From war crimes, to spies and cyber attacks: Ukraine’s domestic spy chief on fighting Russia across all fronts

Major General Vasyl Malyuk, Ukraine‘s domestic spy chief, makes clear that the threat from Russia comes from all sides. From the battlefield, his Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) has launched more than 64,000 criminal proceedings across Moscow’s forces – nearly half of them war crimes cases. He says the SBU have also uncovered or detained 360 enemy agents since the invasion erupted last February. And the country has fended off thousands of cyberattacks.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Major General Malyuk, said that said the SBU’s investigation department had meanwhile launched public investigations and also covert operations into alleged war crimes committed by Russia’s forces and their proxies in the country. It comes as the head of the UN, Antonio Guterres says Russia’s invasion has triggered “the most massive violations of human rights” as the start of a weeks-long UN Human Rights Council session at which countries want to strengthen scrutiny of Moscow’s alleged crimes.

Major General Malyuk, 39, said: “We have launched more than 64,000 criminal proceedings related to Russian military aggression against Ukraine. More than 24,600 of them are based on violations of the laws and customs of war,” he continued.

“It is of great importance for us to show the world not just emotions, but procedural evidence of Russia’s illegal actions,” he added.

Major General Malyuk, who has led the Ukrainian equivalent of M15 since July, said the war-ravaged nation was increasingly fighting two fronts: “countering the enemy in cyberspace” as well as on the battlefield.

Ukraine is fighting a sixfold increase in cyberattacks, with Russia launching at least 10 a day, the country’s domestic spy chief has warned as the country braces for the grim one-year milestone of Moscow’s invasion.

In 2020 the SBU had recorded 800 cyber attacks, in 2021 it was about 2,000. But after the invasion – which was launched February 2022 – they have recorded more than 4,500: more than twice as many.

“These are different types of the attacks, sometimes really massive, sometimes quite sophisticated,” the spy chief says from Kyiv.

“Currently Russia provides on an average more than 10 cyberattacks daily… Their targets are different: state resources, critical infrastructure facilities, etc. But we are successfully countering the enemy in cyberspace as well,” he says.

Ukraine is hunkering down expecting a fresh wave of violence from Russia in the wake of the first anniversary of the war which was launched on 24 February last year .

Over the last few weeks, Russian President Putin has doubled down on ferocious assaults in the east and north of the country, in an attempt claw back territorial losses and save face back home.

When war broke out last year, Major General Malyuk had briefly left the security services to become Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. He was reinstated and made acting chief of the powerful domestic security agency in July by Volodymyr Zelensky when the Ukrainian president abruptly sacked the previous chief amid a slew of accusations top spy officials had collaborated with Russia.

Rooting out Russian agents has since become a major part of major-general Malyuk’s focus. He says the SBU had uncovered or detained 360 enemy agents.

Targets have ranged from prominent figures like Vicktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician and personal friend of President Putin, to ordinary citizens that collect information on the location of the Ukrainian forces, he adds.

“For decades Russia has been saturating our country with its agents in the state bodies, in the church, in the military-industrial complex,” he continues.

He says against the unprecedented diversity of attacks from Russia the SBU has had to be “completely reorganised” to counter the threat.

“[SBU] officers literally live on the front line,” he tells The Independent. “Our cyber specialists work vigorously day and night to repel enemy cyber-attacks,” he says, adding that the work in cyberspace “has significantly increased”.

The country’s cybersecurity agency said earlier this month that the number of recorded cyber incidents had tripled in 2022 in comparison to 2021. They said hacking was deployed in conjunction with missile strikes.

The SBU says that energy, logistics, military facilities, as well as databases of state bodies and information resources have all been attacked.

Major General Malyuk in front of the Ukranian parliament earlier

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