Russia’s attack on Ukraine has become a real tragedy nobody would have imagined happening in Europe in the 21st century. Millions of Ukrainians fled the war and came to the West, including the German speaking countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Since March alone there were nearly a million of Ukrainians registered with the Central Register of Foreigners in Germany. Despite such a huge number of people, in the last half a year there were barely any conflicts between the migrants and locals registered.
Beating of taxi drivers in Vienna
That is why the event that happened in the end of May in the center of Vienna stands out.
It was then that a group of men, who ran out of cars with Ukrainian license plates, beat two taxi drivers near the Bristol hotel. Some Austrian politicians set a goal to clear out the situation and punish the guilty. One of the politicians – a deputy of the Vienna City Council from the FPÖ party Dominik Nepp – has contacted Borys Filatov, the mayor of Dnipro, a city in Ukraine, where the cars were registered. Judging by some of the correspondence between the men, available to the editors, Filatov provided the Austrian politician information about the criminals and it was passed to the criminal police. We are not aware of the names of the attackers, but based on the interview that Filatov gave to an Austrian journalist Christian Verschutz, the criminals were the guards of fraudulent call centers where ordinary Ukrainians were deceived. Dnipro mayor said that these call centers are controlled by a businessman with a criminal record Oleksandr Petrovskyi, also known as “Narik” (Filatov called him “a criminal authority”, in other words mafioso). For the past several years Petrovskyi has been trying to create himself an image of a philanthropist and patriot building churches and supporting Ukrainian football. He is donating a lot to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which has united priests not willing to submit to the Moscow patriarch and who managed to receive acknowledgment of the Ecumenical Patriarch at Constantinople. Petrovskyi was even present at the ceremony of handing tomos – an ecclesiastical document of acknowledgement – in the main Orthodox Cathedral of Istanbul together with the then president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. However, when “Narik” started appearing in pictures with famous Ukrainian politicians several of the Ukrainian media conducted journalist investigations about the past of the “philanthropist”. They’ve discovered quite a diverse and rich criminal past, to the extent that was considered to be too much even for Ukrainian society, used to corruption.
Ascent – from a trivial bandit to a criminal authority in Dnipro in 90s
Oleksandr Petrovskyi was born in Georgia under the last name Nalekreshvili, but grew up in Ukraine, in Dnipropetrovsk, where his mother moved to. As the journalists from “Strana.ua” write, in the late 1980s he gathered a small gang of youngsters and racketeered sellers at the market and small entrepreneurs, for example, owners of small video salons, who were illegally showing American action movies popular at that time. When the Soviet Union collapsed the void left from the authorities was taken by criminals. At the beginning of 90s Nalekreshvili, who then changed his last name to Petrovskyi (possibly, that was the last name of the step-father, or his mother’s maiden name), was controlling already a couple of dozens of bars and restaurants in the center of Dnipropetrovsk, most of “Ozerka” – the city’s central market, as well as the goods market at one of the stadiums in the city. “Narik” managed to stand out among other gang leaders due to the unusual for that time behavior strategy. The money earned by racketeering and robbing he would spend not just on cars, drugs, entertainment and expansion of the criminal syndicate, but on legal assets as well. Thus, very soon “Narik” becomes known as a successful businessman with a variety of interests: importing metals, trading oil, agricultural produce, cars, restaurant business, construction and production of mineral water. At the same time, part of the assets formally belongs to the mother and wife. People surrounding Petrovskyi are no longer those lawless bandits and outright robbers, but rather new people, living a healthy life and capable of communicating and negotiating with authorities and big business about partnership. In particular, “Narik” befriended a head of Dnipropetrovsk oblast and future prime minister of Ukraine Pavlo Lazarenko. Later Lazarenko will be accused of money laundering by Ukrainian, American and Swiss authorities, he’ll escape from Ukraine and then spend more than 10 years in the American prison. But in the 90s he was almighty and thanks to this acquaintance Petrovskyi made a lot of friends among the Ukrainian politicians. This, however, doesn’t help him avoid criminal wars happening in Dnipro in the late 90s. “Narik” has miraculously avoided a killer, who simply confused him with another man, so the bullets meant for Petrovskyi hit his bodyguard. After this the mafioso leaves Ukraine – he buys property in Israel and transfers half of his assets there.
