Who Is Volodymyr Ruban, The Prisoner Swap Organizer Arrested on Terrorism Charges?
9 March, 2018

Yesterday, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) arrested Volodymyr Ruban – the Head of Ukraine’s Officer Corps Prisoner of War Exchange Center – on charges of “illegal arms possession” and “planning a terrorist attack.”

He was detained crossing the demarcation line at the Mayorsk checkpoint into Ukraine on the morning of March 8, in a car that allegedly carried artillery mines, grenades and other weapons.

Photo credit: Bohdan Kutiepov / HROMADSKE

In Kyiv on March 9, Ruban was sentenced to two months in prison while his case is investigated further.

“Acting in cooperation with the leaders of a terrorist organization – the so-called ‘DPR’ – Aleksandr Zakharchenko, Aleksandr Timofeev and others, Ruban planned and carried out concrete actions aimed at carrying out a series of terror attacks in central Kyiv using the aforementioned weapons and explosive devices,” Head of the SBU Vasyl Hrytsak announced at a press briefing following the hearing.

Meanwhile, Ruban has pleaded not guilty – explaining that the car carrying the weapons does not belong to him and he was merely acting as a driver.

Photo credit: Bohdan Kutiepov / HROMADSKE

Now the question remains: is Ruban a key player in releasing Ukrainian prisoners of war or a terrorist plotting the assassination of top Ukrainian officials, including President Petro Poroshenko?

Who is Volodymyr Ruban?

Volodymyr Ruban (birthname Volodymyr Harbuziuk) was born on August 16, 1967. Upon finishing school, he enrolled at the Chernihiv High Military Aviation School for Pilots. He left the Armed Forces when he was a senior lieutenant.

In the 1990s, he ran his own businesses offering printing services and household appliance repairs.

Photo credit: Bohdan Kutiepov / HROMADSKE

The Officer Corps Center for the Exchange of Prisoners of War was created in 2013. From the beginning of the conflict in early 2014 the Officer Corps acted as the main mediating organization for prisoner swaps and worked to deliver aid to prisoners. That is, until the Joint Center for Hostage Release was established under the SBU in 2015.

But even then the Officer Corps did not stop operating. Instead, they started working illegally, bypassing the Security Services.

Photo credit: Vadim Valiev

Between 2014 and 2015 Ruban carried out large-scale prisoner exchanges, negotiating with representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and travelling to the occupied territories.

Ruban’s name has also been associated with Viktor Medvedchuk – Ukraine’s representative in the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ruban was reportedly a member of Medvedchuk’s organization Ukrainian Choice – but later quit the organization, launching his own Officer Corps.

While Ruban’s name is currently listed on the Ukrainian Choice website under the Authors page – no stories come up when you click on it.

Visits to the Occupied Territories

Ruban is also linked to Ukrainian lawmaker Nadiya Savchenko – who attended his hearing at Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court on March 9. With his help, she was previously able to visit Ukrainian prisoners of war at Prison No. 32 in occupied Makiivka. Separatist media have also published photos of Savchenko and Ruban.

Volodymyr Ruban and Nadiya Savchenko. Photo credit: Bohdan Kutiepov / HROMADSKE

Ruban also facilitated Savchenko’s meeting with the leaders of the “republics” prior to her visit with the prisoners, back in December 2016. The meetings were held on neutral territory in Minsk, Belarus. At the time, Ruban told Hromadske that Savchenko wanted to be personally involved in the process of freeing Ukrainian prisoners, in order to “see everything from the inside.”

But in February 2017 – just months after the meeting – the Ukrainian Security Service detained Ruban. SBU spokesperson Olena Hitlianska then said that the law enforcers were “carrying out an interrogation due to his violation of the established order on crossing the demarcation line in the zone [of military operations].”

Following this conversation, Ruban was stripped of his right to cross the demarcation line. He referred to this decision as the “SBU’s revenge” and told Hromadske that the prisoner exchange that was about to take place fell through as a result of his detention.

“This is their revenge for Nadiya Savchenko – a very small and a very low one,” he said.

A Medvedchuk Person No Longer?

Meanwhile, Gennadiy Korban – an ally of Dnipro mayor Borys Filatov and a former deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk region – told Hromadske that Ruban has nothing to do with Medvedchuk.

Photo credit: Bohdan Kutiepov / HROMADSKE

“We’ve spent more than six months with this person now. Trust me, there is no connection [with Medvedchuk],” Korban said in 2015, “Moreover, Ruban has been pushed out of this field because Medvedchuk tends to get jealous when other people hold negotiations or try to compete with him in this field.”

“So I totally disagree with the fact that Ruban is a Medvedchuk person. I would rather call him our [Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration] person,” he said.

Nestor Shufrych – an ally of Medvedchuk and Opposition Bloc lawmaker – told Ukrainian Choice in 2015 that he is deeply offended by people who try to “earn dirty money on Ukrainian prisoner exchanges, something journalists have repeatedly accused Ruban of.”

/By Anna Tokhmakhchi and Ihor Shevchuk

/Translated and adapted by Maria Romanenko and Eilish Hart