But on February 26, with the ship docked on the Spanish island of Mallorca, in the Mediterranean, all that changed.
Ostapchuk saw media reports of a Russian missile attack on an apartment building in his home city of Kyiv. It was similar to the one in which he lived with his wife, when he was not on the ship.
At that point, he said, “I think my home could be next.” That’s when he decided to sink the yacht. It was my first step to war with Russia.”
In an interview with CNN Ukraine, Ostapchuk, 55, said he linked the devastation in his city directly to the man he calls Mrs. Anastasia’s owner: Russian oligarch Alexander Mikheev. He’s the CEO of Russian arms company Rosoboronexport, which sells everything from helicopters to tanks, missile systems and submarines.
Ostapchuk decided his mission: to thwart Mrs. Anastasia.
The last stage of the Russian war on Ukraine began two days ago, with the attack of troops from Russia, Belarus and Russia-annexed Crimea. As the offensive began, the United States and the European Union responded with economic sanctions and confiscation of assets linked to oligarchs in Vladimir Putin’s circle.
And perhaps there are no assets that clearly symbolize how Putin’s enablers prospered quite as much as the oligarch’s yachts, some nearly as high as the Washington Monument, sports helipads, swimming pools, and sumptuous interiors.
Ostapchuk said he went to Mrs. Anastasia’s engine room, where he opened a valve attached to the ship’s hull. With the water flowing, he made his way to the crew quarters, where he opened another valve.
“There were three other crew members on the ship next to me,” he said in Russian. “I told them the boat was sinking and they had to leave.”
By most standards, Mrs. Anastasia, with a crew of nine, is sumptuous: a main hall with a Carrara marble bathroom; cabins for 10 guests; Jacuzzi on the sun deck stable against the movement of the ship, etc.
Russian oligarchs have among the most luxurious yachts in existence. Dilbar, a 512-foot yacht, is owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, according to the Treasury, which on March 3 identified Dilbar as a “prohibited property.” It has two helicopter pads and cabins for dozens of guests. Usmanov did not respond to CNN’s inquiries about the yacht.
Or take the Amore Vero, the yacht that was seized by the French authorities on March 2. They say he is linked to Igor Sechin, a sanctioned Russian oil manager and Putin aide. (The company that operates the ship denies that it is owned by Sechin.) A former crew member of the yacht, who asked not to be named because he signed a nondisclosure agreement, said the Amore Vero includes a secure room on its lowest level. deck.
“It wasn’t even on the official drawings of the boat,” he said. “There was a secret door with a hidden camera. And you could pull the wall away and inside there were beds, emergency communications, a bathroom, and surveillance cameras.”
Although officials in various countries have attributed ownership of the yachts to the Russian oligarchs, the paper path between the ship and the owner is usually blocked, passing through shell companies and complex legal structures. Spain, for example, says it has “temporarily impounded” the yachts while their ownership is being sorted out.
The US State Department sanctioned Mikheev on March 15.
When CNN attempted to contact Mikheev about Lady Anastasia’s ownership, a Rosoboronexport spokesperson replied via email that the company “never comments on any information about employees’ personal lives and property, except for cases provided for by the legislation of the Russian Federation.”
But Ostapchuk said he had no doubts. “Why, you know, if a creature that looks like a dog, that barks like a dog, that bites like a dog, it is a dog. So, if the yacht is in ten years [was] It is used on holidays only [by] Mr. Mikheev and his family, I think he is definitely the true owner of this yacht.”
Meanwhile, at least six other yachts linked to Russian oligarchs have stopped transmitting location data completely in recent weeks, according to Marinetrafic.
“It’s unusual,” Hatzimanolis said of the yachts that darkened. “But these are unprecedented times for these yachts and their owners. They are trying to get out of the way and reach destinations where they will not be penalized.”
‘You have to choose’
Having begun to flood the cabins, Ostapchuk told the other three crew members on the plane what he had done.
He said they were also Ukrainians. But, fearing that it had only cost them their jobs, they yelled at him saying he was crazy, according to a brief statement in his indictment.
Then they contacted the port authorities and the police. The port workers brought a water pump and prevented the boat from sinking. Ostapchuk was arrested.
“I made a statement to the police that I tried to sink the boat as a political protest against Russian aggression,” he told CNN.
“You have to choose. Either you are with Ukraine or not. You have to choose, will there be Ukraine, or will you have a job… I don’t need a job if I don’t have Ukraine.”
In some cases, these jobs may be at risk anyway. On March 15, Spanish authorities temporarily detained Ms. Anastasia while it was determined whether she was subject to European sanctions and could be confiscated. It was one of three yachts associated with the Russian oligarch they seized that week. Others were detained or detained in France, Germany, Italy and Gibraltar.
On March 7, the company that operates the yacht Dilbar laid off all 96 crew members, saying the sanctions had prevented the ship’s normal operation, according to Forbes magazine.
The sanctions imposed on the Russian oligarchs seem to have provoked challenges and confusion among some of the yacht’s crews. Nautilus International held a question-and-answer session with yachting specialists earlier this month and received questions like, “Should we quit all Russian yachts?” and “What am I entitled to if I am fired/discharged due to the penalties imposed on my ship?” Union representatives advised members to check the terms of their contracts.
They should be held responsible
When CNN spoke with Ostapchuk from Ukraine on Wednesday, the conversation was immediately interrupted by a warning of an incoming Russian attack. Later, after Ostapchuk returned from a shelter, he said that as soon as the Spanish authorities released him on February 27, he returned to Ukraine.
“Now I am serving in the army and I hope my service will bring us closer to victory,” he said.
He added that he hoped the oligarchs who supported Putin would feel the sting of sanctions.
“They must bear responsibility, because, by their behavior, way of life and indomitable greed, they led precisely to this … in order to divert people’s attention from the real plunder of Russia by these rulers, who are arranging transforming wars with other innocent nations.”
CNN’s Drew Griffin and Yehia Abu-Ghazaleh contributed to this report.
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