Ukrainian hacker
A hacker from Ukrainian ‘hactivist’ group RUH8 is seen during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Nov. 3, 2016. REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

Two Ukrainian hackers claimed responsibility for a major Kremlin breach that compromised the accounts of top Russian officials. Several of the emails they claimed to have hacked belonged to an important Kremlin figure, former Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov.

The so-called “hacktivists” told the BBC that they are not affiliated to Ukraine or security agencies. They refused to reveal how they hacked Surkov’s email account. A portion of the hacked emails, which were shared with the BBC, imply that separatists in eastern Ukraine are controlled by Moscow. The separatists have been at war with Kiev since 2014.

The two hackers said they hacked into accounts belonging to officials “for our country, for our freedom and against the war.” They added that hacking is “more ethical” than “killing people.”

The emails reportedly contain budgets for the pro-Russian “republics” in eastern Ukraine. They also contain a plan in which Moscow would provide fuel to separatist-held areas. One email supposedly sent by separatist leader Denis Pushilin features a map of Ukraine divided into three regions of which the eastern portion is labeled “Novorossiya” (New Russia) and the central region, “Malorossiya” (Lesser Russia).

A list of separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine was also sent to Surkov. Some emails claim that Russia is also financing opposition groups in other parts of Ukraine.

Ukrainian hacking collective CyberJunta, meanwhile, had leaked a large number of emails from Surkov’s account late October. The emails pointed to Russian involvement with separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin dismissed the leak with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman calling the compromised account fake and suggesting Surkov never used email.

The account that was compromised, however, was not Surkov’s but an aide’s.