Odesa Ac­tivists Blame Trukhanov For At­tacks

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OKSANA GRYTSENKO [email protected]

ODESA, Ukraine — On Sept. 22, ac­tivist Oleg Mykhai­lyk was walk­ing home in Odesa when he felt a burn­ing pain in his chest. He was shot. Mykhai­lyk man­aged to walk an­other 100 me­ters to his home. Be­fore los­ing con­scious­ness, he asked neigh­bors to call an am­bu­lance. Doc­tors had to re­sus­ci­tate him there.

More than a month later, the bul­let is still lodged in Mykhai­lyk’s left lung. It pierced his arm and a rib, but didn’t reach the heart. Po­lice ar­rested three sus­pects, but Mykhai­lyk re­mains fear­ful. He wears a bul­let- proof vest when he leaves home and is ac­com­pa­nied by state-pro­vided body­guards.

He be­lieves some­one wanted to kill him be­cause of his ac­tivism against il­le­gal con­struc­tion in Odesa. He also be­lieves that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ei­ther or­dered the shoot­ing or know who did.

“I’ve never had and don’t have any con­flicts be­sides those with groups di­rectly linked to the city au­thor­i­ties of Odesa, in­clud­ing its mayor," a weak and pale Mykhai­lyk, 45, told jour­nal­ists out­side his house on Oct. 5.

Mykhai­lyk is one of at least 14 civic ac­tivists who have been at­tacked this year in Odesa, the south­ern Black Sea port city of 1 mil­lion res­i­dents lo­cated 475 kilo­me­ters south of Kyiv.

The at­tacks have prompted in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

On Sept. 22, the U. S. Em­bassy in Ukraine re­sponded to the at­tack on Mykhai­lyk. "Such at­tacks are be­com­ing all too com­mon and must stop. He and the peo­ple of Ukraine de­serve a quick, trans­par­ent, and thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” the em­bassy wrote on Twit­ter.

On Oct. 29, Delia Fer­reira Ru­bio, chair­woman of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, urged Ukraine's au­thor­i­ties to “take strong ac­tion” against the per­pe­tra­tors.

The Kyiv Post in­ter­viewed seven of the vic­tim­ized ac­tivists. They are peo­ple with dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tions who rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions. But they all have one thing in com­mon: They have crit­i­cized Mayor Hen­nady Trukhanov and his mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tion.

They say that Trukhanov, who has run the city since 2015, is a crony of shady busi­ness­men Alexan­der Angert and Vladimir Galanternik. Trukhanov ad­mits to be­ing friends with Angert and Galanternik, but has re­peat­edly de­nied hav­ing any links to cor­rup­tion or crim­i­nal­ity.

How­ever, an Ital­ian po­lice dossier from 1998 iden­ti­fies Trukhanov and Angert as mem­bers of a mafia gang. It was pub­lished by the Or­ga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion Re­port­ing Project, a Kyiv Post part­ner, in 2016.

An April 23, 2018 re­port by the BBC, cit­ing doc­u­ments from the Par­adise Pa­pers — a mas­sive leak of doc­u­ments ex­pos­ing off­shore com­pa­nies ser­viced by the Ap­pleby law firm — said the trio op­er­ated as part of a crim­i­nal gang im­pli­cated in mur­der as well as smug­gling arms and drugs in Odesa as far back as the 1990s.

To­day, lo­cal anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists say Angert, the al­leged ring­leader, along with Galanternik and Trukhanov, have turned Odesa into their pri­vate fief­dom, award­ing the most lu­cra­tive land and mu­nic­i­pal con­tracts to their own com­pa­nies.

Trukhanov's press ser­vice re­fused to re­spond to ac­cu­sa­tions of in­volve­ment in at­tacks on ac­tivists in Odesa and al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion.

The head of the press ser­vice, Na­talia Malt­seva, dis­missed the Kyiv Post’s re­quest for com­ment, say­ing the ac­tivists who suf­fered the at­tacks also crit­i­cized con­struc­tion by the KADORR Group, an Odesa de­vel­op­ment com­pany owned by Kyiv Post pub­lisher Adnan Ki­van.

Sev­eral ac­tivists in­deed crit­i­cized KADORR's con­struc­tion in Odesa's down­town, but none of them be­lieve Ki­van has any­thing to do with the at­tacks on them. In July, Trukhanov’s press ser­vice told the Kyiv Post that they “don’t com­ment on opin­ions” when asked about Trukhanov’s in­volve­ment in ear­lier at­tacks on ac­tivists.

