Who Ordered the Murder of Russian Journalist Arkady Babchenko?
1 June, 2018

More and more details are emerging about the staged murder of Russian opposition journalist Arkady Babchenko, which was later revealed to be part of a sting operation devised to catch the person who ordered the kill.

On the evening of May 31, the Shevchenkivskiy District Court of Kyiv released the name of the person law enforcement officers suspect to be the organizer of the “murder.” Borys Herman, a 51-year-old Ukrainian citizen, has now been placed in pretrial detention for two months.

In a further development, Herman, in court on Thursday, claimed he had been working for Ukrainian counterintelligence since he was approached by an old acquaintance living in Moscow – Viacheslav Pivovarnik. According to Herman, Pivovarnik works for a private fund of Russian President Vladimir Putin tasked with organizing unrest in Ukraine, and had given him a hit list with the names of 30 people to kill.  

Borys Herman was named as the suspect behind organizing the murder of journalist Arkady Babchenko at a hearing in the Shevchenkivskiy District Court, Kyiv, May 31, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Gontar/UNIAN

It has also now been reported that Donbas volunteer fighter Oleksiy Tsymbaliuk was the “killer” who was hired to carry out the hit on Babchenko but instead cooperated with the SBU.

The case has become a controversial subject both at home and abroad with journalists questioning whether the fake murder has undermined the credibility of Ukraine and its media. A piece published by The Guardian noted that critics believed the SBU’s methods “had discredited journalism and handed Russia a massive propaganda victory.”

Speaking to journalists on May 30, Babchenko said while it was his decision to take part in the plan, he felt he had no other choice.

“My first reaction was, go to hell, I want to take my things and go to the North Pole or Australia, where there will be no chance they’ll get me. But in the end it became clear – what choice [do I have]? Where can I run to? Skripal fled to England,” he said.

“As for me as a journalist, I beg you. Those journalists who think I’ve crossed a red line, friends, when someone comes and shows you your photograph, shows you the photograph of your ‘organizer,’ introduces you to your killer, and says, ‘Hey man, what do you want – do you want to survive or do you want to preserve the ethics and purity and moral spirit of your profession?’ ... I chose survival.”

Hromadske gathered information about the organizer, “hit man” and the Russian contact allegedly tied to Babchenko’s “murder.”

The Organizer

According to the official report of the Shevchenkivskiy District Court of Kyiv, 51-year-old Borys Herman stands accused of ordering the hit on Babchenko. Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) detained him on May 30 – the day after Babchenko's death was staged. Head of the SBU Vasyl Hrytsak played the footage of the arrest on May 30 at a press briefing in Kyiv.

Prosecutors asked the court to hold Herman in pretrial detention for two months, which the court later approved.

Borys Herman was named as the suspect behind organizing the murder of journalist Arkady Babchenko at a hearing in the Shevchenkivskiy District Court, Kyiv, May 31, 2018. Photo: Vladimir Gontar/UNIAN

Herman’s lawyer, Yevhen Solodko, said his client is the executive director of the Ukrainian-German joint venture "Schmeisser"– a non-state enterprise that manufactures weapons.

"The venture has a long-standing business relationship with Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and Borys himself is known for his volunteer work, helping meet the needs of the ATO. Their optical sights are on the rifles of our snipers. He is the one modernizing and creating the most powerful sniper complexes on the basis of existing military weapons,” the lawyer added.

Solodko also stated that from Herman’s conversations with the "killer," it is evident that the SBU have conducted numerous searches of his apartment and manufacturing plant in the past six months.

According to the website, which provides information about assistants of MPs, a person with the same name, surname and patronymic as Herman had served as an aide to two Ukrainian MPs. From 2006 to 2007, he worked for Mikhail Goncharov from Ukraine’s Socialist Party, and from 2007 to 2012  for Ihor Plokhoi, a Party of Regions deputy.

According to the SBU, Russian intelligence services recruited the Ukrainian citizen and handed him $40,000 to carry out Babchenko’s murder. The recruited Ukrainian, who authorities are calling the organizer of the “murder” hired an acquaintance to carry out the task. This man, who fought in the Donbas, would receive $30,000 of the sum. However, the “killer” instead collaborated with the SBU.

Meanwhile, during the court hearing Herman himself declared that he knew that the “killer” was cooperating with the SBU.

The Killer

According to Ruslan Kravchenko, a prosecutor in Babchenko's case, it was Donbas volunteer fighter Oleksiy Tsymbaliuk that was supposed to carry out the murder. Kravchenko stated this during the court hearing on preventive measures against Herman.

"On April 6, Herman put forward the proposal to kill Babchenko to Tsymbaliuk. Tsymbaliuk did not refuse the offer and on April 17, Herman met with Tsymbaliuk near the Ocean Plaza shopping center [in Kyiv],” Kravchenko said.  

Furthermore, he said Herman transferred a $14,000 advance payment to Tsymbaliuk. Kravchenko said that during this meeting, Herman named two more people that were to be killed. This has also been confirmed by Tsymbaliuk.

Donbas volunteer fighter Oleksiy Tsymbaliuk has named himself as one of the people involved in organizing the “murder” of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko. Photo by Bohdan Kutiepov/ Hromadske

"After the the recording of me receiving an advance payment for the murder was released, since my voice wasn’t changed, I don’t see the point of hiding. The investigation continues. I signed a nondisclosure agreement,” wrote Tsymbaliuk on Facebook.

Tsymbaliuk was a priest with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. At one point he lived in the Carpathian mountains. Later he joined the Right Sector’s volunteer medic battalion “Hospitallers” in the Donbas. That’s where he met officers from Ukraine’s Security Service. He worked as part of the SBU’s mobile groups to stop the smuggling of contraband items to the Donbas, where fighting was taking place.

SBU spokeswoman Elena Hitlianska first refuted the information provided by Kravchenko and Tsymbaliuk. "This [Tsymbaliuk] is a sick person. Do not spread false information. Anyone can write anything on a wall,” she told Hromadkse, denying Tsymbaliuk – a volunteer fighting in the Donbas – was the “murderer.”

However, she later apologized for "misleading the public" and confirmed that he was indeed involved in the case.

The Russian Contact

At the court hearing on Thursday, Herman stated that the organization of Babchenko’s murder was part of his work with Ukrainian counterintelligence.

He said it started when he was approached by an “old acquaintance” who lives in Moscow and works for a Putin fund tasked with organizing unrest in Ukraine. Herman names the old acquaintance as Viacheslav Pivovarnik.

Herman claims he went with this information to Ukrainian counterintelligence because he believed that was their field of expertise and not that of the SBU. He also claimed that counterintelligence gave him the authority to study what money was coming into Ukraine and to which political parties and terrorist groups it was going to.  

During the court hearing, Herman said Tsymbaliuk was selected to carry out the “kill” because he had been a priest and wouldn’t be able to murder anyone. It was expected that Tsymbaliuk would approach the SBU with the information, he said.

According to an Interfax report, Kravchenko said this information only emerged during the hearing and will be checked by the pretrial investigative body. He added that it contradicted existing evidence about the suspect’s motive and logic.

“First of all, the suspect doesn’t know that the counterintelligence department is part of the SBU, it is not a seperate body,” Kravchenko said.