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Millions of Euros sent for Help for Ukraine went to scammers

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The Estonian Prosecutor General’s Office has launched an investigation into the activities of a woman who, just a few months ago, was proclaimed a national heroine. Johanna-Maria Lehtme collected millions of euros from innocent Estonians allegedly ‘to help the Ukrainians.’ However, the money collected by Lehtme, apparently, went to completely different people. 

Estonia learned the name of Johanna-Maria Lehtme in March 2022. A clever woman, who at one time moved to live from Estonia to Kyiv, created the Slava Ukraini NGO. Lehtme announced that she intends to devote herself entirely to helping Ukraine (helping herself), and organized a so-called charity concert for this purpose. The event was broadcast by all the main state media, it was visited by the President of the country Alar Karis. The collection of money during the broadcast was carried out through three telephone numbers.

Lehtme announced that she managed to raise €690,000, which will be used to purchase and equip more than twenty ambulances. Thus, a start was made. The Foundation began to gush with new initiatives. So, in early October last year, Slava Ukraini and the Estonian newspaper Postimees launched the campaign ‘1000 Heroes in the Snow’ to raise funds for sewing and donating winter uniforms for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A few days later, the peddlers of the action reported that they had managed to raise more than €800,000.

Of course, such activities were not without encouragement. Back in May last year, Alar Karis proclaimed Johanna-Maria Lehtme ‘European of the Year’. And later she was also given the title of ‘Citizen of the Year – 2022’ in Estonia. In this regard, the Estonian Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets noted that the amount of work that the foundation and Johanna-Maria Lehtme herself is doing is ‘fantastic’. The Estonian press painted with might and main the image of a noble person who devotes all her strength and time to ‘disinterested help to his neighbours.’

It quickly became clear that Lehtme had political ambitions, and she was going to convert the fame she had gained into parliamentary elections scheduled for early spring 2023. She participated in them on the list of the liberal party ‘Estonia 200’, known, in particular, for organizing a propaganda campaign for the liquidation of Russian-language schools in the country. 

‘I ask for your support, your understanding! So that together we can continue to help Ukraine and take this help, which has been offered for eleven months now, to a new level,’ Lehtme exclaimed. The elections were successful for her – in March she became a member of parliament.

A few days after the elections, a scandal broke out – the fund headed by Lehtme was convicted of misuse of the funds she collected. In total, by the beginning of spring 2023, Slava Ukraini collected €6.5 million from Estonians, and, as it was announced, at that time almost €4 million had already been transferred ‘to help the people of Ukraine.’ 

However, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office found out that the fund headed by Lehtme transferred the money raised in Estonia to a certain company, IC Construction. It is a private company with a made-up owner, the only activity of which is connected with an Estonian NPO.

The management of the fund had to somehow react. They said that an ‘audit’ would be organized and that money transfers to the territory of Ukraine had been suspended for the time being. It was also decided that the executive director of the NGO, Johanna-Maria Lehtme, would not remain the only member of the organization’s board, but its leadership would be expanded. The NPO acknowledged that it ‘received alarming signals about the reliability of our Ukrainian partners,’ but refrained from making any other comments ‘until the audit results are completed.’

And by mid-April, additional details about the organized ‘scam’ were received. The Estonian edition of Eesti Päevaleht reported: ‘At the centre of the scandal are the non-profit association All For Victory, known as the main partner of Slava Ukraini in Ukraine, as well as IC Construction, which is associated with the main leaders of All For Victory. 

Both organizations are involved in former high-ranking officials of the Lviv city administration.’ According to the newspaper, the head of All For Victory is Gennady Vaskiv, a close friend of Johanna-Maria Lehtme. And the executive director of IC Construction is Roman Panasyuk, who worked with Vaskiv in the city administration of Lviv. Vaskiv has previously appeared on the pages of the Ukrainian media in a negative context. 

In 2019, he, along with other Lviv officials, was suspected of involvement in corrupt deals with land, Eesti Päevaleht also notes that IC Construction until last fall was owned by a certain Alexander Chernov, who was also the head of All for Victory’s logistics department. But then he left IC Construction, and the new owner of this company on paper was Marta Luta, a manicurist from a beauty salon where Vaskiv’s daughter Victoria and wife Oksana work. According to the Estonian newspaper, the company, founded in September 2021, began active operations in February 2022. Last year, her income amounted to 41.7 million hryvnia (that is, about €1 million), of which net profit reached 9.3 million hryvnia (about €250,000). 

In a telephone conversation with our colleague from the Kyiv Independent, Panasyuk confirmed that almost 100% of the company’s turnover comes from Slava Ukraini, that is, from money donated by the people of Estonia. In the first months of this year, NPO Slava Ukraini transferred €1.5 million to the accounts of IC Construction. What services IC Construction was supposed to provide to the people of Ukraine for these donations remained unknown.

At first, Lehtme claimed that the whole thing was a despicable information operation and that her Ukrainian partners were ‘heroes.’ But soon after, on Estonian television, she said she felt ‘deceived’ and swore she knew nothing about the scheme by which donations were transferred to a private firm. Now Johanna-Maria Lehtme and her assistants in the management of the fund began to blame everything on ‘unscrupulous’ Ukrainian partners.

Until recently, the Estonian press described Lehtme as ‘a tireless beautiful young mother’ who, ‘often risking her life, delivered humanitarian aid to places where the hands of clumsy state programs had not yet reached.’ And now they tried to help her save face. 

Lehtme also stated on May 11 that she was not going to give up her seat as a member of parliament. Opposition MP Alexander Chaplygin expressed outrage about this. 

The story of the Slava Ukraine ‘charitable foundation’ is completely ugly: the millions donated by the inhabitants of Estonia, as the prosecutor’s office suspects, went to the relatives of the company’s management. A criminal case has been opened. In the meantime.

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