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Rally for Murdered Activist Kateryna Handziuk: What We Know One Year Later
4 November, 2019
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A projection shows the rally's slogan - "A Year without Katya" near the Presidential Office, Kyiv Ukraine, 04.11.2019 hromadske

"A Year without Katya" – that’s the name of a protest behind held near the Presidential Office in Kyiv, on the anniversary of the death of activist Kateryna Handziuk. Similar rallies are also taking place in 40 cities throughout Ukraine, including in Lviv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kherson and others. Protestors demand that the perpetrators of the attack be punished. What has the official investigation revealed, one year later?

Convicted

The attack on Handziuk occurred in late July of last year. And the matter was investigated for three months by the National Police. It was first handled as a case of hooliganism, then as grievous bodily harm. Two days after Handziuk’s death, on November 6, then-Prosectutor General Lutsenko transferred the case to the State Security Service (SBU), and the case was reclassfied as premeditated murder. 

“Pre-court investigations didn’t stop for a single minute, the investigation of the matter was constantly ongoing,” claims the head of investigative management at the SBU, Bohdan Tivodar.

Eight people have been charged as suspects in the case, as a result of the investigation. Five of them have been identified: the organizer, Serhiy Torbin, and four accomplices – Volodymyr Vasyanovich and Vyacheslav Vyshnevskyi, who followed Handziuk around, Viktor Horbunov, who sourced the acid, and Mykyta Hrabchuk, who poured the acid onto the victim.

The investigation revealed that in July of 2018, Torbin received $4,500 from two individuals, who were not identified by the court at the time, with orders to harm Handziuk, who was known as a civil activist. 

All five confessed to the crime and agreed to a deal with prosecutors. In June of 2019, the Pokrovskyi Regional Court in Dnipropetrovsk oblast sentenced them to 3.5 to 6 years imprisonment. The sentence took effect in July.

Organizers

The investigation established that the individuals who had ordered the attack were Oleksiy Levin and Ihor Pavlovskyi. The first, according to the investigation, was a gang boss in Kherson region, who worked as an assistant to a regional parliamentarian, Mykola Stavytskyi, and was an advisor to the chairman of the Kherson regional parliament, Vladyslav Manger. Levin had previously served a 12-year sentence for attempted murder.

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

On August 19, 2018, Levin fled Ukraine. An international manhunt has been launched to catch him.

“Levin is a key figure, who ties together those responsible for the attacks – Torbin’s group and those who ordered the hit – Manger and others. He organized the attack, he found Torbin and gave him information on where Handziuk lived and so on,” said Tivodar.

The investigation claims that Levin was precisely the person who passed money along to the other seven suspects in the Handziuk case, to keep them quiet.

“The fact that Manger funded everything was not conclusively proven, but the fact that the money flowed from Levin is fully supported by the evidence,” stated the Deputy Head of Investigative Management at the SBU Vitaliy Mayakov.

The investigators are convinced that with the help of international assistance, they’ll be able to find Levin and bring him back to Ukraine. They add that looking for Levin isn’t the only route they’re taking: “We’re also moving to cut off his finances, to make it difficult for him to live.”

The second person suspected of ordering the hit, Ihor Pavlovskyi, worked as an assistant to an MP from the former President’s party Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc, Mykola Palamarchuk. Ex-policeman Roman Chuhalov told Hromadske in an interview that Palamarchuk is the “shadow overseer” of law enforcement bodies in Kherson.

Pavlovskyi was taken into custody on November 10 when he was officially named a suspect in the case. As a matter of course, he was detained without bail. In April, a Kyiv court changed his role in the murder from an organizer to a person who masterminded the cover-up. And in May, he was released from detention into house arrest, with his “failing health” given as the reason. 

But, activists from the group “Who Ordered the Hit on Handziuk” said that his health seemed to not prevent him from traveling to Odesa for a football match. The Prosecutor General’s office stated that this did not violate the terms of his house arrest, because the duration of the arrest had ended.

And in August, prosecutors signed a deal with Pavlovskyi, and the matter was passed to the Prymorskyi Court in Odesa. But Pavlovskyi has missed four assigned court dates, again citing his health as the reason. The next date is set to be November 5.

