Recusal of judges, chants"Shame!" and "Yulia, we are with you!" For about 13 hours, the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv selected a measure of restraint for three defendants in the murder of Pavel Sheremet: Yana Duhar, Yuliya Kuzmenko, and Andrii Antonenko.
The verdict was 24-hour home confinement and two-month detention. All three are charged with premeditated murder. They face up to 15 years or life imprisonment.
The suspects themselves do not admit guilt and call the charges “pressure on volunteer fighters and volunteers”. We collected everything from the court hearings in our material.
Around 9 a.m. on December 13, people are hanging out near the Pechersk Court of Kyiv building. For the most part, these are journalists and the support group of suspects Yuliya Kuzmenko, Yana Duhar and Andrii “Riffmaster” Antonenko.
The suspects were charged on December 12 with the murder of journalist Sheremet on July 20, 2016. The previous night, they were searched. Among those we meet near the court are the acting MP Yana Zinkevych and a former MP Oksana Korchynska.
“I am here first of all to support Yana. Because I know she couldn't be in Kyiv (on July 16 and 18, 2016, when, according to investigators, Duhar photographed surveillance cameras near Sheremet's house - ed). As far as I know, the first time that she got to Kyiv was in 2016 or 2017 for a vacation. I know Yana Duhar as a scrub nurse at Hospital no. 66, who was then seconded to our hospital by our military doctors at the end of 2016 and received 279 wounded with our military surgeons over the course of three months,” says Oksana Korchynska.
We are allowed into the courtroom around midday. It is crowded with support groups, with hardly enough space for the journalists:
"How do you know that you won’t be served with charges tomorrow?" we are asked by friends of Duhar and Kuzmenko. And later they joke: “There are so many suspects in this case that Sheremet could have just been trampled. There was no need for explosions,” exclaims Kuzmenko’s friend.
In response to our remark about the inappropriate joke, she adds that Kuzmenko is a wonderful pediatric cardiac surgeon: “There are only three such doctors in Ukraine. Why would she do this?”
Suspect Yana Duhar (center) with attorneys in the courtroom of Pechersk Court of Kyiv, December 13, 2019. Photo: Victoria Roschina / hromadske
The investigation said that prior to identifying the suspects, they had worked with 20 groups, 80 million telephone conversations, and examined CCTV footage from 221 cameras.
The first one to enter the hall is Duhar, a nurse of the 25th Airborne Battalion. She smiles a lot and does not answer any questions from journalists. According to the investigation, it was Duhar who was brought in to the crime by Kuzmenko and Antonenko, and on July 16 and 18, 2016, she went to Ivan Franko Street in central Kyiv and traced the cameras and location of the car used by the journalist.
The investigation believes that Duhar was part of Antonenko’s organized crime group, who created it while taking part in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (former name for the Ukrainian government's military operations against Russia-led separatists in eastern Ukraine -ed.) and "[getting] fascinated with ultra-nationalist ideas, cultivating the magnificence of the Aryan race, distinguishing society on the basis of nationality, seeking to make his views an object of public attention."
According to investigators, they decided to kill Sheremet, and soon prepared another high-profile crime allegedly to destabilize the situation in the country. In particular, according to investigators, Antonenko was the organizer and leader of the group: he distributed roles among the participants, managed their operations, purchased ammunition, provided members of the group with transport, set the time of the crime, collected and analyzed information about Sheremet.
Duhar herself declined to speak to reporters, but her defense emphasized the inconsistency of the information in the charges, noting that from June 3 to September 29, 2016, Duhar was in the military unit where she conducted surgeries. However, when asked whether she left the military unit, neither the charged nor her lawyers responded.
"Why are you helping the prosecution trump up the case?" asks Duhar’s lawyer. Lawyers also say that the photo, which was used for matching during Duhar's examination, was taken at the time when Duhar was abroad.
The defense also notes that Duhar is an orphan, and pledgers say she first came to Kyiv in July 2017 to receive an award from then-Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak.
Overall, for her participation in the fighting, Duhar has received several awards, among them "For Courage" of the third degree and a medal for "Defense of Avdiyivka".
The court goes to the meeting room and announces the decision within minutes: 24-hour home confinement. Now Duhar has to go to the place of residence in Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk region. Lawyers say they will appeal the ruling.
Suspect Yana Duhar (second from left) with lawyers in the courtroom of Pechersk Court of Kyiv on December 13, 2019. Photo: Victoria Roschina / hromadske
"Yuliya, we are with you!" Such exclamations are heard during the escort to the room of the second suspect – Yuliya Kuzmenko. The hall applauds. Subsequently, the anthem of Ukraine is sung. The suspect joins in with her hand on her heart.
The lawyer asks for recusal of Judge Serhiy Vovk, saying that he may be biased, since he had already given permission to conduct searches.
In 2012, Vovk sentenced Yuriy Lutsenko to four years for allegedly illegally celebrating Militia Day at the “Ukraine” Palace of Arts. Subsequently, the European Parliament called the decision “not in line with international litigation standards”. Judge Vovk also presided over a panel of judges who sentenced former Defense Minister Valeriy Ivashchenko to five years in prison. Ivashchenko was found guilty of malpractice during the 2009 signing of sanctions on the sale of property of the Feodosia Ship-Mechanical Plant in Crimea. The European Parliament subsequently recognized Ivashchenko convicted for political reasons.
There have been attempts to prosecute Judge Vovk and he was previously deprived of judicial immunity. In particular, according to the Kyiv Prosecutor's Office, in 2015, Vovk illegally deprived a citizen of ownership of property. At that time, Vovk was suspended, but in 2016 he returned to work.
