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Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office, says the equipment found for sale had been "demilitarized."

KYIV -- Amphibious armored-personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, off-road transport trucks, tanker trucks, and trailers were among some 200 objects that have been seized by Ukrainian police after being offered for sale online.

Vyacheslav Pechenenko, regional police chief of the Zhytomyr region, said on March 27 that the vehicles were discovered by police while investigating an oil pipeline leak in the town of Novohrad-Volynskiy some two weeks ago.

They were seized this week during raids by his officers and local military prosecutors.

Police said the vehicles were for sale on the Internet.

Pechenenko said that “as of now, the origin of the hardware is being looked into, including when it was registered at military units.”

Novohrad-Volynskiy is the headquarters for several Ukrainian military units subordinate to Operational Command North, including the 30th Mechanized Brigade, the 12th Operative Support Regiment, and the 54th Scout Battalion, the Kyiv Post reported.

Presidential adviser Yuriy Biriukov suggested the vehicles were more likely to have been military surplus bought by civilians.
Presidential adviser Yuriy Biriukov suggested the vehicles were more likely to have been military surplus bought by civilians.

​The seizure of the military vehicles and equipment has sparked a scandal in Ukrainian defense circles and shone a light on a murky online marketplace where equipment made for the battlefields of eastern Ukraine is being offered for sale to civilians.

It is still unclear if any of the seized military equipment came from any of those units. Police did not say where the military items had been advertised.

An online search by RFE/RL revealed several listings for similar military materiel in Ukraine. Most were found on the OLX website, a popular online marketplace that revealed dozens of military vehicles and equipment for sale.

Ukraine has spent much time and money in the past four years revamping its once decimated military. Any suggestion that it may be involved in corruption or that technology or equipment has leaked from its depots is embarrassing.

The former presidential spokesman for the military operation in eastern Ukraine, Andriy Lysenko, who is now a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General’s Office, claimed the police information was “untrue” and said the equipment had been “demilitarized.”

“In fact, the equipment in question is not combat and is not military at all,” Lysenko wrote on Facebook.

The news filled presidential adviser Yuriy Biriukov with indignation. In a rambling post on Facebook, Biriukov called the reports “fake news” and their authors “common liars, who rejoice in fake news, together with those who destroyed our army.” Punctuating his post, he added that they were “worse than the enemy.”

Rather than having been stolen, Biriukov suggested the vehicles were more likely to have been military surplus bought by civilians under a government decree signed in 2008 by then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, now the leading political opponent of President Petro Poroshenko.

He claimed that none of those vehicles specifically had been recorded as ever having been used by the military in the past 10 years.

Zhytomyr police said they were working to track down the origin of the equipment. They are treating the case as one possibly involving official embezzlement and abuse of power, the punishment for which can be between three and eight years imprisonment.

Pakistan's first transgender newscaster, Marvia Malik: "I have become a ray of hope for the community."

When Marvia Malik made her debut as a news anchor for the private broadcaster Kohenoor TV on March 23, it was more than a first for her -- it was a first for an entire community.

Members of Pakistan's "third gender" community -- which can include transsexuals, transvestites, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites -- are often shunned, pushed to the fringes of a conservative society.

But even as the community has made notable advances -- for example, "third gender" was granted official status in 2011, earning members the right to vote, and earlier this month a bill was passed in the Senate protecting people's right to determine their own gender identity -- Malik debuting as the country's first transgender news anchor can be seen as a leap forward.

It has been a long journey for Malik, a 21-year-old transgender woman who has gone from makeup artist to catwalk model to the face of her community.

Malik, who was moved to tears when she landed her new job, is clearly proud of her achievement.

"I have become a ray of hope for the community," Malik said in a telephone interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal from the city of Lahore. “They believe the day when we will be considered normal citizens is closer."

But she concedes that there is a long way to go before transgender people shed their second-class status in the South Asian country.

Her goal now is to serve as an example of what is possible.

"If I can reach these heights without my family, the government, or anybody else," she said, "then any transgender can, too, if they are treated as an ordinary citizen."

Marvia Malik says her goal now is to serve as an example of what is possible.
Marvia Malik says her goal now is to serve as an example of what is possible.

Born and raised in the city of Lahore, Malik struggled for acceptance at an early age. She says her family members beat her and forced her to act and dress as a boy. When she refused, the family disowned her when she was 16 years old.

"There is no difference in my story and that of the other 'khawaja sara,'" she says, using an Urdu word that encompasses transvestites, transsexuals, transgenders, and others who could be categorized as "third gender."

Many members of the community describe themselves as "professional wedding dancers," although supporters say many are forced to earn income through prostitution or begging. Often dressed in bright-colored saris -- a traditional dress worn by women on the subcontinent -- and wearing heavy makeup, some roam the streets asking people for money, making them targets for extortion, sexual violence, and criminal gangs.

They have a reputation for showing up uninvited at major family gatherings such as weddings and birthdays, singing and dancing until they are paid or given gifts, after which they depart. "Third gender" people are often seen as a sign of good luck at such ceremonies, while the curse of an unappeased transgender person provokes fear.

Malik says she opted not to take up dancing as a profession because she did not want to “become a source of entertainment for others." She completed a makeup course and joined a beauty salon in Lahore, allowing her to fund her university degree in journalism.

She recently became the first transgender model on the catwalk at the annual Pakistan Fashion Design Council fashion show.

The official "third gender" community in Pakistan currently numbers 10,418, according to a recent census, although the community estimates there are at least half a million transgender people in the country.

The minority group's recent gains have been groundbreaking in Pakistan, a deeply conservative country where ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities have often been victims of violence and persecution. Yet those gains have done little to hide the difficult lives that third-gender citizens endure.

Dozens of transgender people have been killed in recent years. The Trans Action Alliance, a local rights group, says 55 have been killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province alone in the last three years. On March 28, gunmen shot and killed a transgender woman and her friend in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

In 2013, two members of the third-gender community were killed and another abducted and gang-raped by armed men in a predawn attack in northwest Pakistan.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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