A year after, Ukrainian activists still ask who ordered Kateryna Handziuk

Kateryna Handziuk. Photo: Facebook of Kateryna Handziuk 

Civil Society

Article by: Olena Makarenko

  1. Editor’s Note

    One year after Kherson activist and city official Kateryna Handziuk died in a hospital after suffering severe chemical burns to her body following an acid attack, Ukrainian activists still demand to know who ordered the attack. Only the hitmen have been convicted, but those who ordered the attack from within a complex web of regional officials, politicians, police, and local criminals, appear to be safe and sound. It has yet to be seen whether the investigation into the masterminds of the murder sabotaged under President Poroshenko can turn around under Zelenskyy.

Have you ever heard the name of Kateryna Handizuk? If stories from Ukraine are getting to your news feeds, probably you did, as during the last year, the assassination of the Kherson activist and city official became a symbol of the attacks on activists in Ukraine. Her name is now associated with the movement of Ukrainian activists, from urban illegal construction protesters to anti-corruption whistleblowers, for their rights. It has also become firmly associated with the criminal cynicism of Ukraine’s law enforcement system. The change of power in the country after President Zelenskyy’s election in April 2019 gave the small but courageous tribe of Ukrainian activists hope that at least there will now be a proper investigation and punishment for the brutal murder of Handziuk. Yet for the last year, they had not seen progress, only promises and statements.

On 4 November 2018, Kateryna Handziuk, a prominent Kherson activist and city official died in a hospital after the acid attack on her in July of the same year. This is the most famous case of attacks on Ukrainian activists, but by far not the only one.

Also, unfortunately, Handziuk is not the only activist who was killed. However, the investigation of her case presents a general picture of how much power local authorities really have, the real face of law enforcement institutions that are ready to cover up criminals, and the helplessness or inaction of high state officials.

The suspects

Vladyslav Manher, Kherson Oblast Council Head is suspected in organizing the assassination. Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko/ RadioSvoboda.org (RFE/RL)

A year after Handziuk’s death, only five executors of the murder are convicted. The investigation also suspects another three people to be involved in the case. Vladyslav Manher, the Head of the Kherson Oblast Council is suspected of organizing the attack, Oleksiy Levin, a figure known among local criminals, is suspected as the co-organizer, and Ihor Pavlovskyi, former assistant to Petro Poroshenko Bloc MP Mykola Palamarchuk, who agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Among these three, Levin has escaped the country and hides. Manher still implements the duties of the Oblast Council despite being a suspect. And Pavlovskyi avoids court hearings with the help of prosecutors. The hearings are postponed due to his health condition. Pavlovskyi has been moved from a pre-trial detention center to a hospital, claiming bad health. Meanwhile, activists have discovered that he is not hospitalized but stays with friends.

“It is important that a prosecutor of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Dmytro Boian, covers the killer Pavlovskyi. He is the party of the prosecution and on 13 September Shevchenkyvskyi District Kyiv Court obliged Boian to check whether Pavlovskyi indeed was undergoing treatment in the named medical institution. Boian did not identify anything. Of course, not for free,” the activists from the initiative Who Ordered Kateryna Handziuk? wrote.

Viktor Handziuk, Kateryna’s father stated that Pavlovskyi will be accused under a soft article, which foresees a sentence from a few months to three years.

“I think he will receive the minimum term and will be able to leave from the courtroom immediately, as the term of his pretrial detention will cover it. Moreover, he also signed an agreement with the investigation. Without our consent, because the prosecutor’s office excluded all victims from the case.Their team of lawyers protracts the case “

Initially, the investigation did not reveal the names of any suspects who ordered the murder. However, activists and friends of Handziuk began implicating Manher. They also pointed fingers at two representatives from ex-President Poroshenko’s Bloc–Andriy Hordeiev, ex-head of the Kherson Oblast Administration, and his ex-deputy Yevhen Ryshchuk.

Recently, the Security Services (SBU) informed that so far the involvement of Hordeiev and Ryshchuk to the case is under verification.

The day before the anniversary of Handziuk’s death, the SBU also named the main version of the motives of the assassination: revenge for Handziuk’s accusations of the heads of Kherson Oblast in setting a forest on fire to justify subsequent illegal logging. The Security forces consider five criminal proceedings regarding the killing. There are three criminal proceedings related to the circumstances which preceded the attack on Handziuk.

One more is related to the investigation of the malpractice of the police employees who detained the main suspect of the murder on the first stage of the investigation and then released him after three weeks.

