Ukrainian Camera Collector Faces 7 Years in Jail for Owning Soviet Spy Cameras


Collecting vintage equipment isn’t an uncommon hobby among photography and camera enthusiasts, but it is one that has apparently gotten one Ukrainian man in trouble with the law. A well-known collector and dealer named Alexandr Komarov (seen above) was recently arrested for possessing decades-old Soviet spy cameras, and now faces up to 7 years in prison for the offense.

Komarov was arrested earlier this month in the Eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk for possessing two F-21 cameras (also known as the Ajax-12) made by the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Factory. Although these cameras were created in the mid-1900s, the Criminal Code of Ukraine (specifically article 359) continues to classify them as illegal contraband and a means of espionage.

The law states that the transportation and trade of this equipment is punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Although most of the laws do not appear to apply to Komarov and his cameras, charges are still being brought against him.

The F-21 is a well-known Soviet half-frame camera that’s designed specifically for concealed (spy) purposes. It was produced from 1951 through the mid-1990s, and can shoot an entire roll of film after being wound up a single time.



An anonymous source familiar with this case tells us that what’s “mind-boggling” is the fact that the F-21 is “technically identical” to the Zenit MF-1, an $800 camera that can be freely purchased around the world from Lomography.

The Zenit

The Zenit MF-1, sold by Lomography, is virtually the same camera as the F-21

“All Ukrainian collectors are the criminals if they possess” cameras such as the F-21, writes Komarov in a note posted to his website. “This law does not differentiate the modern and the out-of-date media,” and cameras produced half a century ago are still “considered as a spying media [sic].”

Komarov is scheduled for a court hearing on Tuesday of next week, and sympathetic camera collectors across the Web are currently trying to draw attention to Komarov’s case and get the story out to the world.

Image credits: Photographs of the F-21 courtesy of USSRPhoto

  • Rabi Abonour

    Is this a joke?

  • Ivor Wilson

    I hope so. Otherwise… f**k off, whoever is trying to impose such a ridiculous “law”, planet Earth really, really does not need you.

  • vinterchaos

    The sad part is this is hardly a small device by today’s standard, and is more obvious then a smartphone.

  • Aleksandar

    This is ridiculous, in todays modern world if someone would spy he would use spy watch, spy pen, spy pin, there are surveilance cameras everywhere, satelites, phones and many other things that can be used for surveilance or recording video/audio. Unfortunaly i can understand the case, some laws are just too old and outdated that can lead you to this kind of trouble. Im not saying it’s right to acuse him, but that’s the law. We are facing with many problems with outdated laws in our country too.

  • Mantis

    Hell, even the Home Shopping Network sells stuff like that;

  • Spray and Pray

    It’s Bond, James Bond comrade. I wonder if it shoots ballistic missile at the end of its roll.

  • 4dmaze

    He should be taken out and shot. Vertically. With an iPhone.

  • faloc

    Pointless law…..eastern European countries FTL…

  • Sarpent

    I’m interested in *who* has it in for Mr. Komarov. There is probably someone behind this who has an axe to grind with Komarov, and this is just the means they’ve found to get at him.

  • kondex

    no, it is fucked-up post-communist country and outdated law.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    The case would be thrown out by anyone. If one wanted to engage in the kind of espionage these cameras are for then just use any cameraphone.
    I wonder if he would have been busted for the minox DCC 5.1?
    My sonly u20 was half the size of this AND had an integrated flash. I bet that’s not illegal in the Ukrain. And nor are i-phones I bet.
    If it was contemporary espionage photographic equipment, like a tie pin camera or such they might have a leg to stand on. But this is a criminal waste of court resources.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    I’m a sucker for the soviet espionage zenit photo sniper type cameras. They look awsome but are sure fire suicide by cop because you hold them just the way it sounds.

  • james

    35mm…belongs somewhere in the article.

  • kassim

    In America, you own camera. In former Soviet Russia, camera owns YOU!!!

  • Roberto

    The term “post-communist” really doesn’t belong here, save it. It’s just stupid, outdated law. In the States there are places where you can’t even be naked at home if your windows are wide-open. What is that? Post-cold-war state law?

  • Tom Waugh

    Perhaps if enough of us share / blog / retweet these details, the powers that be in the Ukraine will take notice of what is obviously a law that needs overhauling.

  • Graf Almassy

    I’m from East-Europe. My country is post-communist as Ukraine too. Some laws remain from the old-soviet era. At here if you possess “spy toys” you might getting jail for 4-8 years.

    Few years ago somebody ordered a ball pen and wristwatch with camera from US via airmail. After the package has caught on the border the “local SWAT” visit him during the night.

    In the laws are no detail about what is the “spy gadgets”.