The Kyiv Post was un­able to reach ei­ther Angert or Galanternik, both no­to­ri­ously public­ity-shy, for com­ment on ac­cu­sa­tions made against them.

Ac­tivists claim that Odesa, the pic­turesque city of 19th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­tural gems lo­cated on Ukraine’s sunny south­ern coast­line, is be­ing ru­ined by chaotic con­struc­tion and that the $355 mil­lion city bud­get is be­ing mis­used by Trukhanov’s cronies.

Ac­tivists who speak against the mayor say they don’t feel safe in Odesa, don’t trust the po­lice, and think law en­force­ment is not look­ing for those who or­dered the at­tacks.

They also be­lieve the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties in Kyiv are turn­ing a blind eye to crim­i­nal­ity in the city in ex­change for the mayor’s sup­port for the re-elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko in March.

“There will be more at­tacks like this closer to the elec­tions,” Mykhai­lyk said, re­fer­ring not only to the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial con­test, but also to par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Oc­to­ber 2019.

Oleg Mykhai­lyk

Mykhai­lyk doubts that the three petty crim­i­nals po­lice ar­rested on Sept. 25 were ac­tu­ally in­volved. The bul­let that re­mains lodged in his chest could help iden­tify the gun used, ei­ther prov­ing the sus­pects’ guilt, or con­firm­ing their al­ibi.

But his dis­trust in the au­thor­i­ties is so strong that he is afraid of hav­ing the bul­let re­moved, be­cause he thinks it can be switched for an­other one. The ac­tivist’s friends plan to send him abroad for the bul­let ex­trac­tion.

A for­mer sailor, Mykhai­lyk runs a small fam­ily busi­ness in­stalling surveil­lance cam­eras. He also heads the Odesa branch of the Syla Li­udey (Power of Peo­ple) po­lit­i­cal party, and has an­nounced he plans to run for mayor in the next elec­tions, sched­uled for 2020.

This isn’t the first at­tack on him. Mykhai­lyk was beaten by thugs in De­cem­ber 2013. He said that he no­ticed peo­ple fol­low­ing him be­fore the Septem­ber at­tack. Be­fore both at­tacks, Mykhai­lyk par­tic­i­pated in ral­lies against il­le­gal con­struc­tion and the de­fraud­ing of in­vestors in a de­vel­op­ment project.

Mykhai­lyk also used to host a TV show on the 7th Chan­nel, be­long­ing to Odesa de­vel­oper and Kyiv Post pub­lisher Ki­van. Mykhai­lyk claims he has never pro­moted any of Ki­van’s projects and has crit­i­cized con­struc­tion projects in the city cen- ter car­ried out by Ki­van’s KADORR Group.

Two of the other largest con­struc­tion com­pa­nies in Odesa are Ge­fest, owned by a Greek busi­ness­man Pan­telei­mon Bum­buras, and Bu­dova, a firm of­fi­cially owned by low-key lo­cals, but which all lo­cal ac­tivists claim ac­tu­ally be­longs to Galanternik.

The com­pany shares a reg­is­tra­tion ad­dress with Zevs, a se­cu­rity firm that pro­vides ser­vices to Trukhanov. One of Bu­dova’s co-own­ers also owns a firm that pre­vi­ously be­longed to a busi­ness part­ner of Galanternik.

Kozma and Kuza­kon

On the morn­ing of Aug. 2, in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Gry­goriy Kozma, 36, ar­rived in his car at the house of his friend Mykhailo Kuza­kon, 48, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and a lo­cal leader of the Nar­o­dny Rukh of Ukraine po­lit­i­cal party. Kozma drives to Kuza­kon’s home al­most ev­ery morn­ing to pick him up, and then drives him to the city cen­ter, where they both work.

Wait­ing in his car on a quiet side road, Kozma first no­ticed a man on a scooter pass­ing by, and then saw a pedes­trian — an ath­letic-look­ing man with a type of bag of­ten used to carry pis­tols. The man told some chil­dren nearby not to play on the road.

A few min­utes later, Kozma un­der­stood why the man had warned the chil­dren away from the road: a truck roared up at a high speed, head­ing straight for his car. Kozma jumped out of the ve­hi­cle an in­stant be­fore it was hit by the truck and slammed into a tree.

Kozma ran away. Look­ing back, he saw the driver of the truck run­ning away. He also no­ticed the two men he saw ear­lier stand­ing to­gether and talk­ing like they knew each other.

“Then I re­al­ized that the truck driver hadn’t made a mis­take and it had in fact been an at­tack,” Kozma said.

