But on February 26, when the ship docked on the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean, everything changed.
Ostapchuk saw media reports of a Russian missile attack on a residential building in his hometown of Kyiv. It was similar to the one he lived in with his wife when he was not on board the ship.
At that moment, he said, “I think my house might be next.” It was then that he decided to sink the yacht. “That was my first step towards war with Russia.”
In an interview with CNN from Ukraine, Ostapchuk, 55, said he linked the devastation in his hometown directly to the man he calls the owner of “Lady Anastasia”: Russian oligarch Alexander Mikheev. He is the chief executive of the Russian arms company Rosoboronexport, which sells everything from helicopters to tanks, missile systems and submarines.
Ostapchuk decided his mission: to flood Lady Anastasia.
And perhaps no other asset more clearly symbolized how Putin’s aides flourished under his rule than the oligarchs’ yachts, some almost as long as the Washington Monument, sporting helipads, swimming pools and extravagantly luxurious interiors.
Ostapchuk said he went to the Lady Anastasia’s engine room, where he opened a valve connected to the ship’s hull. As water gushed in, he headed for the crew quarters, where he opened another valve.
“In addition to me, there were three other crew members on board. I announced to them that the ship was sinking and they should leave,” he said in Russian.
hide and seek
By most standards, the Lady Anastasia, with a crew of nine, is luxurious: a master suite with a Carrara marble bath; cabins for 10 guests; jacuzzi on the sun deck, stabilized against the movement of the ship, and so on.
Russian oligarchs own some of the most luxurious yachts in the world. The 512-foot Dilbar yacht is owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, according to the Finance Ministry, which on March 3 designated Dilbar as a “blocked property.” There are two helipads and cabins for dozens of guests. Usmanov did not respond to CNN’s questions about the yacht.
Or take the yacht Amore Vero, which was seized by the French authorities on March 2nd. She is said to be linked to Igor Sechin, a sanctioned Russian oil executive and Putin ally. (The company that runs the vessel denies that it belongs to Sechin.) A former crew member of the yacht, who asked not to be named because he signed a non-disclosure agreement, said the Amore Vero has a safe room at the lowest level. deck.
“This was not even on the official drawings of the boat,” he said. “There was a secret door with a hidden camera. And you could push back the wall, and inside there were beds, emergency communications, a bathroom and video surveillance.”
Although officials in various countries attribute ownership of the yachts to Russian oligarchs, the documentary trail between the vessel and the owner is usually hidden and goes through front companies and complex legal structures. Spain, for example, says it has “temporarily held up” the yachts while it clears ownership.
Mikheev was sanctioned by the US State Department on March 15.
When CNN attempted to contact Mikheev about ownership of Lady Anastasia, a Rosoboronexport spokesman responded by email that the company “never comments on any information about the personal lives of employees and their property, except as required by the laws of the Russian Federation.” ”
But Ostapchuk said he had no doubts. “You know, if a creature looks like a dog, barks like a dog, bites like a dog, then it’s a dog. Therefore, if within ten years the yacht [was] used only for recreation [by] Mikheev and his family, I think that he is definitely the real owner of this yacht.”
Meanwhile, according to MarineTraffic, at least half a dozen other yachts linked to Russian oligarchs have stopped transmitting position data altogether in recent weeks.
“It’s unusual,” Hatzimanolis said of the dark yachts. “But for these yachts and their owners, these are unprecedented times. They try not to interfere and get to destinations where they will not be sanctioned.”
“You must choose”
After he began filling the compartments, Ostapchuk told the three other crew members on board what he had done.
According to him, they were also Ukrainians. But, fearful that he had just put them out of work, they yelled at him that he was crazy, according to a brief statement on his charge.
Then they called the port authorities and the police. Port workers brought a water pump and prevented the boat from sinking. Ostapchuk was arrested.
“I made a statement to the police that I tried to sink the boat as a political protest against Russian aggression,” he told CNN.
“You have to choose. Either you are with Ukraine or you are not. You have to choose whether you will have Ukraine or you will have a job… I don’t need a job if I don’t have Ukraine.”
In some cases, these jobs may be at risk anyway. On March 15, Spanish authorities temporarily detained Lady Anastasia while they investigate whether she is subject to European sanctions and whether she can be arrested. It was one of three yachts linked to Russian oligarchs arrested that week. Others were captured or detained in France, Germany, Italy and Gibraltar.
On March 7, the company that manages the Dilbar yacht fired all 96 crew members, saying the sanctions were interfering with the normal operation of the ship, Forbes reported.
Sanctions against Russian oligarchs seem to have caused problems and confusion among some yacht crews. Earlier this month, the Nautilus International seafarers’ union held a Q&A session with yachting professionals and received questions such as “Should we retire from all Russian yachts?” and “What am I due if I am fired/fired due to sanctions on my vessel?” Union representatives advised members to check the terms of their contracts.
“They should be held accountable”
When CNN spoke to Ostapchuk of Ukraine on Wednesday, the conversation was immediately interrupted by reports of an impending Russian attack. Later, when Ostapchuk returned from the shelter, he said that as soon as the Spanish authorities released him on February 27, he returned to Ukraine.
“Now I serve in the army, and I hope that my service will bring our victory closer,” he said.
He added that he hoped Putin-backed oligarchs would feel the brunt of the sanctions.
“They must be held accountable, because it was they who, with their behavior, their way of life, their unquenchable greed, led to this … To distract the people from the real robbery of Russia by these rulers who arrange distracting wars with other countries that are innocent” .
Drew Griffin of CNN and Yahya Abu-Ghazala contributed to this report.