Law enforcement fails to identify, prosecute murderers of activists, journalists in Ukraine
Kateryna Gandziuk, who died on Nov. 4 as a result of an acid attack, is the 10th name on a grim list of Ukrainian activists and journalists who have been killed since the EuroMaidan Revolution that overthrew the corrupt regime of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
The list was prepared by the Human Rights Information Center and fact-checked by the Kyiv Post.
Police have named suspects in the murders in only six of 10 cases. None of those who ordered the murders have ever been identified, and no convictions have been secured.
Most of the slain activists were critics of the rich and powerful, and their families link their killings to this fact.
The pace of killings is increasing: five of the murders occurred in 2018, indicating that civic activism in Ukraine is now the most dangerous it has been since the 2014 revolution.
1. Kateryna Gandziuk
Activity: A municipal official of Kherson, a city of 290,000 people some 550 kilometers south of Kyiv, Gandziuk exposed corruption of local authorities and police. She also criticized local pro-Russian groups and received multiple threats.
Murder: Died on Nov. 4 at a Kyiv hospital after undergoing more than a dozen surgeries in three months.
Description of attack: On July 31, an attacker poured a liter of concentrated sulfuric acid on her head and back, causing severe burns to 40 percent of her body.
Suspected murderers: Five war veterans — some of whom admitted being paid from $300 to $500 for the attack. Two of them are in custody, and three are under house arrest.
Gandziuk’s friends have publicly accused Ihor Pavlovsky, an aide of a lawmaker from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko faction, Mykola Palamarchuk, of being the middleman between the killers and the organizer. Both Pavlovsky and Palamarchuk have denied any involvement in the case.
Suspected mastermind: identified. Not Trial: Hasn’t started. Convictions: None.
2. Vitaliy Oleshko
Activity: Oleshko left his business in 2014 to fight for Ukraine against the joint Russian-separatist forces as a member of the Donbas volunteer battalion. He was known under the nom de guerre Sarmat and was decorated with a state medal for bravery in 2015. On return to his home city of Berdiansk in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, he led local anti-corruption rallies. Oleshko criticized local strongmen, including a lawmaker from Volia Narodu faction, Oleksandr Ponomariov, and a lawmaker with the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko faction, Serhiy Valentirov. Murder: Shot dead on July 31. Description of attack: An attacker shot Oleshko in the back with a hunting rifle in the backyard of a hotel that Oleshko owned in Berdiansk.
Suspected murderers: Police arrested four suspects, including the shooter — another war veteran, called Artem Matiushyn. Later the police also arrested a local businessman Mykhailo Sigida, who has been identified as a middleman. According to media, Sigida had friendly relations with lawmaker Valentirov. Ponomariov and Valentirov did not respond to a request to comment on the Oleshko case.
Suspected mastermind: Not identified. Though chief of National Police Serhiy Kniazev claimed in parliament on Nov. 8 that police had found the orderer of Oleshko’s killing, Oleshko’s lawyer said that Sigida was just a middleman in this case. Trial: Hasn’t started. Convictions: None.
3. Mykola Bychko
Activity: Bychko was an environmentalist and anti-corruption activist in Eskhar, a town of 5,500 people in Kharkiv Oblast, about 540 kilometers east of Kyiv.
Murder: He was found hanged in a forest near his town on June 5.
Description of attack: Bychko’s friends said he had disappeared the day before his body was found. He had gone to check on whether local sewage water was been poured into a river. The police classified the case as a suicide, but Bychko’s family and friends are sure it was murder. They say they saw bruises and scratches on his arms and legs, which they believe were likely the result of a fight.
Suspected murderers: Police continue their investigation on the assumption that it was a suicide.
Suspected mastermind: Not identified. Trial: None. Convictions: None.
4. Mykola Yarema
Activity: Yarema was a member of the Bilychansky Fisherman civic environmental organization, which protects a recreation zone around the Sviatoshyn Lakes in the western part of Kyiv. The head of the organization Andriy Maknytskiy is an ex aide to Oleg Lyashko, a lawmaker and head of the Radical Party.
Murder: Was found dead on March 26 in a minivan where he had been guarding the lake overnight.
Description of attack: Yarema had been beaten to death. His cell phone was found smashed nearby. A month before his murder, activists of Bilychansky Fisherman had picketed the Prosecutor’s General Office, demanding that it investigated illegal construction by the lake, which they linked to Mykola Skoryk, lawmaker from Opposition Bloc party and former governor of Odesa Oblast. Skoryk didn’t respond to a request for comment. Suspected murderers: None. Suspected mastermind: None. Trial: None. Convictions: None.
5. Iryna Nozdrovska
Activity: A lawyer and human rights activist, Nozdrovska investigated the murder of her sister, Svitlana Sapatynska, who was knocked down and killed by a car in the village of Demydiv in Kyiv Oblast in September 2015. Nozdrovska was fighting for the man who hit her sister to be prosecuted. The man, Dmytro Rossoshansky, was well-connected: his uncle then worked as a judge in Vyshhorodsky District Court. Rossoshansky was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison on Oct. 24. By then, Nozdrovska was already dead for 10 months.
Murder: Nozdrovska’s body was found in a river in the village of Demydiv on Jan. 1. She had been stabbed to death.
Description of attack: Nozdrovska disappeared on Dec. 29, 2017. Yuriy Rossoshansky, the father of the man responsible for her sister’s murder, admitted that he had met Nozdrovska at a bus stop in Demydiv, and after an argument he had stabbed her in her face and neck. After that, he dumped her body into the river. He admitted that he was drunk at the time.
Suspected murderers: Yuriy Rossoshansky, though Nozdrovska’s relatives believe he had an accomplice. Suspected mastermind: None. Trial: The first hearing will be held in Shevchenkivsky District Court in Kyiv on Nov. 13. The trial had initially been scheduled to take place in the town of Irpin near Kyiv, but the victim’s relatives demanded that another court hear the case, afraid that the suspect’s family might have connections to the judges in Irpin. Under public pressure, the trial was moved to Kyiv.