The Ukraine War gave dealers from the breakaway pro-Russian states in east Ukraine a chance to expand their presence. Online marketplaces offering synthetic drugs in the ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ eventually started selling their goods in the Russia-occupied cities of Mariupol and Kherson in early September.
On 6 September users of drug-related Telegram chat rooms of east Ukraine received multiple messages from the CaifCoin, a local drugs marketplace. The dealers announced that they were opening business in Mariupol. Now anyone can use its Telegram bot to buy methadone, hash, α-PVP or amphetamine and pick up their stash in Mariupol. The prices are the same as in Luhansk and Donetsk, and one can pay for their order using bitcoin or P2P transaction to a Russian debit card.
A reporter for Novaya Gazeta. Europe bought some drugs off CaifCoin to check how the scheme works. This here is the location of the stash (we cropped the image so that the substance could not be actually found). To find the location we used coordinates CaifCoin sent us in exchange for the money.
It took CaifCoin at least two and a half months to start their business in Mariupol: they began posting on local drug-related forums and spamming similar Telegram channels looking for someone who would make the stashes in Mariupol as early as late June. Meanwhile, drinking water supply was still limited in the city. A huge delivery of drugs was hidden somewhere in the city in early July, and Mariupol appeared as an option in CaifCoin’s bot interface. However, the drugs became available for purchase only a few days ago:
it looks as if CaifCoin found it challenging to hire a person who would agree to make stashes around the city for a wage of 320 rubles (€5.30) per stash.
So how did we find out about this?
A Telegram channel called Mariupol Survivors reported that someone was hiring a person to deliver drugs around the city on 24 June. The channel is run by Inna who used to live in Mariupol earlier. She told Novaya Gazeta. Europe that many subscribers had complained about spam messages they received; those were looking for dope runners. Other Mariupol channels also reported this. Perhaps the messages were sent to all subscribers of Mariupol-related chats — or a database of Mariupol-registered phone numbers was used instead. We contacted the recruiter, but they refused to tell us who their employer was without a money deposit.
A user at Legalizer, a drug-related Ukrainian forum, has told a Novaya Gazeta. Europe reporter that CaifCoin was looking for someone to deliver and stash their goods. When our reporter contacted their representative pretending to be a job applicant, he was instructed to contact the same recruiter Inna told us about.
Another user named mister-brooklyn created a discussion at RuTor, a dark web forum, on 21 June where they were looking for stashers, taggers (those who would spray paint walls with the shop’s ads) and a car driver in Mariupol and Volnovakha, two settlements almost entirely destroyed by Russia’s army. Volnovakha is located halfway between Mariupol and Donetsk. The town was also added as an option at CaifCoin, although no stashes were available for purchase.
The person named mister-brooklyn has a “headhunter” badge on their forum profile, meaning that their job is to post job ads and hire dope runners all across Russia. We contacted the user, and they offered us the same job conditions as the previous recruiter: 320 rubles per stash in wages and a deposit: either 5,000 rubles (€82) or a selfie with an ID. The user posted a job ad looking for dope runners in Luhansk and Donetsk the same day. It appears as if mister-brooklyn also works for CaifCoin, although they refused to mention their employer when we spoke to them.
“My dear friend, there are lots of drugs up there already, and there are also soldiers, I know it’s a disaster, but it’s my job and I do what I’m told to do,”
they replied to another forum user two weeks after they posted a job ad. It was then when the previous recruiter told the Novaya Gazeta. Europe reporter that the bulk delivery had already been stashed in Mariupol and that it could be picked up right after the deposit was made.
Russia’s servicemen in Mariupol, the spring of 2022. Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The vacancy had been available for the following two months, so it’s fair to say finding the right person was a challenge. On 28 July, mister-brooklyn opened another discussion on RuTor where they hired people in the Russia-occupied cities, including Mariupol. Our reporter then registered a new account and contacted the first recruiter again only to find out the job ad was still relevant, and the stash was still there to grab.
Who’s behind this?
We found no mention of CaifCoin on any Russian or Ukrainian drug-related forums. The shop operates via a Telegram channel and a website available on the Clearnet (i.e., publicly available part of the Internet, as opposed to Darknet). Users of Donetsk and Luhansk drug-related chatrooms confirm that the shop is actually selling drugs. One of them told us the shop had been active for less than a year (its website was registered in December 2021).
Mariupol’s drug trade started to recover in July when Ukraine’s drug shops regained their presence earlier than the Luhansk or Donetsk ones did. The earliest offer to buy some α-PVP in Mariupol we could find was of 15 July.
It seems clear that there is demand for drugs in the city: a total of 78 reviews on the local α-PVP stashes were posted in a separate channel for users’ reviews between 31 July and 12 September, most of them had photos attached.
Our sources say that the Luhansk or Donetsk shops were not present in Mariupol prior to 24 February. Both of our sources then refused to tell us any more details and deleted the chats, abandoning the conversation.
Another L/DPR-based shop called Respublika sells α-PVP in the Russia-occupied city of Kherson; its opening was announced on the Legalizer forum in May 2021. The websites of both Respublika and CaifCoin are hosted by Ukraine’s company Zomro.
It is unclear when exactly Respublika started selling drugs in Kherson; the shop’s “sales assistant” only told us that it had “recently appeared in the city.” The earliest mention of Respublika we managed to find was of 15 June.
“I hope the shop will be a good one because other shops cannot offer decent service in our city at the moment,” a user named RCclub from Kherson wrote about Respublika in a forum discussion. Most Ukrainian shops we found do not have Kherson as an option now.
A separate Telegram channel was set up on 17 August where Respublika shares personal data of pushers who deceived the shop. There are credentials of five young people there now. Anyone willing to beat them up, humiliate them and film the whole thing is offered a $200-300 reward.
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