The death of Ukrainian activist and political advisor Kateryna Handziuk sent shockwaves across the world. The 33-year-old, who exposed official and police corruption in her hometown Kherson and the region, was brutally attacked with acid outside her home on July 31. She suffered severe burns to 30% of her body and was left bedridden in a hospital until her tragic death on November 4. Despite a handful of arrests, some of which Handziuk supported, the masterminds of the attack are still unknown and investigation has not lead to concrete results other than political scandals.
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On November 13, an article came out on Ukrainian news site Livyi Bereg. Written by journalist and close friend of the late Handziuk, Kateryna Mola, it provided a poignant account into Handziuk’s life and work. But perhaps the article wouldn’t have drawn so much attention if it wasn’t inexplicably taken down mere hours after it was posted. Titled “Time to Come Clean: Who Ordered [the Attack on] Kateryna Handziuk?” it immediately drew concerns that it was deleted under pressure from parties whom it attacked. Hours after the news of the article’s deletion broke, Andrii Ianitskyi, economics editor at Livyi Bereg, announced on his Facebook page that he’s resigning after nine years of working for the organization. Although not explicitly implied in the post, many suspect his resignation to be connected to the Handziuk article incident.
On November 14, the article reemerged on the same page but with significant changes, including places where it mentioned big names in Ukrainian politics. The editor’s note above this version says that it had to be deleted because it failed to undergo the compulsory lawyer check which all articles on Livyi Bereg are subject to before publishing. The note also claims that the publication will now bear legal responsibility in court due to a “series of claims” it contained.
Hromadske takes a look at some of the things this article mentions, including the late activist’s numerous conflicts with officials.
1. After Handziuk’s public conflict with Artem Antoshchuk, head of the Kherson police’s economic protection department, she was allegedly constantly followed by the Interior Ministry.
“It is specifically due to this constant following, [Handziuk] failed to notice that she was now being followed not just by the cops who wanted to control her, but by genuine murderers,” Mola writes in the article.
Interior Ministry’s spokesperson Artem Shevchenko told Hromadske that he doesn’t have any information about representatives of the ministry following Handziuk. In his words, this claim is “groundless at the moment” and there is no proof provided in Mola’s text.
2. Handziuk received threats because of the photograph she posted on Facebook that had “Cops suck” written in it. Handziuk removed the photograph after a court ruled in her favor.
3. Handziuk had personal conflict with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s former advisor Illya Kiva. Kiva called Handziuk a “corruptionist” without providing any evidence. Handziuk reportedly managed to file a lawsuit against Kiva during the last days of her life.
4. Handziuk constantly wrote and talked about “tight cooperation” between Russia and the representatives of Ukrainian Interior Ministry in Kherson.
“Kyrylo Stremousov, the head of [Socialist Party of Ukraine] who is led by Kiva, is a Russian World sympathizer, one of those who tried building “Novorossiya” (a collective term Russia-backed separatists use for occupied parts of Ukraine - ed.) in south-east Ukraine. He organized mass demonstrations with Russian flags, he used to be (and potentially still is) a representative of [Ukraine’s pro-Russian politician] Viktor Medvedchuk in the region,” Mola writes in the article. “After all, it is him who tried to release Crimean lawmaker of [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] United Russia party who was detained in Kherson by an SBU convoy.” There were no consequences for Stremousov.
Hromadske reached out to the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for comment on Stremousov, but they replied that they are not ready to comment yet.
5. Handziuk also claimed that Vladyslav Manger, the head of the Kherson Regional Council, has ties with Russia. Manger is former aide to lawmaker Oleksiy Zhuravko who is now hiding in occupied Donetsk region. A friend of Handziuk, Serhiy Nikitenko, even made a film about Manger’s antics and criminal past. After the film release, Nikitenko was beaten up by unknown assailants. The investigation into this attack proved to be fruitless thus far.
Upon being questioned by Hromadske on November 14, Interior Minister’s spokesperson Shevchenko said he has no new information on the attack on Nikitenko.
6. Another conflict Handziuk had was with Ihor Pastukh, head of the regional department of Ukraine's state transportation safety service. It is because of Handziuk, Pastukh had to resign from his position as first deputy of Kherson mayor. Pastukh is a representative of People’s Front political party in Kherson and used to head Kiva’s political campaign.
7. Handziuk also had a conflict with a representative of president Petro Poroshenko Bloc Olena Ursulenko. Ursulenko allegedly tried to get Kherson mayor, whom Handziuk advised, ousted.
8. But perhaps the biggest among all of Handziuk’s conflicts was with Andriy Hordeyev, head of Kherson Regional State Administration. She accused him of being spineless and easily swayed.
“Hordeyev is under influence of head of the Kherson Regional Council Vladyslav Manger and his own deputy Yevkhen Ryshchuk who is often referred as the real head of the region,” the article reads.
9. One of the last rows Handziuk had was with the regional government after a huge blaze took place in Oleshkiv district near Kherson. Handziuk alleged that a “traditional system” was being used of setting fire to a forest and then chopping down and selling “everything that didn’t burn.” Handziuk published on her Facebook page photographs of trucks loaded with chopped wood with imprints of fire. She named Manger and Hordeyev as those she believed to be responsible for the incident.
Hromadske has reached out to all the people mentioned in the article and will publish their responses as soon as they’re received.