Judge Serhiy Vovk on December 13, 2019. Photo: Victoria Roschina / hromadske
The withdrawal of Vovk is not granted. Consideration continues. The prosecutor's office asks to arrest Kuzmenko for two months, saying that she, as a member of a criminal group, partook in visual tracking of Sheremet. And on July 20 at about 2:34 a.m., according to investigators, Kuzmenko arrived on Ivan Franko Street and attached an explosive to the base of a Subaru car used by Sheremet near the house no. 12.
The charges suggest that Kuzmenko had a backpack with a sports suit, she arrived at Ivan Franko Street at about 7 a.m. on July 20 and changed her clothes on the territory of an abandoned house no. 17. At about 7:21 a.m., she approached house no. 12, where Sheremet lived, and started observing the Subaru car. At about 7:42 a.m., Kuzmenko, seeing that Sheremet left the house and got into the car, returned to the abandoned house, where she continued to watch the car.
At this time, Sheremet began to drive to the intersection with Bohdan Khmelnytskyi Street. Making sure that the car drove to a safe distance from her, Kuzmenko, according to the investigation, remotely caused the car to explode. Then she got changed into previous clothes and left the crime scene.
In denying the charges, Kuzmenko and her defense asked to question her former husband, who allegedly had to confirm that she had been home the night of July 19 to July 20, 2016, as well as the director of the hospital where the suspect works. After all, the woman says that at about 7 a.m. on July 20, she was at her workplace, and read about the explosion from the news. “My workday started at 8 a.m. I first read about Sheremet at that time,” said Kuzmenko.
Suspect Yuliya Kuzmenko in the courtroom of the Pechersk Court of Kyiv on December 13, 2019. Photo: Victoria Roschina / hromadske
The woman calls the audio recordings released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs during the briefing “taken out of context”: “Could the whole record have been provided? This is ludicrous. We sat with the girls and talked. And I say, "The police no longer beats the Maidan activists. We should chase them to be beaten. I no longer remember the conversation. We laughed about it, then changed the topic. I don't even remember if we discussed any intimate moments. I would like everyone to hear the full recording,” Kuzmenko said.
The woman also confirms that she was at Antonenko's concert on July 21: “Yes, after work. I went to a “Riffmaster” concert with my kid for the first time. I'm sorry, I’m not so cynical to kill a person, to perform an operation on children, and then to go to a concert,” the woman said.
When asked why she was served with charges, she responded briefly: “We need to exterminate volunteers as well. With volunteer fighters, everything was fine, we should now turn to volunteers,” the suspect said.
Vladyslav Dobush, Kuzmenko's lawyer, criticized the charges: “All suspicion is based solely on the imagination of the investigator. If there was an [organized crime] group, how did you establish this? Covert investigative-search activities, intelligence information should at least be included. Did you carry out preparation? Where, who bought the explosive, when? It is necessary for the persons to be identified and by what criteria they were identified. This is a question of objectivity. To ensure that no outside observer is left in doubt."
During her speech in court, the suspect said that during the briefing, by calling her name, the interior ministry had violated the presumption of innocence, as a result of which "her life was destroyed." She also added that she would prove her innocence through additional expertise, investigative activities and a polygraph.
The judge granted PGO’s request and the woman was arrested for two months.
"Shame!" shouted Kuzmenko's friends in the hall after the announced decision to arrest the woman. At this time, a third suspect – musician, volunteer fighter, volunteer Andrii Antonenko, known as “Riffmaster” – is being brought into the courtroom. He is met with applause, and in a few minutes he leaves the box to sit with lawyers.
The day before there were also attempts to recuse Judge Vovk. In response to the question where he was from the night of July 19 to 20, Antonenko says: “In [the town of] Vorzel, in a sauna, then I played a concert in the Passage (central Kyiv -ed.). And I look different from the person I am being matched with.”
He adds that he only learned of Sheremet during the searches and has nothing to do with the case: "I’ll have you know that if I plead guilty, it was through force or torture."
When asked why they suspect him, he replies: “I have no answer. I do not know. Maybe I wrote something wrong on Facebook just as Yulia Kuzmenko did.”
The suspect's lawyer, Kostiantyn Tatarchenko, says the charges are unfounded: "I think there is an instruction from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from other pro-government offices, that this crime should be solved by the end of 2019," the defender said.
At the same time, the prosecutor's office emphasized – the investigation established that on the eve of Antonenko's searches, he handed over a MON-50 mine to another person. This mine was seized.
During his speech in court, Antonenko indicated that he was half-Jewish and therefore considered inappropriate the wording in the charges "cultivating the magnificence of the Aryan race, distinguishing society on the basis of nationality" and said that he did not resemble the man in the video: “I have been sporting a solid beard since 2013. It gets longer or shorter, but it is one-piece. The man in the video has a goatee – a beard with completely shaved cheeks. The second point is the shoulders, I have a bit of a slant, a slightly elongated neck, which does not coincide with [the footage]. Please note – my ears are broken because I do martial arts, but the person on the video has ears intact,” said the suspect.
More than 10 people expressed readiness to bail Antonenko out. Among them musician Oleksandr Polozhynskyi, spokesman of the Special Operations Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Oleksiy Nikiforov, MP Yana Zinkevych, and others.
At 3:30 a.m., Judge Vovk announces the decision – for the request of the prosecutor's office to be satisfied and Antonenko to be arrested for two months.
The investigation claims that they already know the originator of the crime, but the evidence base is still being collected to declare charges.
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