Avakov’s personal responsibility

Arsen Avakov, the Minister of Internal Affairs. Photo: file.liga.net

Probably, there is no other minister in Ukraine whose resignation Ukrainian activists would demand more than Arsen Avakov’s. He came to the position of the active Minister of Internal Affairs in February 2014, when the Euromaidan Revolution was still ongoing and then president Viktor Yanukovych just escaped the country. Then, Avakov was appointed as a Minister during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko and managed to keep the position after Poroshenko was replaced by Zelenskyy.

The case of Handziuk’s assassination is one of the main reasons why activists want him to leave. They consider him personally responsible for the investigation of the attack and stress that no Kherson policeman who sabotaged the investigation in 2018 has carried responsibility.

“I separate the appeals of the passionate part from the real state of affairs. Therefore, I am not made of sugar, I will not melt. I will not go [resign – Ed.] because of this case,” Avakov said recently.

Prior to this, Avakov, commented on the investigation saying that the National Police under his jurisdiction was emotional but found the implementers quickly. The indignant activists elaborated on his statement saying that the police also sabotaged a forensic examination, did not collect evidence, did not question witnesses, found a scapegoat, reported on the successful investigation and required apologies from the activists, covered up the deputy head of the Department of Criminal Investigation of the National Police of Kherson Oblast by transferring him to another department, and congratulated the head of the National Police in Kherson Oblast for receiving the rank of a general. According to the activists, the latter gave one of the suspects, Levin, an opportunity to escape the country.

“Avakov is not going to leave his position. It’s obvious because for him it is convenient to pretend that there was no sabotage. Moreover, for him, saving criminals and cops is an honor and obligation,” the activists concluded.

The attitude of other high state officials

The poster on a football game appeals to President Zelenskyy asking when Manher, Hordeiev, and Ryshchuk are to be imprisoned for the assassination. Photo from the facebook page of the initiative Who ordered Katya Handziuk?

The former president Poroshenko is blamed by activists for covering up criminals. Recently, Viktor Handziuk stated that when the Prosecutor General Office received the case, the evidence against Poroshenko’s party members Hordeiev and Ryshchuk was removed. Viktor Handziuk is confident that Poroshenko himself was also related to the case. Poroshenko’s party European Solidarity denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, political observer Leonid Shvets described a recent incident with Poroshenko’s involvement. The ex-president visited a Security Forum in Lviv. One of the participants and organizers of the events wore a T-shirt with a question “Who ordered Handziuk?”, but was asked to take it off to not irritate the guests. The author hints that the request came from Poroshenko’s people.

Shvets also pointed out that the new President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is also protected from negative emotions related to the case as the question “Who is the next Handziuk?” which the activists left near the building of the President’s Office at the end of September was also carefully washed during the night.

“Zelenskyy has nothing to answer to Kateryna’s father. All the instigators are free. This case vividly shows who has power in the country and who doesn’t, despite the huge ratings. The close ligament of oblast heads, the heads of the Administration, Oblast Council, police, and local criminals organized and tried to cover the assassination attempt on an overly intelligent and independent official and activist; no one has carried responsibility for this except for the direct executors,” the observer writes.

On the eve of the anniversary of Handziuk’s death, the new Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka promised that the case will progress and that society might see some news even this week.

Vladyslav Hreziev, Handziuk’s friend and one of the organizers of the initiative Who Ordered Katya Handziuk? expects that the case can be investigated more intensively, as it may be that the new heads of the Prosecutor General Office and SBU will have the political will to do a proper job.

For the anniversary Nadiya Handziuk, Kateryna’s mother, also had a say. She recalled the promises former prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko gave to her daughter.

“On the third day of Kateryna’s stay in Kyiv [in the hospital after the attack – Ed.], Lutsenko came and talked to her in person. She called me and said: ‘Mom, I think I can believe Lutsenko’. I was delighted for her, however, as it turned out, he was just Mr. Chatterbox, I can’t say it differently.”

On 4 November, activists in more than 40 of Ukrainian and foreign cities gathered under the slogan “A year without Katya” in honor of the killed activist.

Also on the day, the Embassies of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany stated that they expect the verdict on the case from Ukrainian law enforcement institutions. Charge d’Affaires a.i. William Taylor has also urged justice in the death of Kherson activist Kateryna Handziuk.

Recently, the Center for Civil Liberties came up with disturbing statistics. According to the NGO, since January 2019 there 72 incidents of the persecution of civil society activists. They also created a map where the incidents can be followed.

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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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