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Detained Ukrainian Industrialist, Suspected Of Collaboration, Requests Transfer To Russia

"I request that you include me on the list for exchange with the Russian Federation," says the one-sentence letter from Vyacheslav Bohuslayev.

KYIV -- The former head of Ukrainian engine manufacturer Motor Sich, Vyacheslav Bohuslayev, who was detained for his suspected assistance to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, has asked to be exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners held in Russia, according to a handwritten request obtained by Schemes (Skhemy), the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Ukrainian officials have indicated that Bohuslayev, 84, once described as an "icon" of Ukrainian industry, could potentially be included in a prisoner exchange, while Moscow has not commented publicly on the matter.

"I request that you include me on the list for exchange with the Russian Federation," says the one-sentence letter, written in Russian and addressed to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak.

Under the signature of Bohuslayev -- for decades the controlling force behind Motor Sich, a leading aviation-engine manufacturer -- it identifies him as a "pensioner" and an "invalid."

The signature on the letter is very similar to Bohuslayev's signature on multiple documents reviewed by Schemes in the past, and the handwriting in the text of the letter is also similar.

Contacted by Schemes several weeks before publication of the report, Bohuslayev's lawyer, Ruslan Volynets, said that he was unaware of any possible exchange involving Bohuslayev and that any such request would be a personal decision.

Following the Schemes report on May 10, however, Volynets told TV channel Suspilne that Bohuslayev had written a statement asking to be exchanged due to poor health.

If included in a trade, Bohuslayev, decorated as a Hero of Ukraine for his contributions to the country's aviation industry, would be the most prominent Ukrainian sent to Russia in an exchange since September 2022, when Kyiv included lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a swap with Moscow for 215 Ukrainian prisoners.

Bohuslayev, now being held in a Kyiv pretrial detention center until May 27, faces a long list of potential criminal charges that, if taken to trial, could lead to him spending the rest of his life in prison.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) detained Bohuslayev and another Motor Sich executive in late October 2022 on suspicion of collaborating with and assisting "the aggressor state" by supplying helicopter parts to the Russian military.

After heavily backing anti-Kyiv forces in a war that Moscow fomented in the eastern Donbas region in 2014, Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and it continues with no clear end in sight.

The SBU has released recordings of phone conversations in which a man identified as Bohuslayev assures people identified as Russian defense contractors that the company's supplies to Russia will continue despite the fighting.

Roughly three months after his detention, the SBU further alleged that Bohuslayev had cooperated with "a terrorist organization" -- a reference to Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donbas -- by supposedly paying the separatists 290 million rubles ($3.7 million) as "taxes" on the sale of aircraft parts to the Russian defense sector.

Separate documents published by Schemes suggested that Bohuslayev also arranged deals with sanctioned Iranian firms.

The latest allegation, filed in court on March 28, asserts that Bohuslayev blocked the April 2022 transfer of a Mi-2 military helicopter from Motor Sich to frontline Ukrainian forces by ordering its disassembly and concealing the documents that contain its serial number, date of manufacture, and other key details.

Volynets, his attorney, told Schemes that Bohuslayev had wanted to install helicopter blades certified by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry before handing the Mi-2 helicopter over.

Based on a dated note of conveyance from another lawyer for Bohuslayev, the prisoner-exchange request was finalized nine days before Bohuslayev's court appearance.

Not only criminal charges face Bohuslayev, who, as Schemes has reported, holds both Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. Ukrainian sanctions decreed on April 1 prevent him from buying land or taking part in trade, among other standard business activities, for 10 years.

Bohuslayev denies that he did anything wrong at Motor Sich, now under Defense-Ministry management. He has criticized the government for investigating him, citing his contributions to Ukrainian manufacturing, and called the criminal probe "a nightmare."

Motor Sich chief Vyacheslav Bohuslayev attends the HeliRussia 2017 International Exhibition of Helicopter Industry, at the Crocus Expo International Exhibition Center outside Moscow in May 2017.
Motor Sich chief Vyacheslav Bohuslayev attends the HeliRussia 2017 International Exhibition of Helicopter Industry, at the Crocus Expo International Exhibition Center outside Moscow in May 2017.

But the businessman has not publicly acknowledged any desire to be exchanged with Russia, the source of most of Motor Sich's business for decades.

Asked about the likelihood that Kyiv would exchange Bohuslayev for Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russia, Zelenskiy's office declined to comment and referred Schemes to a representative of the government body responsible for matters involving prisoners of war, Andriy Yusov.

Schemes had contacted Yusov separately and in advance of the recommendation from the president's office. "Ukraine will continue to use all available tools to return our prisoners of war and illegally detained civilians from the aggressor state," he said. He declined to comment on specific cases or names.

In a December 2022 interview with 1+1 TV host Natalia Moseychuk, Vasyl Malyuk, then the acting head of the SBU and now its head, said that Bohuslayev might "perhaps" become a "high-quality" candidate for a swap in which Ukraine would "be able to get a lot of our real heroes" now held in Russia.

Shortly after Bohuslayev was detained in October, presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak told Current Time he could not rule out the possibility that, as with Medvedchuk, Kyiv would exchange him for what he called "real citizens" imprisoned in Russia.

Written by Elizabeth Owen based on reporting by Kira Tolstyakova and Kyrylo Ovsyaniy of Schemes
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    Kira Tolstyakova

    Kira Tolstyakova is an editor for Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. 

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    Kyrylo Ovsyaniy

    Kyrylo Ovsyaniy is an investigative journalist with Schemes (Skhemy), an investigative news project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. Since 2021 he has worked on the Corruption In Detail program, after beginning in 2019 with a regional  project. Born in Odesa, he has worked as a journalist there since 2018.