Reputed Czech furniture company doing business in Russian-occupied Donetsk

Hanák’s furniture store in occupied Donetsk probably employs two Czech mercenaries, while the Czech company does not hide its business operations in the occupied city. Photo: Radio (RFE/RL)  

International, War in the Donbas

Article by: Yaroslav Krechko, Serhiy Stetsenko, Ivanna Trutnenko
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

With the beginning of the war in the Donbas, many world-famous brands decided to leave Donetsk and Luhansk territories. In 2017, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council issued a decree banning the movement of commercial goods to the occupied territories.

Despite the ban and targeted sanctions, the well-known Czech furniture company Hanák has established a major business outlet in occupied Donetsk. Two Czech mercenaries, who do not hide their pro-Russian sentiments or their “work” in the occupied territories, were recently photographed sitting in front of the Hanák logo.  

Russian-occupied Donetsk. The “DNR” flag openly displayed in the shop window. Nearby – a sign reading “furniture from the Czech Republic” – bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms…

Pavel Botka (left) and Jiří Urbánek in an interview with Novorossiya news agency. Photo: (official website)

Hanák is a well-known brand not only in the Czech Republic, but also in England, the USA, Hungary and Russia. The Donetsk store is displayed on the company’s website.  In a recent interview by the so-called Novorossiya agency with two Czech mercenaries, Czech analyst Roman Máca noticed the Hanák logo behind their backs.

Roman Máca, analyst at the Institute for Politics and Society in the Czech Republic. Photo: Radio (RFE/RL)

According to the last report published by Donbas Realii, Pavel Botka, call sign “Kavkaz” and Jiří Urbánek, call sign “Behemot”, have been in eastern Ukraine since 2015, but they are no longer engaged in combat missions. Last summer, Botka lost his leg in a mine blast.

“I started investigating these two guys, and how they were linked to the furniture store. I approached Hanák, but they responded very tersely.  In the end, they confirmed that it was a Czech furniture store, that it was operating as a sales outlet in occupied Donetsk, and that they were in contact with the store owner. But, they didn’t give me the store owner’s name or any information on the delivery of goods to the Donetsk store.” says Roman Máca, analyst at the Institute for Politics and Society in the Czech Republic.

In fact, Máca continued his investigations and found the store owner’s name on his own. He is Valery Vorobiov, born in Russia, but a long-time resident of Donetsk.

“When I spoke to Jiří Urbánek, he told me that Vorobiov was a good friend of his and that he [Jiří] even had the keys to the store. But, he didn’t tell me what he was doing or planning to do in the near future,” added Roman Máca.

Valery Vorobiov in the Hanák’s furniture store in occupied Donetsk. Photo: (social media)

We approached Hanák about the Donetsk store. Sales Director Tomáš Machů declined to comment on camera.

“No, no, I’ve talked about this with the company director. We’ve never given live video interviews and don’t want to. We can schedule a meeting; we can answer any questions. But, we don’t want our conversations to be recorded in any way,” said Hanák’s Sales Director Tomáš Machů over the phone.

Hanák’s furniture store in occupied Donetsk is listed on company website. Photo: video grab

Roman Máca underlines that this is an unpleasant situation for the Czech company. It can significantly damage their image and reputation, as cross-border smuggling of goods may be involved. In fact, Valery Vorobiov himself admitted that he travelled to Russia to pick up the furniture, which he then transported across the Ukrainian-Russian border, which is currently controlled by the so-called “DNR/LNR” authorities.

Ambassador of Ukraine to the Czech Republic Yevhen Perebyinis. Photo: Radio (RFE/RL)

“We need to fully investigate this situation before drawing conclusions, because there are so many details involved. At first glance, it’s obvious that someone somewhere has broken the law. But, the question is to what extent was the law broken and who exactly broke the law, and all these points should be clearly understood. So, we sent inquiries to the company, to relevant Czech authorities and other business structures in order to get a complete picture. As soon as we get this information, we’ll forward everything with our proposals to the relevant Ukrainian authorities,” stated Ambassador of Ukraine to the Czech Republic Yevhen Perebyinis.

Economist and financial analyst Oleksiy Kushch confirms that the transportation of goods across Ukraine’s uncontrolled borders or paying taxes to the so-called “LNR/DNR” authorities constitutes a criminal offense. In fact, this entire situation is a good reason to start a systematic discussion about economic activity in the occupied territories. The whole chain of Hanák’s business operations must be investigated, but the mere presence of the furniture store in occupied Donetsk does not violate any Ukrainian laws.

Economist and financial analyst Oleksiy Kushch. Photo: Radio (RFE/RL)

“We need to examine the whole chain of Hanák’s business operations – where the company pays taxes, how the goods are delivered, how the company accepts money for the goods, how it draws up customs documents, etc. That is, we must consider each business transaction separately. It’s quite possible that some elements of these business transactions are illegal, from the point of view of Ukrainian legislation. But, the physical presence of this store in Donetsk does not violate any of our laws,” says Oleksiy Kushch.

Despite the uproar in the Czech media, Hanák’s furniture store in occupied Donetsk is still listed on the company’s site… and continues operating on Artema Street in occupied Donetsk. As for the two Czech mercenaries – “Kavkaz” and “Behemot” – they are reluctant to return home to the Czech Republic where they face prison terms. Both claim to have converted to Islam and state that they will remain in Donetsk.

“Will you go to war again?”asks the interviewer.

“Definitely! Right away. If the Ukrops* decide to advance, we’ll go to war again… even without hands or legs.” answer the militants.

(*The name “Ukrop” was initially a derogatory Russian slang term referring to Ukrainians. However, many Ukrainians have reclaimed the term to refer to themselves.)

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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