Brazen as­sas­si­na­tion of ac­tivist fu­els cli­mate of fear in Ukraine


High-pro­file as­sas­si­na­tions and at­tempted ones are oc­cur­ring with dis­turb­ing reg­u­lar­ity in Kyiv.

Less than a week af­ter a blast the Oct. 25 killed two peo­ple and wounded three, in­clud­ing law­maker Ihor Mosiy­chuk, there was a brazen at­tack on two prom­i­nent mil­i­tary ac­tivists.

Vol­un­teer fighter and ac­tivist Amina Okuyeva was killed in the am­bush late on Oct. 30 near the vil­lage of Hl­e­vakha, 10 kilo­me­ters south­west of Kyiv.

Okuyeva, 34, was in a car be­ing driven by her hus­band, Adam Os­mayev, a Chechen man whom Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties ac­cuse of plot­ting to kill Rus­sian President Vladimir Putin. As they drove near a level cross­ing, hail of bul­lets hit them in the dark­ness, fired from an au­to­matic ri­fle.

Okuyeva was hit in the head and died at the scene. Os­mayev was wounded and hos­pi­tal­ized.

Po­lice have opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pre­med­i­tated mur­der.

There has been a string of as­sas­si­na­tions in Kyiv dur­ing the last year, which have tar­geted jour­nal­ists, sol­diers, and law­mak­ers. Se­cu­rity forces have proved un­able to keep the Ukrainian cap­i­tal se­cure, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors are yet to solve most of the cases.

And the lat­est mur­der has ratch­eted up crit­i­cism of the coun­try’s law en­force­ment another notch.

First at­tempt

Okuyeva and Os­mayev made the head­lines on June 1 when a first as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on them failed in Kyiv. On that oc­ca­sion, Okuyeva re­turned fire and wounded the would-be as­sas­sin.

The hit­man had in­tro­duced him- self as jour­nal­ist Alex Werner from the French news­pa­per Le Monde. Po­lice later iden­ti­fied the at­tacker as Ar­tur Denisul­tanov-Kur­makayev. In the 1990s, Denisul­tanov-Kur­makayev was as­so­ci­ated with a Chechen or­ga­nized crime group oper­at­ing in St. Peters­burg, and he once ap­peared on Rus­sian TV to speak as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Okuyeva and Os­mayev were pro­vided with state se­cu­rity guards af­ter the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion, but gave up us­ing them af­ter a few months.

Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties blamed Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices for the at­tack.

In 2007, the Rus­sians ac­cused Os­mayev of plot­ting to kill the Krem­lin-backed leader of Chech­nya, Ramzan Kady­rov. The case col­lapsed for lack of ev­i­dence, and Os­mayev moved to Ukraine.

In 2012, Os­mayev was ar­rested in Ukraine and charged with pos­ses­sion of il­le­gal ex­plo­sives, dam­ag­ing pri­vate prop­erty, and forgery. At the re­quest of Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties, he was charged with plot­ting to kill Vladimir Putin. In late 2014, the post-Maidan Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties dropped the charge.

In 2014, Os­mayev en­tered the vol­un­teer Dzhokar Du­dayev Bat­tal­ion

com­prised mostly of Chechens who had fled Kady­rov’s regime to the West. In 2015, Os­mayev be­came a com­man­der of the bat­tal­ion af­ter the death of Bri­gadier General Isa Mu­nayev in the Bat­tle of De­balt­seve.

Who was Okuyeva?

Okuyeva was born in the south­ern Ukrainian city of Odesa to a Chechen fa­ther and Pol­ish mother and had lived in Moscow and Grozny, the cap­i­tal of Chech­nya, the home of her par­ents. She re­turned to her home­town in 2003 be­cause of the war in Chech­nya. There she stud­ied medicine and worked as a doc­tor in the sur­gi­cal depart­ment at an Odesa hospi­tal, where she met her fu­ture hus­band Os­mayev.

