“We Don’t Trust Anyone”: How a Murder in South Ukraine Triggered Anti-Police Protests
7 January, 2020
Police officers gather near the police precinct in the town of Kakhovka in the Kherson region, where a protest took place on January 5. Tetiana Bezruk / hromadske

“These a*****s, I hate them,” said 12-year-old Ilya about the local police in the Ukrainian port town of Kakhovka, located on the banks of the Dnipro in the Kherson region.

Kakhovka, a town founded as a fortress by the Crimean Khanate in the 15th century, has a population of about 37,000 – far from the millions in Kyiv or Odesa. Yet this small town has dominated Ukrainian headlines for the last few weeks following the murder of one of the town’s residents.

Ilya and a friend, Danylo, have been coming to the local police precinct for at least two days – January 4 and January 5. They’ve been joined by dozens of adult residents, who are calling on local authorities to properly investigate the murder of 26-year-old Volodymyr Chebukin. 

Chebukin was was shot in the early hours of the New Year’s Day, outside the house of his ex-wife. He died in hospital on January 3, from gunshot wounds. 

“The operation lasted four hours. There were two policemen in the hospital. And the nurse, which took [Volodymyr] to the x-ray room, told me that he constantly asked ‘What do they want from me?’” explained Olena Chebukina, Volodymyr’s mother.

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

Olena is wearing a black handkerchief on her head, signaling mourning in Ukrainian culture, and is holding a portrait of her son. She doesn’t know exactly when the shooting happened. Her son was brought to the hospital at 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Volodymyr’s doctor explained that Volodymyr had suffered five separate gunshot wounds to his liver, and two to his lungs, all caused by different calibre bullets.

“The nurse brought us the bullets laid on gauze. There was one huge one, just enormous, gold, and a few small ones,” said Olena.

The investigators in the Chebukin murder case have proposed the following scenario: “There were five people present at the shooting site. The official police position is ‘intentional murder.’ And the police are currently working on finding out if there was one shooter involved in this intentional murder, or several.”

Those are the words of Mykola Verbytskyi, the head of investigations at the main National Police headquarters in the Kherson region. He arrived in the town on the second day of protests against the local Kakhovka police, adding that this case is now being investigated by the main regional headquarters.

The police have currently one suspect – 29-year-old Yuriy Kashnikov. On January 3, a local court subjected Kashnikov to a pre-trial detention period of 60 days, without bail. He’s charged with "intentional murder" under Ukrainian criminal law.

Kashnykov lived with Valeriya Muntyan – Chebukin’s ex-wife, who also has custody of Chebukin’s 3-year-old son. Chebukin visited his ex-wife at some point between New Year’s Eve night and early morning New Year’s Day, and at some point, he was shot. But police say that Chebukin started shooting first, and was shot only after he started firing.

Chebukin’s mother claims that Volodymyr had told her that Kashnikov wanted to sue custody of the child away from him.

“Vova (diminutive form of Volodymyr -ed.) said: ‘He’ll make it so that I’d be a stranger to my own [son.] How, this is my son?’” said Olena.

The investigators, however, have not come down with an official cause to the conflict between Chebukin and Kashnikov. However, the town residents’ frustration with local police stems from the fact that the same night that Chebukin was shot, Chebukin’s ex-wife’s house was playing host to local Kakhovka policeman Oleksandr Portnoy.

Portnoy has since been suspended from his job, and the Government Bureau of Investigations has opened a criminal case against him for "abuse of office." Despite this, friends and family of the victim are worried that the case may be covered up, which is why the day after Chebukin’s death, they began protesting at the local police precinct, burning tires and throwing paint at the building.

The protesters asked Verbytskyi to clarify the owners of the firearms found at the shooting. Firearm regulations in Ukraine require all firearms to be registered, and are generally restrictive – though black market arms trade have seen an uptick since the start of Russian aggression and occupation in the country.

READ MORE: A Hello to Arms: Is There a Black Market for Guns in Ukraine?

“The pistol was registered to the deceased,” responded Verbytskyi, but the protestors vehemently disagreed, interrupting the explanation with cries of “It wasn’t his!”

Verbytskyi continued: “I personally visited the deceased’s family yesterday, we spoke, we checked the documents.”
But Chebukin’s parents dispute this, saying that the firearm found at the scene of the shooting was not their son’s. Oleksandr Morozov, Volodymyr’s friend, also supports the parents' statement.

“I’ve personally held Vova’s pistol in my hands. The grip and trigger are different. It’s a completely different gun. Portnoy had the opportunity to change everything. We want to know what gun belonged to Yuriy (Kashnikov -ed.) We think that the gun found was his,” explained Morozov.

The young man added that the case needs to have another medical forensic expert take a look, a process that should include someone from the deceased’s side. That expert should establish exactly what gun, or guns, shot Chebukin. Verbytskyi confirmed that this second opinion will in fact be held.

Chebukin’s family, and their lawyer, Iryna Krasnova, have a few more questions in addition to the one of gun ownership.

Krasnova started working on the Chebukin case on January 3, and that same evening tried to meet with the local Kakhovka police to obtain materials regarding the case. But the police refused to present the lawyer with the documents, saying that there were no victims of the incident at the time and that the case had already been transferred to the National Police HQ in Kherson. 

“We already didn’t trust them, considering that the investigator held onto the criminal case materials, but at the same time claimed that these materials didn’t exist,” recalled Krasnova, adding that she expects to receive the materials on January 8, when she plans to visit the National Police HQ. Kherson region's National Police chief Oleksandr Prokudin stated that the case materials had indeed been transferred, but refused to elaborate on when.

The father of the victim, Mykhailo Chebukin, alleges that the bloodstains at the scene of the crime had vanished even by the morning of January 1. “They washed off the blood. And Vova’s car was parked outside the main building entrance,” he explained, adding that according to the investigators, Volodymyr Chebukin’s car was parked at the back door to the house.

Investigative head Verbytskyi insists that the rumors about the washed-off blood are being checked. “The police took swabs of those traces when they were working at the scene of the crime. Citizens have told us about this, and we’re checking this and following up. An in fact we’re following up with our policemen. We’re working an internal security department and with staff inspections.”

Meanwhile, Krasnova also noted that searches of the house that the shooting took place in front of only occurred three days following the shooting, and speculates that important evidence may have vanished in that time. She also said that local CCTV cameras were missing footage of the incident. According to her, National Police HQ employees seized at least one of these videos, from the doorbell camera.

“The flash drive with the videos was sealed and wasn’t shown to anyone when we went to the police precinct” said the lawyer.

The victim’s friends say that they plan to turn to the security company that manages the doorbell cameras in order to receive the footage. They say that these recordings are supposed to be kept up to a week. 

“We don’t trust anyone any longer,” said Olena Chebukina, mother of the victim.

READ MORE: Ukraine’s Police Reform: What’s Really Going On?

/Report by Tetiana Bezruk

/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski

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