against journalist Arkady Babchenko on orders from the Russian intelligence service – said that he was a Ukrainian counterintelligence agent. Hromadske has gathered information on this mysterious story.


Neighbors in Crime


On the evening of 31 May, Ruslan Kravchenko, a prosecutor in the chief military prosecutor’s office, requested that the 51-year-old man seated opposite him should be detained for two months. The Ukrainian security service (SBU) had arrested Borys Herman the day before, naming him as the organizer of the attempt on the Russian journalist’s life.  


Babchenko’s assassination was actually staged. The assassin allegedly hired by Herman – military volunteer Oleksiy Tsymbaliuk – was working with the SBU, and only played the role of a murderer instead of carrying out the act. Babchenko “rose from the dead” the day after his death was officially announced, during a joint press conference with the SBU and the prosecutor general’s office.


The investigation regards Herman’s actions as preparation for a terrorist attack. In his speech, Kravchenko stressed that he had compelling evidence against the suspect – in particular, a copy of his correspondence with Tsymbalyuk from [messaging app] Whatsapp and recorded conversations in which they discussed the murder. According to the investigation’s version of events, an unidentified individual, who is likely to be involved with the Russian intelligence service, gave Herman the order to kill Babchenko, as well as a list of 30 other Russian citizens living in Ukraine to be killed.   


Borys Herman


Hromadske has managed to find out more about certain aspects of the criminal case. No transcript of conversations between Herman and Tsymbalyuk mentions Babchenko’s name. However, there is talk about a “journalist,” and discussions about the payments. Tsymbaliuk also asks Herman to get hold of a pistol with a silencer.


The day before the court hearing, Tsymbaliuk himself mentioned his cooperation with the SBU, although the security service had initially denied this fact.


From the materials about the criminal case available to Hromadske, it follows that Tsymbaliuk and Herman had known each other since 2009, when they were neighbors in a housing community outside Kyiv.  


Shady Business


To justify the need for Herman’s arrest, representatives from the prosecutor general’s office said that he is also a suspect in another criminal proceeding and had been released on bail.


Hromadske has ascertained that this case concerns a corporate conflict surrounding the arms manufacturer Schmeisser, where Herman is commercial director and a co-founder with a 10 percent share of the company. Officially, Schmeisser is a Ukrainian-German joint venture, but none of the co-founders are German. Other shareholders include Ukrainians Antonina Kapilian (75 percent), Yuriy Kostianchuk (5 percent), Anton Bondarenko (5 percent) and New York resident Vitaliy Milin (5 percent).



The Kyiv police suspect Herman of forging the minutes from the Schmeisser company’s general meetings, and excluding the name of one of the shareholders. This is likely to be Valeriy Pavliuk, the former deputy head of the Kyiv tax service.


Herman is a complicated person. According to information published on Posipaky – a website dedicated to identifying the assistants of parliamentary members – he has been the assistant of two: the Socialist Party’s Mykhailo Honcharov from 2006 to 2007, and the Party of Regions’ Ihor Plokhoy from 2007 to 2012.   


According to the YouControl information and analytics system, he is also the co-founder of six other companies: Kyiv Consulting Group, Si Frut, Privatna Sprava-200, Alpiyskiy Klub, Restorator, and Pravo. These enterprises specialize in wholesale trade, legal services, real estate, and leasing.


The police have been investigating another case concerning Herman since 2016 about the illegal use of weapons. The case material states that an unnamed person sent packages to Herman containing items resembling cartridges and optical sights for a mounted grenade launcher.


Speaking in court on 31 May, Herman’s lawyer Yevhen Solodko – known for his defense of former Party of Regions’ parliamentary member Oleksandr Yefremov – said that his defendant is a respected man, particularly in the arms business, and that the Schmeisser company has a contract with the Ministry of Defense.


Image from Herman's trial


During the arrest, plane tickets to Milan were confiscated from Herman. He justified their existence by saying that he needed to go to Italy for talks with the Italian arms company Beretta, emphasizing that he had a return ticket for 1 June.


Deep Cover


Herman’s appearance in court turned out to be quite surprising. He said that he was an undercover counterintelligence officer for the Ukrainian security service, with whom he had been cooperating for almost six months.


“We are looking at the results of a special counterintelligence operation. I was carrying out a special mission to identify the influence of Russian funds on the destabilization of the situation in Ukraine and likely change of power,” the suspect said.  


