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Sergei Nuzbrokh: This money was the last thing that people had who fled the war in the East

Ukrainian justice proved deaf to the pleas of Jewish refugees from Donetsk

On 18 February, the trial ended in which members of the Jewish community of Donetsk hoped to get the money back which was illegally confiscated from a safety deposit box by officers of the Ukrainian security service during a search of Alliance Bank on 22 December 2014.

The judge’s decision not only smashed the hopes for the forced refugees to get back their savings, but also their faith in the fairness of Ukrainian justice, which the injured party Sergei Nuzbrokh appealed to at every hearing – the entrusted agent of the community members and the holder of the safety deposit box that was broken into by employees of the “Alfa” special division.

Judge Valery Lashevich firmly and confidently gave the decision of the board of justice – to keep the personal savings of the refugees under arrest. “This decision cannot be appealed,” said Lashevich.

The arguments for this sentence were materials of the criminal case which were presented to the judge by a representative of the SBU at the last hearing, practically “behind closed doors”. As Lashevich himself explained, they concern the “possible involvement in the case” of Sergei Nuzbrokh. These speculations of the investigation were sufficient for the judge not to give the holder of the safety deposit box the savings of six members of the Jewish community of Donetsk and to keep the money under arrest.

According to the judge, he ascertained that in the criminal case the investigator suspected that Sergei did not keep these funds in the safety deposit box, but used them to carry out illegal exchange of currency, and that Sergei was a member of an illegal “conversion center”,

To recap, the SBU special division “Alfa” received the permission of the Pechersky court to search Alliance Bank, in order to search for evidence showing the involvement of 69 companies and 9 individuals in the activity of the “conversion center”. The list of individuals and companies was given in the “Court permission to search Alliance Bank”

The lawyer for Alliance Bank with the defendant of the Donetsk refugees

Jewishnews.com.ua previously reported that Nuzbrokh’s name was not on this list. The court did not explain when it appeared in the materials of the case. But it clearly state: “The name is included!” ignoring Nuzbrokh’s own statement that it was added later.

No one was able to review this case in full, not even the judges themselves. “These materials are now secret. When they are declassified, you will see everything. The court was able to read the excerpts and the section which were not kept secret by the investigation,” Judge Lashevich announced.

Accordingly, it remains a mystery on what basis the safety deposit box of Sergei Nuzbrokh was broken into on 22 December 2014, if the permission to search the bank (issued by the Pechersky court on 10 December 2014) only gave the law-enforcement bodies the right to search the safety deposit boxes of people from the list of suspects submitted by the bodies to the court.

And if at the previous hearing, the presiding judge Lashevich himself asked the prosecutor the same question: “What does Nuzbrokh have to do with the case?”, at this hearing the judge wondered: “Where did Sergei get his funds from?” This question automatically turned the defendant into the accused. According to Sergei Nuzbrokh’s lawyer, the judge did not have the right to ask this question at this trial. Nevertheless, Sergei presented all the documents confirming the legality of his savings, and once more asked to have the funds returned, “which were confiscated illegally and in violation of banking secrecy.” The judges reviewed the evidence submitted. But the questions did not end here.

Sergei Nuzbrokh in court

Judge Lashevich questioned Sergei in detail as to why he chose this small bank in particular to deposit his funds. He said that there were larger and more reliable banks, and even gave several examples, which he evidently considered to be better than the small Alliance Bank.

Sergei has an international degree in finance, so his reply was rather like a lecture on the topic “What financial indicators guarantee the reliability of a banking institution”. Among the factors listed by the judge, none were financial, and the criteria of “well-known” or “large” that he gave are not a guarantee of reliability, Sergei explained. After this illuminating discussion, the board of judges withdrew to confer.

The Kiev Court of Appeal delivered the verdict: the arrest of the funds which was permitted by the lower court remained valid.

“Give back what is ours!”

Sergei Nuzbrokh does not agree with this decision, and is prepared to go to a higher court and fight to the end. He intends to get back what was confiscated in the search, and says that for him this case is not just a question of his own finances which were stolen by the law-enforcement bodies, but a question of justice and honor, for the funds included savings of other members of the Jewish community.

“This money was the last thing that people had who fled the war in the East. Their houses were destroyed, and now their savings have been taken from them,” says Sergei.

For example, Stella Tarnopolskaya is now in urgent need of her savings. In the spring of 2014, she was forced to leave for Israel, saving her ailing 79-year-old mother. “We left in May. Shooting hadn’t started yet, but things were going that way. We couldn’t delay, my elderly mother has cancer, she needs constant treatment. We decided to leave for Israel. From our belongings, we only took a suitcase of 23 kilograms (the baggage weight for one plane passenger – editor’s note). We also had savings. I am a law-abiding citizen, and as Ukrainian law does not permit you to take more than $10,000 out of the country, I left the money in Ukraine – I gave it to a person whom we in the community trust, and whom we have known for a long time. This money is everything that my mother and I have saved, it’s all we have”

We didn’t plan to leave permanently, we fled from the war. My mother lived through the Great Patriotic War, she was in a reservation then. The events in Ukraine are her second shock. We thought that this would be for one or two months, and the war would end. And then we’d come back, to our native and beloved Donetsk. Then we realized that this was not the case. I adore Donetsk, I love my home and Ukraine, but as a daughter I don’t have the right to sentence my ailing mother to live through a second war and put her at risk, with her diagnosis. All the circumstances conspired against us: not only did we lose our beloved city, we also lost everything we had put aside for a “rainy day”. In December I got a phone call and was informed that the money that we had saved and put away had been stolen. It was a shock!” says Stella.


To recap, on 10 December 2014, the Pechersky court satisfied the application of SBU investigator Dmitry Alexeenko “partially”, allowing him to conduct a search, and remove documents and magnetic media from Alliance Bank. The court refused Alexeenko’s request to confiscate money in the search of the bank. But this fact did not stop anyone!

The search took place on 22 December. During the search, officers from the SBU special division “Alfa” not only opened the safety boxes of the people involved in the case, but also of people who were not on the investigator’s list. All the contents of the boxes, including the savings in them, were confiscated without witnesses and proper documentation.
Among the safety boxes opened was a box held by a member of the board of trustees of the Donbass Jewish community, Sergei Nuzbrokh. This box contained savings belonging to refugees from Donetsk, which was left there for safe-keeping by forced repatriates to Israel.

On 27 January, the Pechersky district court allowed the SBU to arrest what was confiscated in the search, including the money. The case was then sent to the Court of Appeal, where all parties who were affected in the search, including Alliance Bank, attempted to prove the illegality of the SBU officers’ actions. They gave extensive evidence and showed the court that the rights of the bank and its depositors were violated. But all of the facts and evidence submitted did not convince the judges.

Six members of the Donbass Jewish community kept their money in the safety deposit box. Four of them are already citizens of Israel. Jewishnews.com.ua will follow the further development of the question of the money being returned to its lawful owners.

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