That was until a final ruling this month sent dozens of armed
police and plainclothes officials through the Ukrainian-owned
chocolate factory she manages in southern Russia.
Her factory now shuttered, Voronina, who wants little to do with
politics, fears she may become another victim in a struggle for
influence between Russia and the West in Ukraine.
Dozens of men searched her office, took away armfuls of documents
and questioned the general director for most of the night, asking
questions she said had little to do with the criminal case which has
been opened against her — a case she rejects.
She is charged with conspiring with unnamed others to use a
registered trademark illegally to "extract additional profits". Her
factory workers in the town of Lipetsk suspect they know better.
"It's because of Ukraine," they whisper, blaming the lack of work on
the factory's owners, the company Roshen and its billionaire boss,
Petro Poroshenko, front-runner in Ukraine's presidential election.
With work now stopped and the factory's accounts frozen, Ukraine has
called the move "a dangerous precedent", a possible prelude to the
confiscation of Ukrainian businesses in Russia as punishment for
pursuing closer ties with the West.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin,
denies any political connection to the case in Lipetsk, saying it is
"unjust to say that certain selective measures are undertaken
against certain companies".
"Russia is interested in maintaining an atmosphere of trust to its
investment and business climate," he said.
But critics say Russia, no stranger to using its economic muscle for
geopolitical ends, has squeezed assets controlled by businessmen
close to Ukraine's new rulers, focusing on people like 'Chocolate
King' Poroshenko, who could win a May 25 presidential election.
In retaliation, Ukraine has vowed to file compensation claims for
assets lost to Russia in Crimea, signaling it could also confiscate
Russian assets if not satisfied — a move that would fire up what for
now is a simmering economic feud.
In what has become the worst standoff in relations between the East
and West since the Cold War, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine
after the Ukrainian parliament removed Moscow-backed Viktor
Yanukovich as president and set a course for closer integration with
The new court case is a body blow to a woman who has spent the last
45 years raising the factory in the center of Lipetsk, a dusty city
440 km (275 miles) southeast of Moscow, "as if it were my child".
"We cannot understand what is happening and why," Voronina said in
an interview, sitting behind a large desk in an office now restored
to its original orderliness after plainclothes men arrived on March
19 to search for documents.
COURT CASES, BANS
Although she does not understand why anyone would want to close a
profitable factory and make about 2,000 workers redundant, Voronina
says her business has been under scrutiny for some time.
Last year, Russia's consumer watchdog banned imports of Roshen
sweets from Ukraine, citing health concerns.
In 2010, a competitor brought a court case against the business for
using a trademark it had the rights to — a silhouette of a swallow
made famous on Soviet-era sweets. Sometimes the decisions went in
her favor, sometimes not.
On March 18, the court ruled against the factory in the trademark
case. The next day, the men in plainclothes arrived, backed by armed
riot police. The business's accounts were frozen and workers were
told to leave.
"We are a Russian confectionary producer using foreign capital. Our
shares were acquired by a Ukrainian company, it was a market
transaction," she said, adding that her investors had never asked
for dividends, happy to plough profits back into the company to
employ 2,000 workers from 300 in Soviet times.
After becoming part of the Roshen empire at the end of 2001,
Voronina said production leapt from about 6,000 tons in Soviet
times to 122,000 tons of confectionary in 2013.
"I cannot say anything bad about our investors ... they are our
partners, they are our owners and they have never done anything bad
to us. They have just developed this factory."
Roshen declined to comment further on the situation in Lipetsk,
saying only that the factory was closed.
But for the women selling chocolates in a kiosk outside the factory
gates, the reason for the closure is obvious. Asked whether they
sold Roshen chocolates, the answer was a firm "No".
"You won't find those chocolates here; they're Ukrainian," one of
the vendors said.
[to top of second column]
Mikhail Podchipayev, a worker from the factory, agreed.
"It's all about Maidan," he said, referring to the square in the
Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where the anti-government protests that
resulted in Yanukovich's removal began more than four months ago.
The factory had been one of the most popular employers in this city
of just over half a million people, but the trickle of workers who
enter the building now gossip about rumors of how the management
paid Ukrainians more money and were cheating the Russians. Some feel
embarrassed to work for Ukrainians, swept up in a wave of Russian
patriotism since Moscow annexed Crimea.
"There were people working here without the right documents," said
one worker, a Croat who declined to give his name. "Poroshenko
should have run a clean operation."
Voronina denies all the charges, but the reputation of the factory
she spent years building is in jeopardy, the latest victim of
increasing hostility between Russia and Ukraine, once called a
brotherly nation by President Vladimir Putin.
The factory is not alone.
Russia has put the Moscow subsidiary of Ukraine's Privatbank under
temporary administration, a move its chairman said was the result of
"political tensions in relations" but which the central bank says
was aimed at preventing its bankruptcy.
Privatbank, Ukraine's largest bank, is part of Privat group,
co-founded and co-owned by billionaire businessman Igor Kolomoisky,
who was appointed governor of the industrial Dnipropetrovsk region
in eastern Ukraine a month ago.
Called "a unique imposter" by Putin, Kolomoisky has kept silent over
the temporary administration but some critics say Russia's behavior
is part of a strategy to make it as difficult as possible for
Ukraine to turn around its economy.
A spokesman for Russia's economy ministry said last week Moscow has
"the right to use selective protective measures against Ukraine if
it creates a free trade zone with a third government, or with the
On the brink of bankruptcy, Ukraine has won a financial lifeline
worth $14-18 billion from the International Monetary Fund, taking
the former Soviet state directly out of Russia's sphere of
Bans and trade restrictions are ready weapons. On March 20, Russian
border guards stepped up checks on some goods entering from Ukraine
in what officials said were measures to prevent arms trafficking and
stop the use of fake documentation.
The West has praised Ukraine for showing restraint to economic and
military pressure from Russia, which has massed thousands of troops
at the border.
But Kiev is not biding its time. It will file compensation claims
with international courts and is currently assessing the value of
Russian state property in Ukraine, said Justice Minister Pavel
Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said the annexation of Crimea could
cost Ukraine "hundreds of billions of dollars".
"Russia can be calm. She will in the shortest time possible receive
from international courts claims from the Ukrainian state," he said.
For Voronina, it suggests that her problems at the factory will not
disappear any time soon.
"This kind of case could go on for a long time and the factory just
stands still," she said, clutching the documents containing the
indictment which she calls "absurd".
"I just cannot tell what will happen next. We have money but cannot
use it ... We believe this is a classic scheme to force bankruptcy."
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Alexei
Anishchuk; editing by Timothy Heritage and Janet McBride)
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