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.
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.”
In a short video interview with LB.ua, 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.
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 Hlevakha, 10 kilometers southwest of Kyiv. (Volodymyr Petrov)