But after traveling more than 700 miles, the thieves were unable to use any of the equipment, as it had been locked remotely.
CNN has learned that the equipment was removed from an Agrotek dealership in Melitopol, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early March. In total, it is valued at nearly $5 million. The combines alone are worth $300,000 each.
CNN is not naming a contact in Melitopol familiar with the details of the case for their own safety.
The contact said the process began with the seizure of two combines, a tractor and a seed drill. Over the next few weeks, everything else was removed: a total of 27 pieces of agricultural machinery. One of the flatbed trucks used and filmed had a white “Z” painted on it and appeared to be a military truck.
The contact said there were rival groups of Russian troops: some would come in the morning and some in the evening.
Some of the machines were transported to a nearby village, but some of them embarked on a long overland journey to Chechnya more than 700 miles away. The sophistication of the machines, equipped with GPS, made it possible to follow its course. He was last located in the village of Zakhan Yurt in Chechnya.
The equipment transported to Chechnya, which included combine harvesters, can also be controlled remotely. “When the invaders drove the stolen harvesters into Chechnya, they realized they couldn’t even turn them on, because the harvesters were locked remotely,” the contact said.
The equipment now appears to be languishing on a farm near Grozny. But the contact said “it appears the hijackers have found consultants in Russia who are trying to circumvent the protection.”
“Even if they sell harvesters for parts, they will make some money,” the contact said.
Other sources in the Melitopol region say the theft by Russian military units has extended to grain stored in silos, in an area that produces hundreds of thousands of tons of crops a year.
A source told CNN that “the occupiers are offering local farmers a 50% to 50% profit split.” But farmers trying to work in areas occupied by Russian troops are unable to move their produce.
“Not a single elevator is working. None of the ports are working. You won’t take this grain of occupied territory anywhere.”
So Russian forces are simply taking the grain, the source said. “They steal it, 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 grain from the elevator in the city of Melitopol. They stole the elevator with private farms,” the mayor told CNN.