Odesa corruption fighter charged with murder for defending himself against third armed attack

“Don’t support Serhiy Sternenko, support our right for defending our lives,” corruption fighter Serhiy Sternenko said in a video address prior to the arrival of law enforcers who served him with a suspicion of premeditated murder for an episode when he defended himself against an attack. Photo: Masi Nayyem/Facebook 

Ukraine

Edited by: Alya Shandra

Editor’s Note

Local Odesa pro-Ukrainian activist and corruption fighter Serhiy Sternenko was charged with deliberate murder for an act of self-defense in which he killed his attacker. Hundreds of Ukrainians are rallying to his defense, and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union decried his criminal persecution as politically motivated.

On 11 May, the Security Service of Ukraine served Odesa corruption fighter Serhiy Sternenko with a notice of suspicion, incriminating him with premeditated murder for an episode where he defended himself from attackers in 2018. Dozens of people came to support Sternenko near the building of the Security Service, despite the police blocking the entrance.

“Don’t support Serhiy Sternenko, support our right for the defense of our lives,” Sternenko stated in a video message.

The corruption fighter had expected to receive the suspicion for several months already after Iryna Venediktova became Prosecutor General. After being appointed, Venediktova herself announced that Sternenko would be investigated for premeditated murder, despite lacking the legal right to interfere in the case. Now, Sternenko might face from 7 to 15 years in prison.

As the events of the last few months showed, Sternenko can hardly rely on the defense from the law enforcers; raising his own public voice turned into his main power. He informed about the latest news regarding the notice of suspicion in his Facebook and Telegram channel.

“I was served with a notice of suspicion under Part 1 of Art. 115 and Part 2 of Art. 263 [of the Criminal Code] – premeditated murder and ‘illegal’ carrying of a cold weapon.

Despite the fact that:

1. There was no murder, only necessary defense, which the investigator had previously admitted when he served the attackers with notices of suspicions.

2. There are several examinations on the knife which established that it is NOT a cold weapon.”

Sternenko also posted a photo of the gory injury to his arm which he sustained during the attack, commenting that the Security Services insisted that the wound was a result of Sternenko cutting himself on purpose – not a consequence of the attack.

As well, the prosecutor and the investigator refused to provide the materials which exclude the corpus delicti in Sternenko’s actions. On 12 June the court hearing on choosing a preventive measure to him is taking.

While Sternenko was waiting to receive this notice of suspicion, a dirty media campaign against him unfolded in Ukraine’s pro-Russian media. Among Sternenko’s enemies, there is Oleksandr Dubinskyy, an MP from the president’s Servant of the People party, pro-Russian political forces, and politicians from the circle of fugitive former President Viktor Yanukovych, namely – Andriy Portnov, ex-head of the Yanukovych Office, who returned to Ukraine after Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected as president.

Portnov commented on the recent events in his Telegram channel, sometimes being faster than even the law enforcement institutions. In his messages, Portnov openly calls Sternenko a “scumbag.”

The prominent Ukrainian human rights NGO Helsinki Human Rights Group has warned Ukrainian law enforcement against political decisions in Sternenko’s case and has decried his prosecution as politically motivated, as three attempts on Sternenko’s life had not been properly investigated and that they are being ignored by the prosecution, which instead suspects Sternenko in deliberate murder.

How it all started

It was 2018 when Serhiy Sternenko, a prominent Odesa activist, was attacked three times. During the last attack on the night of 24 May, he killed the attacker while defending himself.

Late at night, Sternenko and his girlfriend were on their way home. Two people attacked them. Sternenko was stabbed in the arm and sustained a head concussion while fighting for his life. He managed to overtake his attackers and one was mortally wounded by Sternenko’s defensive stabs. Euromaidan Press already described the episode here.

Sternenko is known in the city due to his active anti-Russian stance, especially in 2014 when the risk of Russia creating its proxy republic in Odesa, similar to the so-called “LNR” and “DNR” was high. He even headed the local branch of the ultranationalist Right Sector, but in 2017 left the organization.

