6 Years Later: Unresolved Cases During Avakov’s Tenure
27 February, 2020
Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov during the first graduation ceremony for the Patrol Police Academy in Kyiv, Ukraine. May 21, 2018. Gontar Vladimir / UNIAN

On February 29, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s “probationary period” reaches its end. Half a year ago, the head of the ruling Servant of the People parliamentary faction, David Arakhamia stated that Avakov would only hold his post during the “transition period”, and would be personally accountable to president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Hromadske looks back at the biggest cases during his tenure at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and his reactions to the investigations on each of them.

January 2020. A murder during New Year’s night in Kakhovka

During New Year’s night, on January 1, 2020, in the village of Kakhovka in the Kherson region, a firefight occured between two men – Yuriy Kashnikov and Volodymyr Chebukin. Investigators claim that Chebukin shot first. After that, Kashnikov returned fire from his carbine. Chebukin received multiple wounds and was taken to the hospital. His relatives say that bullets were found in his body, and he passed away two days later, on January 3. 

On January 4 and 5, local residents started protesting near the police precinct in Kakhovka. The reason they gave was the fact that a police officer was present at the shooting – Oleksandr Portnoy. Friends of Chebukin stated that that fact could lead to the case being buried. Portnoy then announced that he was a witness to the events of that night.

READ MORE: “We Don’t Trust Anyone”: How a Murder in South Ukraine Triggered Anti-Police Protests

The head of the investigative department of the Kherson National Police, Mykola Verbytskyi, came to Kakhovka on January 5. He said that there were five people present at the place of the shooting, and that the official police position on the event was pre-meditated murder. He added that the police was working on determining whether the murder was committed by one person or several.

Chebukin’s murder case was transferred to the investigative department of the regional police division for an impartial investigation. The next day following the protests, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, tasked a group of prosecutors with coordinating the investigation. 

Kashnikov was detained on January 3, and a city court extended his detention to 60 days on suspicion of pre-meditated murder.

The police officer present, Portnoy, was fired from the police force. Then, the Ukrainian State Bureau of Investigation declared him under suspicion for trying to hide a crime. On January 22, a regional court ruled that Portnoy would be subject to nightly house arrest.

Hromadske found no reference to this case in the Minister’s official statements while preparing this material.

July 2019. The Murder of Kyrylo Tlyavov

On May 31, 5 year old Kyrylo Tlyavov was playing on the street next to his home in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyi when a bullet struck him. The boy died after three days. The next day, two police officers were accused of pre-meditated murder – Volodymyr Petrovets and Ivan Prykhodko. They were detained. One more person was arrested after a month – Dmytro Kryvoshey. And a minor, the son one of the suspects, was sentenced to house arrest.

READ MORE: What We Know About Murder of 5-Year-Old Boy Allegedly Killed by Police

In December 2019, the prosecutor’s office sent the case to court. Prykhodko, one of the police officers, was charged with negligence murder. The murder weapon that killed the five year old boy was never found.

Patrol policeman Ivan Prykhodko, one of the suspects in the murder of five year old Kyrylo Tlyavov, during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine. June 4, 2019. Photo: Oleksandr Synytsia / UNIAN

Now the case is being tried in the Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyi regional court. Additionally, the National Police of Ukraine have opened investigations on another charge – inappropriate medical assistance for a child. Another investigation has also been opened, investigating whether the police had promptly responded to this murder and/or had hidden the murder weapon.

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An internal investigation into the local police department in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyi resulted in the dismissal of six police employees, and another six received disciplinary reprimands. Dmytro Tsenov, the head of the Kyiv regional police, submitted his resignation, but instead received a promotion to head of the police of the Joint Forces Operation zone. He was replaced by Andriy Nebitov. 

On July 5, 2019, Avakov called for the highest penalty for the suspects in the muder of Tlyavov.

July 2018. The Case of Kateryna Handziuk

In July 2018, activist and Kherson mayoral advisor Kateryna Handziuk suffered an acid attack. She died four months following the attack, a consequence of the many burns caused by the acid.

After a few days, Internal Affairs minister Avakov stated that the police had arrested the suspected attacker, Mykola Novikov. On August 6, the Kherson city court imposed imprisonment in a penal colony as a pre-trial detention measure. But Handziuk herself stated that this suspect was just "a random person in her case.”

Novikov was released two weeks later, and the criminal investigation was closed. He then said that the police had told him to sign documents admitting that he was near Handziuk’s house the day of the attack.

