When a blaze in Ukraine’s Kherson region destroyed more than 600 hectares of Oleshky Forest last May, Kateryna Handziuk stated: it’s being burned on purpose to sell its wood. In November Hadziuk – an activist and advisor to the mayor of Kherson – died, four months after suffering an acid attack that left serious injuries on her body. The prosecution then stated that her outspokenness about the fire was likely the reason she was attacked.
The Handziuk case has already been going on for six months with eight people featured. They include members of a volunteer battalion, former law enforcers and officials. The question of “who ordered the murder of Handziuk?” has become one of the most popular ones to address to the law enforcement agencies and the government.
But what’s happening with the Oleshky Forest today? The logs are still being driven out illegally. Our sources within law enforcement tell us that all illegal logging in the Oleshky Forest was previously controlled by businessman Serhiy Braha, who, according to prosecution, was present during the gatherings of the suspects in Handziuk’s murder where they discussed ways of inflicting harm on the activist. These days, the scheme of setting fire then driving the trees away for sale is used by Kherson businessman Mykola Urmanov, a close friend of the family of Oleksiy Levin-Moskalenko, another suspect in Handziuk murder. Urmanov himself tells us that he’s never been involved in illegal logging and selling forests.
So who could have wanted to make profit from the Oleshky Forest?
One of the suspects in Handziuk’s murder, Vladislav Manger, has been actively trying to create a park at the place of Oleshky, Hola Prystan and Nova Kakhovka forests, which would be funded by the regional council. Local activists assert that this park would have helped the local authorities monopolize illegal logging in the area.
The work of the Hileya park was supposed to be monitored by the Nikhto Krim Nas (Nobody But Us) organization, the activists tell us. One of its representatives Oleksandr Kovaliov, according to the official investigation, helped the notorious Berkut riot police officers flee Ukraine after Euromaidan in spring 2014.
Manger denies having any ties with Nikhto Krim Nas and claims he was just trying to preserve the forest.
Kateryna Handziuk wrote on social media that nothing would have gone through without the approval of head of the regional state administration Andriy Hordeyev. But the region’s governor tells us he had no influence over the Oleshky Forest decisions
The emblazed area of the Oleshky Forest is located near the iodine lakes. The activists tell us that this area has long been of interest to the deputy governor of the region, Yevhen Ryshchuk.
Hromadske traveled to the forest to see where the logs are being taken, which laws are being broken and who’s gaining from these processes.
/By Victoria Roshchina
/Translated by Maria Romanenko