Ukrainian Activist and Whistleblower Official Dies After Acid Attack
4 November, 2018

Kateryna Handziuk, a civic activist and political advisor from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, has died after battling injuries sustained from an acid attack on July 31.

This was confirmed to Hromadske by Head of the Kyiv Police Andriy Kryshchenko. Earlier, friends and fellow activists wrote about Handziuk's death on Facebook.

Kateryna Handziuk, a civic activist and advisor to the Mayor of Kherson, was seriously injured in an acid attack near her home in Kherson, Ukraine on July 31. She died on November 4 in hospital. Photo credit: Facebook

Handziuk, a 33-year old advisor to the mayor of Kherson and an outspoken critic of the national police in the region, was attacked outside her home on July 31. Approximately 30% of her body suffered from burns and she remained in the hospital for over three months after the attack undergoing 11 surgeries, which included removal of damaged tissue and skin replacement.

READ MORE: Acid Attack in Southern Ukraine: What Happened?

The case, which was initially classed as attempted murder with extreme brutality and later received additional classification of attempted murder-for-hire, is now treated as premeditated murder. Five people have insofar been named suspects in relation to the incident.

On September 26, Hromadske released a video of Handziuk where she talked about similar attacks on activists in Ukraine, as well as asked questions addressed at the government and society.

"Who ordered all these people? Who’s covering up for those who ordered them? Why are so many investigations being frozen? Why do we need to suffer while the most active of us are murdered and tortured?” she said in the video. She also told Hromadske that she believes the attack was an "assassination attempt"  rather than an intimidation effort.

“Why do I consider it to be assassination attempt? Because the acid was poured on my head. If someone wanted to warn or silence me, they could have targeted my arms, legs, or face – anywhere. But they poured a liter of acid on my head,” Handziuk told Hromadske in September.

READ MORE: Police May Be Involved in Acid Attack on Kherson Activist

As part of her civic activism work, she criticized various local authorities in Kherson region, which some believe could have been the grounds for the July attack. In fall 2017, Handziuk posted on Facebook accusing the head of the Kherson police’s economic protection department Artem Antoshchuk of bribing the local government by demanding 3% on all contracts and tenders. However, Antoshchuk wrote a backdated statement claiming that he was the one being bribed. Law enforcement subsequently searched Handziuk’s office.

On September 15, Ukrainian General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko stated that a potential organizer of the murder agreed to testify about the case. Lutsenko probably meant Serhiy Torbin who was named to be an organizer by a fellow suspect in the attack, Volodymyr Vasianovych.

The house where activist Kateryna Handziuk lived in Kherson, southern Ukraine. August 2, 2018. Photo credit: Oleksandra Chernova / HROMADSKE

Both men were detained on August 17 but Vasianovych was released on house arrest a month later. Torbin remains in custody to this day, albeit he claims he had been slandered and denies any wrongdoing. Another suspect, Vyacheslav Vyshnevskyi, was released on house arrest on August 22.

On October 18, the pre-trial detention term of one of the suspects was extended to another two months, Kherson region prosecutor's office told Hromadske. They did not clarify which suspect.

According to Lutsenko's spokesperson Larysa Sargan, 367 people have been questioned over the attack and dozens of premises searched.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called on law enforcement representatives to "do everything possible in order to find the murderers [of Handziuk]."

"So that the murderers are punished and are sat on the defendant's bench. We all have to help the police, the law enforcers, so that the evil is punished," the president wrote on Facebook on November 4.

While European Union Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn tweeted that "attacks against civil society activists are unacceptable."

A rally will be held outside the Interior Ministry of Ukraine building at 7 p.m. Kyiv time on November 4. The attendants will honor the memory of Handziuk and demand a clear and complete investigation of the attack. Similar rallies are planned across other Ukrainian towns.

READ MORE: Kherson Acid Victim Says Attack Was “Assassination Attempt”​

/By Maria Romanenko