But after a trip of more than 700 miles, the thieves were unable to use any of the equipment – because it was locked remotely.
CNN has learned that the equipment has been removed from the Agrotek agency in Melitopol, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early March. Altogether it is worth about $5 million. The harvesters alone are worth $300,000.
CNN is not naming a contact at Melitopol who is familiar with the details of the case for their safety.
The contact said the operation began with the capture of two combine harvesters, a tractor and a sower. Over the next few weeks, everything else was removed: in all 27 farm machinery. One of the used flatbed trucks captured on camera had a white “Z” on it and looked like a military truck.
The call said there were competing groups of Russian troops: some would come in the morning, some in the evening.
Some of the machines were moved to a nearby village, but some embarked on the long road trip to Chechnya, more than 700 miles away. The evolution of the GPS-equipped machine made it possible to track its path. He was last tracked to the village of Zakhan Yurt in Chechnya.
Equipment brought to Chechnya, which included combine harvesters – can also be remotely controlled. “When the invaders drove the stolen reapers to Chechnya, they realized that they could not even operate it, because the reapers were remotely closed,” the source said.
Now it seems that equipment is scattered on a farm near Grozny. But the call said it “appears that the kidnappers have found advisers in Russia trying to bypass protection.”
“Even if they sold combine harvesters for spare parts, they would still make some money,” the source said.
Other sources in the Melitopol region say that the theft by Russian military units extended to grain kept in silos, in an area that produces hundreds of thousands of tons of crops annually.
“The occupiers are offering local farmers to share their profits by 50% to 50%,” one source told CNN. But farmers trying to work in the areas occupied by Russian forces are not able to transport their products.
“Not a single elevator is working. None of the ports are working. You will not take this grain from the occupied territories anywhere.”
The source said that the Russian forces are simply taking the grain. “They steal it and take it to Crimea and that’s it.”
Last week, the mayor of Melitopol posted a video showing a convoy of trucks leaving Melitopol allegedly loaded with grain.
“We have clear evidence that they unloaded the grain load of the Melitopol city elevator. They stole the elevator and the private farms,” the mayor told CNN.