According to Herman, a long-time acquaintance “who works on Ukrainian unrest in comrade Putin’s fund” approached him one year ago. Herman claims that he reported on this contact to counterintelligence officers, who gave him the “green light” to collect further information on how this mysterious fund was financing Ukrainian political parties, public figures, protest movements, and so on.  


Herman claimed his work as an agent revealed that the Rozumna Syla party – founded by Oleksiy Solovyov, the former head of the Ukrainian National Police’s department of economic security – exists thanks to Russian money, as do “several individuals from Pashinsky’s circle” [Serhiy Pashinsky is head of the parliamentary Committee on Issues of National Security and Defense].  


“I see this as the [Russian security service] FSB’s latest clumsy attempt to discredit me,” Pashinsky said in a comment to the BBC.


“We have witnessed the latest dirty accusations against our party. I am not going to justify myself. Neither our party nor I need to justify anything,” Solovyov wrote on Facebook.


Herman says that his contact from the “Putin fund” really did give him a list of 30 Russians living in Ukraine, which the Kremlin allegedly wanted to eliminate. According to the suspect, in order to obtain further information, he had to prove the first murder was in preparation.



“Counterintelligence chose Tsymbaliuk because he is a volunteer and a priest, and could not kill anyone,” Herman said. “Everyone knew full well that he would run to the SBU and tell them everything, and that there would not be a murder, but it would be staged. However, we did not show our cards because we knew that there are a lot of Russian intelligence service ‘moles’ in the SBU.” 


There is at least one significant contradiction in what he is saying. Herman claims that he worked with counterintelligence “because he believed that this is not an SBU case,” but the counterintelligence department is a structural unit of the security service. It should be noted that the case concerning the assassination attempt against Babchenko was led by another subdivision of the SBU – the department for the protection of national statehood.


After the court hearing, prosecutor Kravchenko told journalists that he had checked Herman’s claims and that the suspect is neither cooperating with nor has been an agent of SBU counterintelligence. When asked whether or not Herman could have been an agent for the chief directorate of intelligence (HUR) of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Kravchenko stated that HUR does not have a counterintelligence department.


However, Herman claims that he gave the investigators his contact in the security service – someone named “Dima.” 


“Maybe this is a situation typical of our security service, where the right hand does not know what the left is doing,” says his lawyer Yevhen Solodko.


The Mysterious Mr. Pivovarnik


Herman named his contact from “Putin’s fund” in court. It was his longtime acquaintance Viacheslav Pivovarnik.


A person with the same first and last name is also a partner in Herman’s company Kyiv Consulting Group. According to the YouControl system, Viacheslav Oleksandrovich Pivovarnik, who owns 11 percent of the company, is registered in the city of Chop in western Ukraine.


Pivovarnik is the co-owner or manager of at least five legal entities in Ukraine, including the logistics company Global Container Service and Ruskon-Ukraine (the daughter company of the Russian container operator Ruskon). He also co-owns the Kyiv-based company Public Security Service of Ukraine with Serhiy Yeremiyovych Deyev. A person with the same name has been featured in the media as an activist for Ukrainian Old Believers [a religious movement] and an expert of the Russian Foundation for National and International Security.


There is a profile under the name Viacheslav Pivovarnik, born 1984, on the Russian social media site Odnoklassniki. He studied at the Uzhhorod State Institution of Information and the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Borys Herman is also his “friend” on Odnoklassniki.


More information on someone with the name Viacheslav Pivovarnik can be found on the website, where he is referred to as a leading partner of Talentkapital. According to the YouControl system, this is one of the companies co-founded by Pivovarnik. The company’s Twitter page shows they organized business training programs in Kyiv in 2009–2010. In the company’s registration data, there is another address given as Pivovarnik’s place of residence: Kyiv.  


The internet publication The Bell also looked for Pivovarnik’s profile on LinkedIn, but it was soon deleted, as was his profile on the Russian social media site VKontakte. The cache of data aggregators from social networks indicate that the last place of residence listed on Pivovarnik’s social media pages is St. Petersburg.


Hennadiy Krot, Herman and Pivovarnik’s business partner – in the companies Kyiv Consulting Group and Global Container Service – commented during an appearance on the television program TSN that they have been friends for seven years.


However, Krot refused to answer Hromadske’s questions about the relationship between Pivovarnik and Herman.


The latter, according to the ruling from the Shevchenkivskiy court, will remain in custody at the SBU detention facility until the end of July. His lawyers plan to appeal this decision.

This article was written by Ihor Burdyha and translated by Sofia Fedeczko.


The original version of this article was published on Hromadske International, a Ukrainian internet TV and multimedia organization. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission. All images courtesy of Hromadske International

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