The way Minister Avakov communicates is often questionable.
“Avakov wrote a post on the detention of the ‘suspects’ of the assassination of Amina Akueva. Why was the message [delivered] via Facebook and Twitter? Where is the presentation made in a rush and a ‘briefing’ with the participation of Zelenskyy and Ryaboshapka [the president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka],” activist Vladyslav Greziev reacted.
The activist’s irony was referring to the recent detentions related to the assassination of the journalist Pavlo Sheremet when the police held a briefing actually accusing the suspects before any court hearing. The personal participation of the president and the Prosecutor General raised a wave of criticism in society. First, such a step violated the principle of the presumption of innocence.
Second, it was protruding the conclusions before a court verdict as the briefing was broadcasted on TV which has a significant influence on Ukrainians. After, the detention of the suspects, numerous inconsistencies persisted suggesting that the case is rather some kind of a political game of Minister Avakov.
Okuyeva’s case investigation raised other questions apart from the communication part. Law enforcers tried to address them during the briefing.
Who was Amina Okuyeva
Amina Okuyeva was born in the South-Ukrainian city of Odesa on 5 June 1983, had lived in Moscow and Grozny, the home of her parents, and had returned to her hometown in 2003 because of the war in Chechnya. There she studied medicine and worked as a doctor in the surgery department of an Odesa hospital, where she met her future husband Adam Osmayev. In 2007, the Russian authorities accused him, a native of Chechnya who still lived in Russia, of plotting to kill the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. The case collapsed for lack of evidence and he moved to Ukraine. In 2012 at the request of the Russian authorities, he was charged with plotting to kill Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. However, the European Court of Human Rights recommended Ukraine not extradite Osmayev to Russia, after which Kyiv decided to suspend the extradition process. In 2014, the post-Maidan Ukrainian authorities dropped the attempted assassination charges.
As war erupted in the Ukrainian eastern region of the Donbas in 2014, Amina Okuyeva joined the Kyiv-2 volunteer battalion. She was officially listed there as a paramedic, but Okuyeva took part in numerous battles in Debaltseve and Tchornukhivo. In the course of legalizing volunteer battalions by integrating them into the army and police, Okuyeva became a member of the 3rd company of the special police regiment “Kyiv” and thus a lieutenant of the police.
Later she worked as a spokesperson for the Chechen Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion comprised mostly of Chechens who had fled Kadyrov’s regime to the West. In 2015, Adam Osmayev became a commander of the battalion after the death of brigadier general Isa Munayev amid the Debaltseve battle.
She was also a confessing Muslim woman who didn’t renounce her hijab even in battle, a blatant contrast to widespread stereotypes and prejudices. As a member of the Muslim community in Ukraine, she saw it as her duty to serve her homeland and joined forces with Muslim and Jewish comrades to fight against the Russian propaganda of a fascist Ukraine.
Her car was ambushed at a rail crossing near the settlement of Hlevakha in Kyiv Oblast, gunfire was opened from roadside shrubs. Amina Okuyeva died of wounds on the spot. Her husband Adam Osmayev was wounded, however, his conditions were non-life-threatening. This was the second assassination attempt on the Chechen pair.
Police consider DNA traces on the gun as key evidence
In their first reports, law enforcement claimed to have detained members of a criminal organization dealing with сontract killings. According to the police, those were the perpetrators of the assassination and were involved in two more contract killings committed in September 2016 and in January 2019 that have already also been investigated.
Minister Avakov published a photo and a video showing how one of the suspects was detained. In the video, the suspect is walking next to the wall and then lays down on the ground seeing the law enforcers as if he was prepared to do so.
The Minister has also written that his DNA matched the DNA sample found on the gun that was discovered at the crime scene.
This statement immediately raised questions because just a few days after the assassination police stated that there were neither fingerprints nor DNA traces on the weapon.
“At the time of the 2017 interview that you mentioned, the investigators did not deem it possible to provide and disseminate this information, particularly for the communications department. Therefore, a political statement was a political statement … The DNA was sampled, but the investigation did not want to disclose this information,” Head of the National Police Ihor Klymenko said during the press-briefing on 13 January.
As per the police, there are other pieces of evidence proving the suspect’s involvement in the assassination of Okuyeva, however, the investigators decided to mention only this one which is direct. The law enforcers are trying to reveal the role of the detained person in the crime, whether he only handed over the gun or was a shooter himself.
The suspect is a 55-year-old citizen of Ukraine, originally from Russia’s Dagestan.
“This person is a member of a criminal organization. He was born in Dagestan in the Soviet times, then arrived to Ukraine and obtained Ukrainian citizenship… those contract killings that were committed, for example, of Pavlo Zmozhny, a top manager of the Caparol company, were the pressure on the business in order to obtain benefits. Now we can discover it more openly, involving economic units, the tax office, financial monitoring service,” Chief of Kyiv Oblast police Andriy Nebytov said.
In September 2019, law enforcement officers detained seven members of a criminal organization charging them with two instances of murder in Kyiv Oblast, in which the victims were head of Caparol Ukraine company Pavlo Zmozhny and the chief of the advertisement department of the utility company “Kyiv Metro,” Pavlo Mylenkyi. Later, it turned out that the leader of the organization was also involved in the shooting that caused the death of Okuyeva.
The police say that the detainee does not admit his guilt in the Okuyeva case, as well as in the two above-mentioned assassinations.
Speaking about the firearm used to commit the crime, Nebytov said that “It was the weapons of war from a country of the former socialist camp.” The officials confirmed to have the assumptions on the identities of those who might have ordered the assassination.
The investigators consider murder for hire as a motive and probe into the involvement of suspects in similar crimes not only in Ukraine but also in the European Union.
Distrust of law enforcement
After the mentioned Sheremet case and a number of other scandals around the police, the statements on the successful investigations of crimes are perceived rather calm by society. Avakov personally and law enforcement institutions don’t have much trust. Nevertheless, the Minister manages to keep his position anyway. In December the think-tank Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Institutions (DI) in collaboration with the sociology service of the Razumkov Centre conducted a poll in all the regions of Ukraine, except for the occupied ones, questioning 2,017 respondents aged over 18. The survey revealed that Avakov has a negative balance of trust with negative 54%; 45% of the respondents trusted and 45% other didn’t trust the National Police; the prosecutor’s offices also have a negative balance of trust with negative 50%. The theoretical margin of sampling error was 2.3%.
Following the police briefing, Okuyeva’s husband Adam Osmayev commented on the detention to Hromadske, stating that he hasn’t ever met the suspect or other members of the group.
“There is no [doubt] in the investigation, however, there are doubts in the judicial system which lets suspects of killings go,” Osmayev said.
According to the DI and Razumkov Center poll, the judicial system is the least trusted institution among Ukrainians with a negative balance of trust with 62% of mistrust. Only Russian media have even less trust among the respondents.