Russian troops in the occupied city of Melitopol have stolen all equipment from an agricultural equipment dealer – and sent it to Chechnya, according to a Ukrainian businessman in the area.
But after a journey of more than 700 miles, the thieves were unable to use any of the equipment – because it had been locked remotely.
Over the last few weeks, there have been a growing number of reports of Russian troops stealing agricultural equipment, grain and even building materials – in addition to widespread looting of homes. But the removal of valuable agricultural equipment from a John Deere dealer in Melitopol speaks to an increasingly organized operation, an operation that even uses Russian military transport as part of the robbery.
CNN has learned that the equipment was removed from an Agrotek dealer in Melitopol, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early March. In all, it is valued at nearly $ 5 million. Combines alone are worth $ 300,000 each.
CNN does not mention a contact in Melitopol who is familiar with the details of the case for their own safety.
The contact said the process began with the seizure of two combine harvesters, a tractor and a seed drill. Over the next few weeks, everything else was removed: a total of 27 agricultural machinery. One of the used flatbed trucks, which was captured on camera, had a white “Z” painted on it and looked like a military truck.
The contact said there were rival groups of Russian troops: some would come in the morning and some in the evening.
Some of the machinery was taken to a nearby village, but some of it embarked on a long land voyage to Chechnya more than 700 miles away. The sophistication of the machinery, which is equipped with GPS, meant that its journey could be traced. It was last traced to the village of Zakhan Yurt in Chechnya.
The equipment that was ferried to Chechnya, which included combine harvesters – can also be controlled remotely. “When the attackers drove the stolen combine harvesters to Chechnya, they realized they could not even turn them on because the harvesters were remotely locked,” the contact said.
The equipment now appears to be languishing on a farm near Grozny. But the contact said that “it appears that the hijackers have found consultants in Russia who are trying to circumvent the protection.”
“Even if they sell harvesters for spare parts, they will make some money,” the contact said.
Other sources in the Melitopol region say theft from Russian military units has spread to include grain kept in silos in a region that produces hundreds of thousands of tons of crops a year.
A source told CNN that “the occupiers are offering local farmers to divide their profits 50% to 50%.” But the peasants trying to work in areas occupied by Russian troops are unable to relocate their products.
“Not a single elevator works. None of the gates work. You will not take this grain from the occupied territory anywhere.”
So Russian forces are simply taking the grain, the source said. “They steal it, take it to the Crimea, and that’s it.”
Last week, the mayor of Melitopol released a video showing a convoy of trucks leaving Melitopol, allegedly loaded with grain.
“We have clear evidence that they unloaded grain from the city elevator Melitopol. They robbed the elevator along with private yards, the mayor told CNN.