“Half a year since the attack. Three months from the day she died. Numerous posts, articles, and TV programs. In photos and on the TV screens, Katia is young, beautiful, happy, joyful, and dreamy. However, there are other photos… 96 days in the intensive care unit. Injures across the whole body. Burned hair. Encaustic eyes.”
These are the words of Viktor Handziuk, father of the murdered Kateryna Handziuk (33), a local Kherson official and activist. He posted them on 4 February 2019. He also posted pictures of Kateryna struggling to stay alive on her hospital bed. Awful pictures, but real.
Viktor’s daughter was hideously attacked with sulphuric acid in Kherson six months ago. She fought hard to recover but died of her wounds on 4 November 2018.
In his post, Viktor Handziuk added the names of those he believed to have ordered the assassination of his daughter, which were not officially confirmed.
After stalling for weeks, the investigation finally made headway on 11 February when Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced Vladyslav Manher, head of the Kherson Oblast Council, as a suspect in the murder. Manher was a member of Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party, but had already been ousted by the time of the announcement. The party also recommended Manher resign from his position in the Oblast Council.
None of this would have happened without unyielding pressure from civil activists. They hounded the Prosecutor’s Office declaring they knew who had ordered the attack. On 9 February, the situation reached a boiling point and it was impossible for the prosecutor to ignore their recriminations any further.
Who ordered it?
Back in August 2018, six people were identified as suspects who were either complicit or had actually participated in the assassination of Kateryna Handziuk. After her death in November, the case was passed from local police to the Security Services (SBU).
Ihor Pavlovskyi, former assistant to Petro Poroshenko Bloc, MP Mykola Palamarchuk, was added to the list of suspects and arrested. In December, Prosecutor General Lutsenko announced the name of another key suspect–ex-convict Oleksiy Levin (aka Moskalenko) who according to authorities had already left Ukraine.
Initially, the investigation did not reveal the names of any suspects in ordering the murder. However, activists and those close to Handziuk began implicating Manher, who was head of the Kherson Oblast Council. They also pointed a finger at two representatives from Poroshenko’s Bloc–Andriy Hordeiev, head of the Kherson Oblast Administration, and his deputy Yevhen Ryshchuk.
On 28 January, Viktor Handziuk made an emotional statement to the public. He said he didn’t see a difference between those who ordered the crimes and those who had covered them up for so many months.
“For me now Batkivshchyna party is a party of killers of my daughter. For me now the Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc is a party of the killers of my daughter,” said Handziuk at a meeting of the Temporary Investigation Commision, which was created in Parliament to examine the murder, as well as the attacks of at least 50 activists in 2018.
Manher, Hordeiev, and Ryshchuk have rebuffed any involvement in the case. As reported by media, Manher also denied any business connections with Levin. However, one week before the attack on Kateryna Handziuk, Manher’s lawyer Andriy Murashkyn presented Levin with a recreational property on the Black Sea at next-to-no cost. Murashkyn claimed he had only rented the property to Levin, but had no explanation for why the rent was so exceedingly low: UAH 500 (about $18) per month. He claimed he was unaware of Levin’s criminal past nor could he have known his future intentions. Manher also denied having any knowledge of business connections between Murashkyn and Levin.
Under pressure, on 31 January Manher suspended his membership in the Batkivshchyna party while the investigation is ongoing. He claimed all accusations against him are deliberately aimed at discrediting the party.
Until recently, Manher, Hordeiev, and Ryshchuk seemed totally untouchable.
The crucial turn
The “Who Ordered Handziuk” rallies were held at the beginning of February. One took place near the Batkivshchyna office with protesters demanding Manher’s resignation. If he did not resign, they pledged to attend every one of Tymoshenko’s political rallies with the same demands. A few days later, further media reports appeared, this time revealing details of business connections between Manher and Levin. Batkivshchyna did not react.
Tymoshenko’s next rally was also planned for 9 February. The Handziuk activists organized their protest nearby. They stated they were protesting because Manher was a member of Batkivshchyna.
“It was Batkivshchyna who led him to the position of Kherson Oblast Council. Due to his position and connections Mahner can influence the investigation. We demand that this person will first incur political punishment for his actions and it is Tymoshenko who should have [stopped him from being able to decide] anything before the completion of the investigation,” was posted at the “Who Ordered Handziuk” Facebook page.
The demonstration led to clashes with police and many were detained.
Members of the far-right C14 had joined in the protest and were accused of carrying brilliant green, gas sprays, and knives. They were released, however the police took away all their personal belongings. They demanded the return of their belongings and other activists arrived at the police station to help. The disturbance escalated when officers starting using unnecessary force.
The event was later posted online showing a law enforcement officer shouting “On the ground, Banderite!”
The entire episode was on video.
Later, head of the National Police Serhiy Kniazev stated that 40 people were detained that day. According to the Prosecutor General, information regarding criminal offences committed by the officers would be included in the united register of pre-trial investigations.
The case is to be investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation, the new institution created to deal with transgressions committed by legal authorities, law enforcement officials, military officers and judges.
Rally participants claimed that law enforcement assaulted them because of their demands and had nothing to do with disorderly conduct.
“Tymoshenko continues to defend the murderer of Handziuk, and to deal away with her [Handziuk’s] companions using the methods of the ex-president Viktor Yanukovych,” reads their statement. The activists also insisted there was no attack on the police or any brilliant greens.
The Batkivshchyna site later stated that the protests were nothing else, but provocation and traditionally accused President Poroshenko.
After the incident the Tymoshenko party confirmed they had removed Manher from their list of supporters.
The Handziuk activists commented on the outcome of the events. They affirmed that the 9 February protests were held to demand the dismissal of those suspected of ordering Handziuk’s murder.
“The demands are related to two political forces whose leaders hold pre-election campaign, but refuse to hear and talk to the voters on the inconvenient topics like attacks on public figures and paralysis of law enforcement.”
On 11 February, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko posted on his Facebook page that Manher was being held on suspicion of organizing the murder.
Following the incident, Yevhen Ryshchuk, deputy head of the Kherson Oblast State Administration announced he had applied for temporary suspension. According to Ryshchuk, he had submitted the statement on 8 February, the day before the rally.
On 11 February the Prosecutor General said that Ryshchuk would be providing testimony to the Security Services of Ukraine.
“If there is enough evidence, he will also be charged. I emphasize that there is no evidence of his knowledge of Manher’s and the other participants of Handziuk’s murder plan at the moment. But we have the facts of his likely corruption activities and involvement in corruption schemes with embezzlement of forest resources. Therefore, this case will also be assessed,” said Lutsenko.
On 12 February, the court hearing on Manher was to take place in Kyiv. However, his lawyers requested an adjournment to 13 February, stating they hadn’t managed to review all the materials related to the case.
By 14 February the court continued to choose a preventive measure to the suspect. On the night of 15 February, the Kyiv Shevchenkyvskyi District Court decided to detain Manher until 3 March with the possibility of a UAH2.5mn (US$91,921) bail.
Initially, the prosecutor’s side insisted on remanding him without bail.
Manher’s defenders aim to appeal the decision.
Later on the day, Manher’s lawyer paid the bail.
Earlier, Serhiy Nykytenko, investigative journalist and Handziuk’s friend, told Hromadske that Manher is not the final link in Kateryna’s murder. Nykytenko stated he was outraged that law enforcement had not detained Manher. He said Manher had not acted alone and that any possible accomplices should be brought forward, even if they represent the current party of power.