Operatives working at the site of the explosion. PHoto:RFE/RL
A bomb that detonated beneath a car on 27 June 2017 near Vul. Mekhanizatoriv 8 in Kyiv took the life of its driver, 39-year old Maksym Shapoval, a Colonel of the Ukrainian Army, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported. The detonation took place on 8:15 and apart from killing Shapoval, gave non-life threatening injuries to two other people. As the deceased was an army serviceman, the explosion has been qualified as a terrorist act by the police and will be investigated by Ukraine’s Military Prosecutor’s Office.
The type and quantity of the explosive substance and its exact placement are still being determined. Shrapnel from the car flew 100 m from the explosion site and damaged other cars.
Shapoval leaves behind his wife and child.
CCTV footage captured the moment that car exploded:
According to Yuriy Butusov, a military journalist who had known the killed Colonel personally, Shapoval was a special forces commander at the Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR).
Butusov said he was in the Donbas war zone from the very beginning of the war, actively participating in defending Ukraine against Russian aggression and in military activities in Donbas. and directed the department for four years. The journalist is confident that Shapoval died as a result of a terror attack of the Russian special services.
Zorian Shkiriak, an advisor to Ukraine’s Minister of Interior, also has no doubts this assassination was a terrorist act carried out by the Russian special services, namely – Russia’s GRU and FSB. Speaking to Apostrophe.ua, he claimed that it is one in a line of terror acts committed by Russia against government officials and servicemen protecting Ukraine against Russian aggression. He claimed that because Russia is losing the war in Donbas, it has resorted to carrying out terrorist acts inside the Ukrainian state to destabilize it by intimidating and sowing panic.
Speaking at the press briefing after the assassination, Anatoliy Matios, the Chief Military Prosecutor of Ukraine, said that the terrorist act was conducted by “high professionals” and that a Russian trace is the main version for the killing, Hromadske reported. Matios also gave details about Shapoval’s military service: he was the commander of the 1st group of special forces which liberated the Donetsk airport from combined Russian-militant forces, after which the groups from the 3d and 8th special regiments entered the building.
According to the portal LB.ua, Shapoval was collecting evidence on Russian aggression for the Hague court.
“It was thanks to him that Ukraine was able to substantiate its position in The Hague on Russia’s involvement in armed aggression, and before that, it provided all such documented facts through diplomatic channels and through channels for the exchange of intelligence with the allies’ intelligence agencies,” a source in law enforcement agencies told LB.ua, UNIAN reported.
The Ukrainian outlet Hromadske, citing its sources, wrote that the murder of Shapoval could be related to his reconnaissance activities in Donbas, particularly, the reconnaissance operation which the GUR conducted in occupied Luhansk. The source also confirmed that one of Shapoval’s subordinates was a guard to Denis Voronenkov, who was shot by a killer in central Kyiv on 23 March.
Additionally, the murder could be viewed as retaliation for the unsuccessful murder attempt on the Major of the Russian Armed Forces in occupied Luhansk on 25 June 2017, as Ukraine’s Intelligence Directorate reported (photos of exploded car below), or the Russian officer who headed a reconnaissance group of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” which the Ukrainian Army killed on June 24.
— English Lugansk (@loogunda) June 25, 2017
A row of assassinations
Both Shkiriak and Butusov are confident that today’s assassination in Kyiv has the same character as a line of recent resonant killings:
Pavlo Sheremet – a Belarusian-Ukrainian journalist who was killed in a car explosion on 20 July 2016. One year later, the investigation’s main version for the reason behind the assassination is a “Russian trace.”
Oleksandr Kharaberiush – an SBU Colonel who was killed in the south-Ukrainian city of Mariupol with the detonation of a remotely controlled mine placed beneath his car on 31 March 2017. According to Yuriy Butusov, Kharaberiush was one of the most productive Ukrainian counterintelligence officers in the war in Donbas and had directed around 80 operations to capture Russian agents and terrorists, including the “Mangust” group which attacked Mariupol’s police department on 9 May 2014. Mariupol was briefly under control of Russian-led militants in the summer of 2014, was liberated by the Ukrainian army, and has been a frontline city living under the threat of an attack for 3 years already. With the assassination of Kharaberiush, Butusov said, the enemy had inflicted a heavy blow to Ukraine.
Shkiriak said that the murder of Denis Voronenkov, an exiled Putin critic living in Kyiv, is of the same nature as Shapoval’s. Voronenkov was shot to death in central Kyiv on 23 March 2017. The attacker escaped.
Anton Herashschenko, a Ukrainian MP and advisor to Ukraine’s Minister of Interior, also considers that the assassinations of Shapoval, Sheremet, Kharaberiush, and Voronenkov were carried out with the same handwriting, and adds the botched assassination plot on his own persona to the row of murders supposedly carried out with the participation of the Russian Federation. On 21 January 2017, the Ukrainian SBU prevented his assassination which was planned by be carried out by a detonator placed under a car. According to the SBU Chief Vasyl Hrytsak, the murder attempt was planned, prepared and controlled from Russian territory, and the organizer of this assassination was a Russian national who lived in Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast but moved to the territory of the Russian puppet “Luhansk People’s Republic” with the start of the war in Donbas, currently living in Russia’s Belgorod.
Regarding these murders, Herashchenko notes that the specific executors may be different, but the organizers are the same. He claims that a terrorist center with the goal of sending killers and saboteurs to Ukrainian territory to organize murders and terrorist acts has been operating since last year in Russia. Herashchenko does not offer any proof to support that statement, but it is one worth taking seriously, the security expert Yuriy Kostiuchenko told RFE/RL: there are indeed Russian agents working in Ukraine and weapons and equipment are being passed on to saboteurs. Kostiuchenko opines that Ukraine has proof of Russian-organized terrorist attacks, but it is not assembled in a systematic manner.
These assassinations – result of poor work of counterintelligence, reform of SBU is due
This row of resonant murders with Russian traces is taking place partly because of the delay with the reform of the Ukrainian Security Service, the draft project of which still hasn’t been signed by President Poroshenko, according to journalist and human rights activist Olha Reshetilova. The reform envisions that some functions of the SBU will be taken over by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, the National Police, and State Bureau of Investigations, and the Security Service will focus on crimes against national security, like neutralizing separatist and extremist movements in Ukraine and combating terrorism, economic, information, and cyber security. As well, there will be more mechanisms for public control over the Service.
One of the main features of the envisioned reform is boosting the counterintelligence activities of the Ukrainian special services and the development of an agent network. “This component of the SBU must be raised several levels higher, as demanded by the real external threats to Ukraine, in particular, the activation of anti-Ukrainian activity of the Russian special services,” President Poroshenko explained in March 2017.
Three months later, this reform still hasn’t been launched. One of the reasons is that the SBU in its current form is highly controlled by politicians and the reform will decrease their chances of manipulating it. “If this reform is carried out, neither the president nor politicians will be able to give the SBU personal instructions. But the first persons of the state want to continue to use the SBU as a ‘scarecrow.’ This is the main reason why reforms were not carried out neither with the previous president nor with this one,” Mykola Malomuzh, ex-chief of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, commented to Apostrophe.ua.