Political connections of Petrovskyi
Nevertheless, Petrovskyi has preserved his business and his connections in the political circle. This allowed him to return, as the mafia wars in Dnipro stopped. Since the 90s the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s office would often open criminal cases against “Narik”. Among the accusations are murder of businessmen, kidnapping people, beating of policemen, property theft, forging of documents – a complete set of a mafioso. And in 2004, Petrovskyi was even put on an international wanted list, but not for long. Political connections and criminal methods helped out – witnesses disappeared, refused to testify, the prosecutor’s office closed cases without question. As a result – the current image of a patron and pictures together with presidents and metropolitans. Petrovskyi’s daughter married the son of Andriy Pavelko, a former influential member of parliament from Petro Poroshenko’s party, president of the Football Federation of Ukraine and a member of the UEFA executive committee. And it was exactly the photo of Petrovskyi and Pavelko with the UEFA Champions League Cup – the most prestigious award in world club football – that drew society’s attention to Petrovskyi, and journalists went to investigate his biography.
His close ties with the church and help in receiving tomos allowed him to take a strong position among the top officials of Ukraine. Petrovskyi can boast acquaintance with the then president Poroshenko and a speaker of the Parliament Andrii Parubii.
It’s just that the past keeps reminding of itself. Petrovskyi couldn’t turn into a respectable businessman as, for example, the richest man in Ukraine Rinat Akhmetov or Ihor Kolomoiskyi. “Narik” didn’t cut off his communication with influential friends from the criminal world.
The best friend – “a thief in [a position of the] law”
Petrovskyi had diverse acquaintances in the criminal world. For example, Umar Dzhebrailov – the leader of the Chechen group in Moscow, a friend of the then mayor of the Russian capital Yurii Luzhkov. However, the main friend of Petrovskyi in the criminal world is Serhii Oliynyk – “a thief in law” (an analogue of a “don” in the Italian mafia), nicknamed “Umka”. They got together in the early 90s, but “Umka”, unlike Petrovskyi, did not transform into a businessman, instead he remained in the criminal world. And in 2014, he was crowned a “thief in law” in St. Petersburg, Russia’s northern capital. At that time, Russia had already annexed Crimea and started a war in Donbas, but this did not affect the communication in the criminal world. Criminals in the territory of the former USSR also have rituals and ceremonies. The journalists of “Strana.ua” write that Oliynyk’s interests include control over fuel business, markets in Central and Eastern Ukraine, gambling business, transactions with cryptocurrencies, smuggling to Russia and unrecognized separatist entities in Donbas. And the criminal money accumulated by “Umka” could well be laundered through the legal business of “Narik”. Journalists of the Russian opposition newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”, whose editor-in-chief received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, were not shy in their statements. In the article about the redistribution of spheres of influence in Donbas, they straightforwardly called Oliynyk “a thief in law” and Petrovskyi’s right-hand man. And “Narik” himself was named as the head of the largest criminal community in Dnipro.
Moving to Europe and control of the illegal emmigration
After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Petrovskyi and one of his closest associates, Emil Ariutiunian, went to Vienna and, as Dnipro journalists write, started to illegally transfer Ukrainian men to Europe. And they are making a lot of money on this, because the authorities of Ukraine have prohibited departure of all healthy men under the age of 60 who can be mobilized. And there are many willing to pay well not to go to the army and instead spend their money in safety in Europe. And, according to the journalists, mafiosi here too use the chance to deceive – they take money and do not fulfill promises.
According to our information, after the scandal with the fight in Vienna, Petrovskyi decided to change his place of residence and move to Germany. He and his suite have already been seen in Berlin. Let’s see how the German police will react. Would they wait until Petrovskyi and Oliynyk make the German capital or other large cities of Germany, for example, Munich, their criminal base? The place for laundering the money from “Umka’s” criminal business in Ukraine also needs to be considered, after all. Or would the police play ahead? And if the police of Germany, Austria, Switzerland (according to some reports, Petrovskyi holds a passport of this country as well), Israel, and Ukraine unite, and Volodymyr Zelenskyi shows political will, then Oleksandr Petrovskyi can repeat the fate of his political patron Pavlo Lazarenko and spend the next decade behind the bars.