The Security Service of Ukraine announced on Tuesday that it has thwarted an attempt by a Russian-coordinated network to use anti-vaccine activists to destabilize Ukraine.
The network of anti-vaxxers planned to create their own communities within Ukraine with their own police and own economy. Communications from the group showed that they were planning to obtain weapons and seize power in several regions, among other illegal activities.
The SSU stated that evidence investigators seized indicated possible financing of the activity from the Russian Federation.
The leader of the group and a Russian citizen have been informed that they are suspected of taking actions aimed at forceful change or overthrow of the constitutional order or take-over of the government.
Although the SSU did not name the suspects, Ukrainian media reported that Ostap Stakhiv, an anti-vax leader in Lviv in western Ukraine, was arrested on Tuesday as part of the case.
According to the BBC, an anti-vax and pro-Russian activist published a video titled "We do not abandon our people in the war. I am going to Lviv," with the Mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovyi responding with outrage in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
"This person is a citizen, I don't know of what country, 'going to Lviv for war,'" wrote Sadovyi. "We have a war going on against the aggressor country in the east. What Stakhiv and his associates were doing here was fooling the brains of people who, unfortunately, did not develop immunity from propaganda and other information s*&%."
The mayor stressed that he could see "in whose interests" these bots worked and called on the SSU and police to "prevent events that contradict common sense and the law of Ukraine." Sadovyi wished the "pseudo-activists and 'defenders of rights' a truly fair trial."
The operation comes as Russia is building up forces along its border with Ukraine, with concerns that it may be preparing for a possible invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies any such intentions.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that Western countries were violating the Minsk agreements which ended fighting in eastern Ukraine in 2015 by saying they were ready to send military forces and weapons to Ukraine, according to TASS.
"Regrettably, we have to say that Kiev’s warmongering receives support from the United States and its NATO allies. They are stepping up efforts to increase their presence in Ukraine and in the Black Sea region in military terms," said Zakharova, claiming that Ukraine was preparing to use force in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.