As Rus­sia's war erupted in the Don­bas in 2014, Okuyeva joined the vol­un­teer Kyiv-2 Bat­tal­ion. She was of­fi­cially listed there as a para­medic, but even­tu­ally took part in bat­tles, in­clud­ing in De­balt­seve and Chor­nukhino. Later she worked as a spokesper­son for the Chechen Dzhokhar Du­dayev Bat­tal­ion, made up mostly of Chechens who had fled Kady­rov’s regime.

In sum­mer, Okuyeva con­tacted ATR TV chan­nel with an idea for her own show, “The Heroes of the Cau­ca­sus,” re­fer­ring to the re­publics of Chech­nya, In­gushetiya and Dages­tan, a con­flict-rid­den re­gion con­sid­ered to be the long­est ac­tive war zone in the world.

“I was amazed by her tal­ent,” said Khrystyna Bon­darenko, the chief ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer at ATR, adding that Okuyeva handed in a flaw­less sce­nario for the pi­lot and tire­lessly searched for ar­chive video.

For Okuyeva, the TV show was part of her fight, ac­cord­ing to Bon­darenko, who learned about Okuyeva’s mur­der as she was work­ing on a pro­mo­tion for Okuyeva’s show on Oct. 30.

The pi­lot of the show aired on Nov. 1. It was the only episode that Okuyeva fin­ished.

“She didn’t seem a very open per­son at first, but when you started talk­ing to her, she al­ways im­pressed you with a sin­cere smile,” Bon­darenko re­calls. “Every time she came to our news­room, she was with Adam. They were al­ways to­gether. And al­ways in light body ar­mor and with­out se­cu­rity.”

Sus­pected or­ga­niz­ers

In a short video in­ter­view with, Os­mayev, sit­ting on a hospi- tal bed, said that the at­tack on him and his wife was or­dered by the same peo­ple as the at­tempt in June: Rus­sia’s se­cu­rity forces.

Ukrainian in­ves­ti­ga­tors are pur­su­ing two main the­o­ries: a hit by Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, or a re­venge at­tack by Chechen Repub­lic fighters. Both have been crit­i­cal of Kady­rov’s regime.

“Kady­rov’s fighters are traitors,” Okuyeva said in 2014. “There is noth­ing worse than a na­tional be­trayal and abet­ting the oc­cu­piers. Th­ese are the peo­ple who went to serve long-time mur­der­ers, the ex­e­cu­tion­ers of their peo­ple, who are forced to de­stroy their peo­ple.”

How­ever, Chechen strong­man Kady­rov blamed the Ukrainian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices for the mur­der in­stead.

“In Kyiv, they per­fectly knew that (she) was mer­ci­lessly killed by the Ukrainian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices,” Kady­rov wrote in his Tele­gram so­cial medium chan­nel.

Next steps

Vy­ach­eslav Tseluiko, an ex­pert of Cen­ter for Army, Con­ver­sion and Dis­ar­ma­ment Stud­ies, doubts that Ukraine can do much to pre­vent such at­tacks in fu­ture.

“It’s up to the ter­ror­ists to pick the vic­tims, place, time and meth­ods, and the coun­try can’t be proac­tive in terms of se­cur­ing lives, be­cause it lacks the re­sources — mostly hu­man,” Tseluiko said.

“Prob­a­bly, the only per­son who’s pro­tected enough is the president. The only thing that might help re­store the im­age of Ukraine’s law en­force­ment is well-planned op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­ity and ex­pos­ing ter­ror­ist groups.”

Amina Okuyeva, Ukrainian cit­i­zen and a Chechen pa­triot, speaks dur­ing a rally called Heroes of the Cau­ca­sus killed by Moscow Oc­cu­pants out­side of the Rus­sian em­bassy in Kyiv on April 24, 2016. Okuyeva was killed late on Oct. 10 in the vil­lage of...

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