Who Ordered the Hit?

In February 2019, the main suspect in the Handziuk case became Vladyslav Manger. As a result, Manger was detained, with the possibility of bail, which was set at $92,000. His bail was paid by his lawyer, a parliamentarian from the Kherson City Council, Dmytro Ilchenko. 

The investigation established that Manger decided to order to the hit on Handziuk at the beginning of July 2018, which investigators say was “guided by a personal dislike of the woman and the impression that her activities undermine his authority.” Handziuk at the time was publicly agitating about what she saw as an unneeded amount of forest burnings and logging, noting that Kherson criminal gangs, working with local authorities, were profiting off these activities.

Investigators say that Manger gave Pavlovskyi and Levin not less than $400 to build contacts and source weapons for use in the murder. They also found evidence that Manger and Levin physically intimidated potential witnesses.

Manger, for his part, denies that he had anything to do with Handziuk’s murder, and instead blames the murder on SBU general Danylo Dotsenko. When asked whether Dotsenko really had anything to do with the murder, the SBU confirmed that they followed up on all information given to them.

Investigations into Levin and Manger are being handled as a separate matter and are currently on hold.

“Levin is currently wanted by us, while the Prosecutor General’s Office has filed a motion in a European country to conduct an investigation there related to Manher,” said the investigators.

Concurrently, SBU investigators are looking into other people connected to the murder, who could also be those ordering the hit, or organizers, or accomplices.

“These people are Kateryna Handziuk’s relatives, as well as other activists. This list is a little longer,” stated Tivodar.

The investigators say that Manger was not the only person who ordered the murder: “There were other people who were involved in this crime. It’s possible that they conspired in some other ways, that is as accomplices, instigators. If there was only one person who ordered the murder, then we would have finished our investigation with Manger,” added Tivodar.

Motives

The SBU is also investigating three criminal cases connected to the motives of the attack on Handziuk. 

“Kateryna Handziuk at the time blamed the leadership of the region of burning forests and theft from the budget, as well as other crimes, and all these things could have become a motive for the attack on her,” Tivodar said.

READ MORE: Fire and Acid: Fighting for This Forest May Have Cost Kateryna Handziuk Her Life

He noted that suspects are expected to be announced soon in the case of forest burning, and confirmed that Torbin’s group played a role there. “They also are mentioned in this case. I hope that soon we’ll have suspects set for the forest burnings specifically, and then we’ll be able to talk to specific people.”

Investigators also stated that there may be a case where the Hileya National Park – whose creation was lobbied for by the Kherson region leadership, Andriy Hordeev, Yevhen Ryshchuk, and Vladyslav Manger – was created to cover their illegal logging of the forest.

“When Kateryna was alive, she named exactly those situations where, as she believed, there could have been the order. There are 17 of these situations,” says Mayakov. According to him, some of those situations have been proven false, but work continues on the rest.

Law Enforcement Malpractice and Next Steps

On October 30, the Prosecutor General passed along a criminal case on law enforcement malpractice to the SBU. This case involves police activities connected to the initial investigation of the attack on Handziuk, and specifically about the detention of Mykola Novynkov, who was detained for three weeks, and released only once journalists proved his alibi.

READ MORE: Handziuk’s Father Speaks Out Against Authorities for Daughter’s Murder

In September 2018, Handziuk publicly spoke about a conflict with Artem Antoshchyk, the head of economic security in the Kherson region, who she claimed offered her a bribe, and then sued Handziuk for defamation. And activists from “Who Ordered the Hit on Kateryna Handziuk” claim that Artur Merykov, the head of the Kherson region police, could have possibly helped Oleksiy Levin escape Ukraine. The SBU says that the Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating this possibility.

“Concerning Merykov, all these questions were looked at, as far as I know, during our work, and we will continue these investigations. I cannot say for now what will happen with Mr. Merykov,” stated Tivodar.

In total, aside from the participation of Levin and Manger in the Handziuk attack, there are five additional cases connected to her murder. 

"Currently, there’s reason to believe that all five cases will result in positive results, and all responsible parties will be criminally charged,” asserted Tivodar.