He took out his rub­ber bul­let pis­tol and fired two shots at the group. He re­al­ized they likely also had guns, so he ran back to his car.

On Aug. 3, the po­lice re­ported they had ar­rested three sus­pects. They were charged with at­tempted mur­der and an at­tack on a jour­nal­ist. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, the at­tack­ers were an­gered by ar­ti­cles that Kozma

pub­lished.

“I asked one of those ar­rested at the court hear­ing which part of my work had made him so an­gry that he wanted to kill me. And he an­swered that he has never seen me be­fore and wasn’t aware of my work,” Kozma said.

Kozma and Kuza­kon say they had re­ceived threats from deputies of Trukhanov’s fac­tion in the city coun­cil. Both are cer­tain that Trukhanov’s peo­ple were be­hind the at­tack as a reprisal for sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing one look­ing into the murky pur­chase of a for­mer build­ing of the Krayan en­gi­neer­ing plant.

The Odesa City Coun­cil bought the Krayan build­ing in 2016. Later the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine or NABU has charged Trukhanov and sev­eral other city of­fi­cials of steal­ing Hr 185 mil­lion (about $7.4 mil­lion) from the city bud­get when pur­chas­ing the build­ing through a fic­ti­tious com­pany. Kuza­kon and other ac­tivists are the plain­tiffs in the Krayan case, which is cur­rently be­ing heard in Odesa.

Vi­taliy Usty­menko

In the late af­ter­noon of June 5, Vi­taliy Usty­menko, the head of Odesa branch of the Av­tomaidan civic move­ment, walked out of the Sus­pilne TV com­pany of­fices to buy some wa­ter. Usty­menko, who is also a mem­ber of a civic watch­dog over­see­ing the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine, at that time hosted a TV talk show on the chan­nel.

Sud­denly, two thugs ap­proached him and started stab­bing him in the head with a home­made knife. Then they knocked him down, stabbed his hip and left him bleed­ing.

See­ing the at­tack, one of Usty­menko’s col­leagues from the TV chan­nel ran up to the at­tack­ers and scared them away. Usty­menko sur­vived, and his head wounds were stitched up. Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent as an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

Usty­menko, 25, who spends most of his time or­ga­niz­ing protests against il­le­gal con­struc­tion, says he is sure the at­tack­ers were com­mis­sioned by Trukhanov’s team.

“This is the group we mostly protest against — the dom­i­nant one in the re­gion. This is the group of Trukhanov and Galanternik,” Usty­menko said. “You could call it an in­ter­na­tional mafia.”

Usty­menko is used to scuf­fles and threats.

On Oct. 4, when the Kyiv Post in­ter­viewed him, he con­fronted thugs who were guard­ing an il­le­gal con­struc­tion site near Lanzheron, a beach near the city cen­ter. He later clashed with po­lice of­fi­cers who tried to ar­rest one of the ac­tivists par­tic­i­pat­ing in the protest.

The con­tro­ver­sial con­struc­tion work near the beach is be­ing car­ried out by the com­pany of An­driy Kyslovsky, a lo­cal deputy from Trukhanov’s fac­tion, Usty­menko said. It is the same site at which Mykhai­lyk had been protest­ing on the day he was shot.

In late Septem­ber, the State Ar­chi­tec­tural and Con­struc­tion In­spec­torate of Ukraine banned con­struc­tion at this site, but this de­ci­sion hasn’t stopped the work.

On Sept. 25, lo­cal pros­e­cu­tors an­nounced the ar­rest of Usty­menko’s at­tack­ers. They turned out to be for­mer war veter­ans who have never lived in Odesa. Al­though they deny be­ing the at­tack­ers, Usty­menko rec­og­nized one of them.

How­ever, he says the po­lice are not look­ing for those who or­dered the at­tack, and he fears there will be more vi­o­lence.

“They’re try­ing to scare us off and show civil so­ci­ety that the at­tacks will con­tinue and no­body will in­ves­ti­gate them prop­erly,” he said.

Svit­lana Pid­pala

On a sunny Satur­day af­ter­noon on June 24, 2017, jour­nal­ist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Svit­lana Pid­pala was head­ing home, car­ry­ing toys she bought for her daugh­ter. When she reached her street in Odesa’s quiet down­town, a man called out to her. When she turned, he at­tacked her with pep­per spray.

He then grabbed the blinded Pid­pala and started beat­ing her.

“He hit me on my head, my teeth, the back of my neck. The bruises were ev­ery­where,” Pid­pala, 50, re­mem­bers. When a passerby ap­proached, the at­tacker ran away.

