Ukraine arrests military worker in 'foiled plot to assassinate Zelenskyy'

The woman, who worked at a supply store on a base, faces 12 years in prison if found guilty

The woman is accused of attempting to establish the movements of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a planned trip to Mykolaiv. Getty Images
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A woman was arrested for allegedly passing information to Russian intelligence with the aim of assassinating President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he visited a flood-hit region, Ukraine's security service, the SBU, said on Monday.

The military worker, who worked at a supply store on a base, is accused of gathering intelligence to determine Mr Zelenskyy's itinerary ahead of his visit to the southern Mykolaiv region.

The SBU published a blurred image of the woman being detained by masked officers in a kitchen, in addition to phone messages and handwritten notes about military activity.

Mr Zelenskyy said on Telegram on Monday that the head of the SBU had updated him about the "fight against traitors".

He visited the Mykolaiv region in June after it was hit by flooding caused by the Kakhovka dam breach, and again in July after it was targeted for Russian shelling.

The SBU said it had been made aware of the plot ahead of time and that additional security measures had been implemented during the president's visit.

The woman, who faces 12 years in prison if found guilty, is suspected to have helped Russia to prepare a "massive air strike on the Mykolaiv region".

She was allegedly seeking data on the location of electronic warfare systems and warehouses with ammunition.

The SBU said its officers continued to monitor the suspect to get more information on her Russian handlers and her assignments.

Officers then caught the woman "red-handed" as she attempted to pass intelligence data to Russian secret services, the SBU said.

It said the woman lived in the town of Ochakiv in the Mykolaiv region and formerly worked in a store at a military base there.

She allegedly photographed locations and tried to get information from personal contacts in the area.

“This morning the SBU released details of an abortive assassination attempt on the head of state of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, while also releasing information that they were able to foil the attack on the President during a recent trip to Mykolaiv,” Sgt Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, spokeswoman for Ukraine's Territorial Defence Forces, said on Monday.

The suspect was working at a military supply store and was recruited by Russian agents, Sgt Ashton-Cirillo added.

“Because of this situation and because of the quick and rapid skills of the SBU, the woman was caught working red-handed, as they put it, directly with [Russian] FSB agents in the region," she said.

“She is now facing 12 years in prison. And again, President Zelenskyy is safe. The plot was foiled in advance. However, the arrest was just made today after we were able to understand the extent of this collaborator’s [co-operation with the FSB].”

On Monday, Russia and Ukraine carried out the latest in a series of prisoner exchanges, with 22 Ukrainian soldiers returning home, a senior Ukrainian official said.

Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, said those released included officers, sergeants and privates who had fought at various parts of the front. Some were injured.

A video posted on Telegram showed soldiers wrapped in national flags posing for pictures and shouting "Glory to Ukraine". "Today we returned 22 Ukrainian fighters home from captivity," Mr Yermak said, adding the oldest was 54 and the youngest 23.

There was no immediate comment from Russia.

Russia and Ukraine have periodically exchanged groups of prisoners in the course of the war, now in its 18th month.

Separately, a conference hosted by Saudi Arabia over the weekend to discuss a peace plan for Ukraine was a successful because it showed the willingness of the international community to work towards ending the war, a German government spokesperson said on Monday.

"Germany will also continue to engage actively including in this process," the spokesperson said at a regular news conference in Berlin.

China's foreign ministry said that the talks had helped "to consolidate international consensus", echoing earlier comments from a senior Ukrainian official that the talks had been productive.

But Russia, which was not invited, on Monday chided efforts by international officials, saying the talks don't have “the slightest added value” because Moscow — unlike Kyiv — wasn’t invited.

Meanwhile, Russia has claimed its air defences shot down a drone south-west of Moscow on Monday, amid a wave of attacks in the capital.

The incident, less than 200km from Moscow in the Kaluga region, "affected neither people nor infrastructure", regional governor Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram.

He said the drone was shot down by an anti-aircraft defence system in the Ferzikovsky district overnight.

It was not clear who launched the drone and there was no immediate comment from Ukraine.

Kyiv almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks in Russia or in Moscow-controlled territory in Ukraine.

The latest incursion came after a string of Russian strikes against Ukraine at the weekend, in which a blood transfusion centre was bombed, killing at least six people, while Kyiv in turn hit bridges in occupied territories.

A "guided air bomb" hit the medical complex in Kupiansk, a railway hub in the Kharkiv region, less than 16km from the front on Saturday night, said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called the attack a "war crime".

An unconfirmed number of casualties were reported, he added, in an area recently liberated by Ukrainian troops.

Ukraine said its air defence destroyed 30 of 40 cruise missiles and all 27 of the Shahed drones that Russia launched overnight into Sunday, the Air Force said on its Telegram messaging channel.

It also said Russia launched three Kinzhal hypersonic missiles but did not disclose any further information.

Russia’s air defences were also at work on Sunday, as Ukraine targeted two bridges in occupied territory.

"The enemy launched a missile attack near the Chongar bridge" that connects southern Ukraine to the annexed Crimean peninsula, Moscow-installed governor Sergei Aksyonov said on Telegram.

"One hit, some missiles were shot down," Mr Aksyonov said, adding that repair work was under way.

A separate attack on a bridge near Genichesk in southern Kherson wounded a civilian and damaged a gas pipeline, cutting supplies for about 20,000 residents, according to a Moscow-installed official.

In recent weeks, drone attacks have increased on Russian territory and occupied areas, often targeting Moscow and the annexed Crimean peninsula. Moscow regularly accuses Kyiv of committing these attacks.

On Thursday Russia said it had downed seven drones in the region, which did not result in any reported casualties but damaged an office building in the main business district, which was targeted twice in a space of a few days.

And on Sunday Russia claimed to have shot down another drone targeting Moscow.

Separately, an unusual sighting of a Russian military jet in North Korea is stoking concern that Kim Jong-un is selling Vladimir Putin weapons as ties strengthen between the states.

Tracking data from FlightRadar24 shows the Russian Air Force Ilyushin IL-62M flying directly from Moscow to Pyongyang on July 31 and returning on August 2.

Satellite imagery showed the aircraft at Pyongyang’s international airport for about 36 hours, according to NK News, a Seoul-based provider of news on North Korea that also tracks flight activity.

The flight was the first by this type of Russian military VIP plane to North Korea since mid-2019, when Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin travelled to Pyongyang, NK News said.

Pyongyang closed its borders in early 2020 due to the pandemic, choking its economy.

The journey by the Russian Air Force jet came only days after Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu travelled to Pyongyang on a similar jet to attend a military parade hosted by Mr Kim, who also gave him a tour of a weapons exhibition. It “appears related to following up on Shoigu’s delegation visit and possibly agreements made with Kim”, NK News said, adding that analysts “speculated that the two could have made weapons deals”.

“We’ve seen in the past Russia looking to try to obtain munitions from countries like North Korea,” Pentagon press secretary Brig Gen Pat Ryder said.

“It highlights the dire straits that Russia finds itself in when it comes to resupplying and refreshing its munitions capabilities.”

Updated: August 07, 2023, 1:04 PM