READ MORE: Murdered Activist Handziuk Believed 2 State Officials to Be Behind Attack on Her

One of the suspects in this case is Oleksiy Levin. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, a warrant was issued for his arrest on December 10, 2018. Handziuk’s father, Viktor, told hromadske in an interview that according to his information, Levin’s escape was aided by the former head of the Kherson police, Artur Merykov. And Merykov himself oversaw Novikov’s arrest. Now Merykov holds the post of assistant to the National Police head Ihor Klymenko.

Last year, the Prosecutor General passed a case along to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), regarding police negligence during the first stages of the initial investigation, hiding the crime, or assisting in the escape of Levin.  

In 2019, a regional court in the Dnipropetrovsk region sentenced five conspirators in Handziuk’s murder to 3-6 years' imprisonment: Mykyta Hrabchuk, Viktor Horbunov, Vyacheslav Vyshnevskyi, Volodymyr Vasyanovych, and Serhiy Torbin. All the suspects admitted guilt and signed statements attesting to that fact.

READ MORE: Rally for Murdered Activist Kateryna Handziuk: What We Know One Year Later

On January 24, Levin, suspected of being the organizer of the attack, was detained in Bulgaria. Bulgarian police say that Levin had changed his appearance. In February, a Bulgarian court signed off on Levin’s extradition back to Ukraine. Another co-conspirator, Ihor Pavlovskiy, is currently imprisoned. Kherson regional council head Vladislav Manger is suspected of ordering the attack. In February 2019, the Prosecutor General stated that Manger is suspected of ordering a murder, which was later changed to ordering an assault.

An Interpol warrant for Oleksiy Levin

On October 29, 2019, Avakov stated that he is not planning to resign over the Handziuk case.

“I differentiate between passionate appeals and reality. I’m not made of sugar – I don’t melt. I’m not going (to resign – ed.)” said the minister in response to a question about activist calls for his resignation.

December 2016. A shooting in Kniazhychi

On December 3, 2016, during a special operation in the village of Kniazhychi in the Kyiv region, a firefight broke out between members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Five law enforcement agents died in the firefight. According to the police, the operation was meant to detain suspected criminals. But a house alarm went off in a house, and local police drove out to respond – which resulted in the shooting.

The next day, the heads of three operational divisions of the National Police in Kyiv were dismissed, all of whom carried responsibility for the special operation in Kniazhychi. The personnel involved in the firefight were also dismissed.

The scene of the crime in Kniazhychi, Kyiv region, Ukraine. December 4, 2016. Photo: Inna Sokolovska / UNIAN

In 2017, a head of a criminal investigation department was also fired – Leonid Kuryata, who headed the operation. But Kuryata submitted an appeal against this decision, and demanded to be reinstated. He’s suspected with organizing the premeditated murder of the local police in that village. Kuryata was later appointed as the head of the Bakhmut police.

On May 10,2019, a court in the Kyiv region began the trial of five law enforcement agents involved in the matter. But on February 15, 2020, the case was returned to the Prosecutor General’s Office for further development. 

On February 22, 2019, Avakov stated that unprofessionalism was the cause of this shooting.

July 2016. The case of journalist Pavel Sheremet

Journalist Pavel Sheremet was murdered in Kyiv on July 20, 2016. Police did not reveal any details about the investigation for three years, and only in late 2019 did they reveal their results.

At the time, the police stated that they were examining four likely scenarios for the crime – with the most likely one being a ‘destabilization of the situation in the country.’

At a joint press conference held by the Interior Minister, the Prosecutor General, the head of National Police and the president, Ukrainian law enforcers released a recorded phone call to journalists, involving people that the police consider to be accomplices to the crime.

The police announced that they suspected three people of the murder: a nurse serving in the airborne division of the Ukrainian military, Yana Duhar, a pediatrician and heart surgeon, Yuliya Kuzmenko, and military volunteer and musician Andriy Antonenko.

READ MORE: Sheremet's Murder Case: Investigation Names Organizer

According to investigators, Antonenko created the group, Duhar took pictures of surveillance cameras on the street where Sheremet lived, and Kuzmenko planted the bomb on his car.

READ MORE: Why Investigative Outlet Slidstvo Has Doubts About Announced Sheremet Murder Suspects

Andriy Antonenko, suspected of murdering journalist Pavlo Sheremet, during a court hearing at a Kyiv appellate court, Kyiv, Ukraine, December 23, 2019. Photo: Oleksandr Synytsia / UNIAN

Lawyers for all three suspects state that the cases against their clients are fabricated. At the moment, Antonenko and Kuzmenko are imprisoned, while Duhar is under nightly house arrest.

In January 2020, Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka stated that there isn’t enough evidence in the Sheremet case to bring it to trial.

On December 12, 2019, Arsen Avakov wrote on Twitter that the the arrest of the suspects in the Sheremet case was the result of a long and complicated process, and an important step towards the full resolution of the murder.

/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski

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