Po­lice re­ported on Oct. 19, 2017, that they had ar­rested the at­tacker, who turned out to have seven ear­lier con­vic­tions for car hi­jack­ing and rob­bery. The man ad­mit­ted to the at­tack, but said he had con­fused Pid­pala with his for­mer em­ployer, a wo­man who owed him money.

Pid­pala doesn’t be­lieve this. In­stead, she says the at­tack was or­dered.

At that time, Pid­pala was in­ves­ti­gat­ing two con­struc­tion sites — one that could dam­age the city’s botan­i­cal gar­den and an­other that in­volves il­le­gal dredg­ing work. Both projects are linked to Galanternik’s busi­nesses, Pid­pala said. She added that the man who drove the get­away car for her at­tacker was linked to the se­cu­rity ser­vice of the con­struc­tion sites.

“These are gang­ster meth­ods. Ev­ery­body knows in our city that Galanternik of­ten uses them,” Pid­pala said. She added that she had given the po­lice in­for­ma­tion about the two con­struc­tion sites and the names of peo­ple linked to them, but she doubts the po­lice will do any­thing.

Pid­pala’s case was sent to court last year, but has been stalled for months be­cause the judge pre­sid­ing over the case has been changed. Pid­pala fears the case will drag out un­til the statute of lim­i­ta­tions has passed.

Liliya Leonidova

Liliya Leonidova, 42, a mem­ber of the Odesa City Coun­cil, was at­tacked

ear­lier on the same day as Pid­pala, on the morn­ing of June 24, 2017.

She had just en­tered a food mar­ket when two ath­letic men in shorts and caps stood in her way and warned: “Watch what you’re do­ing, bitch.”

Then they each grabbed one of her arms and threw her to the ground, warn­ing that “next time it will be worse.” She suf­fered sev­eral bruises and a frac­tured wrist.

Leonidova is a mem­ber of the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko fac­tion in the coun­cil, but un­like the rest of her fac­tion, she op­poses Trukhanov’s team.

Be­fore she was at­tacked, Leonidova had been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mu­nic­i­pal en­ter­prise Reklama, which con­trols out­door ad­ver­tis­ing in Odesa. She had found that the city bud­get did not re­ceive up to 70 per­cent of the money Reklama should have earned.

In Au­gust 2017, Leonidova her­self ap­peared in out­door ad­ver­tis­ing. Some­one had pho­to­shopped her face onto a pic­ture of a wo­man sleep­ing drunk in a car and used it in a se­ries of ad­ver­tise­ments. The ads car­ried the slo­gan “The recre­ation of deputy Leonidova.” Then, in Oc­to­ber 2017, more ads ap­peared — this time of a wo­man with Leonidova’s face wav­ing a Rus­sian flag.

Leonidova be­lieves the at­tack and smear cam­paign were pay­back for her crit­i­cism of Trukhanov. A for­mer restau­ra­teur, Leonidova said she has no en­e­mies re­lated to her pre­vi­ous busi­ness ac­tiv­ity.

She said that the an­nual city bud­get of Hr 10 bil­lion (about $355 mil­lion) would be twice as big were it not for the mis­use of funds. “And a large part of this (re­main­ing) Hr 10 bil­lion is spent on kick­backs,” she said.

Pid­pala said Leonidova of­ten co­op­er­ates with ac­tivists by leak­ing them de­vel­op­ment plans ap­proved by the city coun­cil.

Iurii Di­achenko

Civil­ian mon­i­tor and ac­tivist Iurii Di­achenko knows well how se­cre­tive the Odesa City Coun­cil can be. Di­achenko, 28, who also heads the lo­cal branch of the DemAl­liance po­lit­i­cal party, reg­u­larly monitors ses­sions of the city coun­cil — and is reg­u­larly at­tacked.

“The mayor per­son­ally threat­ened me dur­ing one ses­sion,” he said.

Di­achenko said has been at­tacked in or near City Hall four times — punched by po­lice and Na­tional Guard of­fi­cers, or by of­fi­cers of the Mu­nic­i­pal Guard, a spe­cial mu­nic­i­pal se­cu­rity ser­vice con­trolled by the mayor.

How­ever, po­lice have only re­sponded to one at­tack on him, which oc­curred on June 14, 2017. A body­guard from a pri­vate firm was charged of the at­tack and could be fined $30.

De­spite the law al­low­ing cit­i­zens to at­tend ses­sions of the city coun­cil, in Odesa se­cu­rity guards of­ten refuse to let even jour­nal­ists and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists en­ter City Hall.