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Another significant part of Sternenko’s activities was directed against local corruption, especially that which concerned illegal construction in the city. The latter is the reason for the majority of the conflicts in Odesa. Companies affiliated with Odesa mayor Hennadiy Truhkanov are behind most of them.

Sternenko is confident that the local government is behind the attacks. He also accuses the Odesa authorities of political persecution, as three criminal proceedings had previously been started against him.

For about two years there was no progress in the investigation of the attacks on the local corruption fighter. Moreover, the second attacker from the fatal episode escaped the country with the connivance of the law enforcement system.

However, recently the focus in the case has been shifted.

The suspicions soap opera

On the morning of 11 June, police came to Sternenko’s home with a decision on his forced arrival to the Security Services to receive the notice of suspicion. Photo: Serhiy Sternenko’s Facebook page.

In spring 2020, after Iryna Venediktova became the new Prosecutor General, a new wave of troubles began for Sternenko.

Just after her appointment on 17 March 2020, in an interview with Ukrayinska Pravda, Venediktova stated that Sternenko would be served with a suspicion. She claimed that the question is only in the matter of defining the crime; that is, whether to call it deliberate murder or name it as exceeding the limits of necessary self-defense.

The law enforcement attempts to serve the suspicion lasted for more than a month. At first, Sternenko was receiving a summons from the Security Services but refused to come to the institution as the summons was served in violation of legal procedures.

When the next summons was served properly, on 18 May Sternenko arrived at the Security Service. He expected to be served with a notice of suspicion, but it did happen. The corruption fighter attributes this to the huge public support he received when despite coronavirus restrictions, hundreds of people came to support Sternenko near the building of the Security Service.

However, Sternenko and his defenders knew this was not the end, as the Security Services published a statement with worrying signs.

“The intensification of this case in the information field is nothing more than a conscious attempt to aggravate the situation in the public sphere and create additional opportunities for further pressure on the investigation. Which, unfortunately, will not bring back to life a previously murdered person,” said the statement.

Sternenko and his lawyers noted that the Security Services blamed activists for their attention to the case which allegedly put pressure on the investigation, but kept mum about the incendiary verbal attacks of pro-Russian MPs on Sternenko which had been ongoing for months. Another worrying sign was the phrase “will not bring back to life a previously murdered person,” which violated the presumption of Sternenko’s innocence.

Later, it turned out that the suspicion was indeed ready on 18 May. However, back then Andriy Radionov, the senior prosecutor in the case, refused to sign it. As slidstvo.info revealed later, the prosecutor withdrew from the case, stating that the investigation is biased and the notice of suspicion is illegal and contradicts the evidence collected by the investigation.

In the document, the prosecutor also mentioned the Prosecutor General Venediktova considering her biased in this case and her actions as threatening to the independence of the prosecutors. In particular, he pointed at her public statements where she promised to serve Sternenko with a notice of suspicion anyway, despite that she can’t interfere in the investigation according to the law.

One-sided justice

The Security Service released their conclusions regarding the suspicion.

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It says that the two attackers indeed intended to intimidate and beat Sternenko. Defending himself Sternenko covered himself with his left hand and with his right hand was lashed at both attackers with a knife, injuring them both.

Security Services says that these actions indeed correspond to the definition of self-defense. The statement goes on by explaining that when one of the attackers ran away, the attack was considered as completed and nothing threatened Sternenko’s life and health anymore, but after the fight, Sternenko caught up with the attacker and injured him in his heart, which led to his death.

Sternenko, referring to the Constitution of Ukraine and the European Convention on Human Rights, called the Security Services statement a gross violation of the presumption of innocence, as the Security Services said that he committed the crime with no court decision.

“The prosecutor and the investigator stated under video recording that they did not give access to the materials to anyone from the press service or other Security Service units.

Accordingly, this shameful post is pressure on the investigation and the court and is based on fabrications.”

Meanwhile, as Sternenko noted previously, Oleksandr Isaykul, the second attacker from the fatal incident at first was provided with the state’s security, unlike Sternenko who was rejected in it. Later, in March 2019, he fled from Ukraine. Until now, he has not been declared wanted.

Sternenko says that at first Isaykul fled to Moldova, then to Germany, and then to Russia.

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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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