Di­achenko said the Mu­nic­i­pal Guard, a para­mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion that per­forms po­lice func­tions and that has up to 300 mem­bers, is il­le­gal and serves as the mayor’s pri­vate se­cu­rity group.

In Septem­ber, the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe said in a re­port that the Mu­nic­i­pal Guard in Odesa poses a threat to democ­racy. It men­tioned a case in which mem­bers of the Mu­nic­i­pal Guard had kid­napped and threat­ened jour­nal­ist My­roslav Bekchiv.

Pro-Rus­sian forces

In 2014, Rus­sian agents tried to stir up vi­o­lence and sep­a­ratist sen­ti­ment in Odesa, as they had done in the eastern Don­bas oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Odesa fought back, forc­ing Rus­sia's re­treat. But in one tragic con­fronta­tion, 48 peo­ple were killed in fight­ing and by a fire at the city’s Trade Unions Build­ing on May 2, 2014.

Now ac­tivists say that while Ukraine won the bat­tle, Rus­sia is in dan­ger of win­ning the war — with pro-Rus­sian forces en­sconced in City Hall.

Jour­nal­ists re­vealed in 2016 that Trukhanov has Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship and owns sev­eral off­shore com­pa­nies reg­is­tered at his Moscow ad­dress.

In­for­ma­tion about Trukhanov’s Rus­sian pass­port can be found on the web­site of Rus­sia’s Fed­eral Tax Ser­vice. Nev­er­the­less, Trukhanov has de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions, call­ing them “ru­mors and lies.”

Kuza­kon said Trukhanov is also linked to Rus­sian busi­ness through the Rus­sian oli­garch Alek­sandr Zhukov, a part­ner of Angert and Galanternik — as is doc­u­mented in the Ital­ian po­lice dossier. “Odesa is un­der threat be­cause it’s un­der the in­flu­ence of Rus­sian money and Rus­sian crim­i­nal­ity,” Kuza­kon said.

How­ever, Trukhanov has man­aged to build friendly re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, whose party is an ally of Trukhanov’s party in the Odesa City Coun­cil. Ac­tivists say Poroshenko hopes to keep Odesa un­der con­trol and also bol­ster his elec­toral for­tunes in the city this way.

The court case on fraud in­volv­ing the pur­chase of the for­mer Krayan build­ing, which NABU launched against Trukhanov and four other mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials, is now un­der­way in Odesa. How­ever, crit­ics say Trukhanov con­trols the city’s law en­force­ment and has a high chance of be­ing ac­quit­ted.

On Oct. 11, Mykhai­lyk came to the of­fice of Odesa city pros­e­cu­tors hop­ing to ask Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko and In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov, who were to visit the city, when the po­lice and prose­cu­tion would find those who had or­dered his mur­der. But Lut­senko and Avakov can­celed their visit to Odesa on the same day.

Ac­tivists who were at­tacked say they don’t ex­pect jus­tice to come from the govern­ment in Kyiv.

“No­body wants con­flict with the re­gional elites be­fore the elec­tions,” Usty­menko said. “I’m afraid to imag­ine what will go on here dur­ing the elec­tions.”

Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov con­trib­uted to this story.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Svit­lana Pid­pala stands next to the house in Odesa where she was beaten on June 24, 2017, an at­tack which she be­lieves was a reprisal for her protests against il­le­gal con­struc­tion backed by mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties. The at­tack was one of at least 14 car­ried out in the last year against civic ac­tivists in the Black Sea port of 1 mil­lion peo­ple lo­cated 475 kilo­me­ters south of Kyiv. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Jour­nal­ist Gry­goriy Kozma (L) and Mykhailo Kuza­kon, leader of the Nar­o­dny Rukh of Ukraine party in Odesa, stand in front of Kuza­kon’s house, at a place where a truck hit Kozma’s car on Aug. 2, a case which po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing as an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Odesa Mayor Hen­nady Trukhanov

Vi­taliy Usty­menko, head of Odesa branch of Au­toMaidan, stands by the build­ing of Sus­pilne TV com­pany in Odesa, where two thugs stabbed him with an im­pro­vised knife on June 5. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Svit­lana Pid­pala stands by a house in Odesa where a man at­tacked her with pep­per spray and beat her on June 24, 2017. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Liliya Leonidova, a deputy of Odesa City coun­cil, stands at a mar­ket in Odesa, where two un­known men at­tacked her on June 24, 2017. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

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