The Zaporizhya Church Bomb and its Victims
The crime was disturbingly strange: a bomb planted in a church, an elderly nun killed, with two out of the three suspects - former sacristans supposedly with a grudge against the church superior. The other elements of the story are depressingly familiar.
Three young men have been held in custody for two years despite serious doubts about the case for the prosecution. The main “evidence” against the three young men is their own confessions later retracted.
They were arrested in early August 2010 just one week after the explosion. This followed promises given the President by the law enforcement bodies to solve the crime which came during unprecedented pomp and ceremony laid on to mark the Moscow Patriarch’ Kirill’s first visit to Ukraine.
At the latest court hearing on13 June the results of a new expert assessment by the Donetsk Forensic Investigation Institute ordered 6 months earlier were produced. They found that the three young men had given testimony under enormous psychological pressure.
As if this were not scandalous enough, the Prosecutor objected and the judge agreed to call for another assessment. It will be the fourth assessment, and unlikely to be ready before September. Worth noting that over the last two years pressure on judges has become much more intense with a number of notorious cases where disagreement with the Prosecutor has led to proceedings against them on charges of breach of oath.
The three young men thus remain in custody despite strong evidence that they have alibis and despite devastating confirmation of their own assertion that they “confessed” under duress.
The story in detail
The explosion took place in the afternoon of 28 July 2010 in the Svyato-Pokrovsk Church in Zaporizhya, 9 people were injured, and 80-year-old nun died later in hospital. There was apparently also considerable damage to church property.
On 29 July Interfax Ukraine reported the Zaporizhya Regional Prosecutor as saying that the explosive device – a metal saucepan filled with aluminium power and saltpetre – was almost certainly homemade.
That same day, during a televised meeting between President Yanukovych and the Interior Minister and Prosecutor General, the President insisted that the culprits be found swiftly. The Prosecutor General promised that the case would be solved within the week and the media reported that the head of the Security Service [SBU] had issued the same assurance.
On 6 August the Interior Minister announced that the case had been solved and three people had been arrested. The Prosecution version is that former sacristan of the Church Anton Kharytonov (b. 1985) was aggrieved over what he considered unfair dismissal from his post as sacristan at the Svyato-Pokrovsk Church, He is alleged to have conspired with his elder brother, Serhiy Dyomin [b. 1977) to avenge himself with the bomb. Serhiy is accused of buying the bomb and giving it to the third young man, Yevhen Fedorchenko, also a sacristan. He in turn is accused of having brought the bomb into the Church timed to go off at a certain time.
Of particular concern is the fact that the investigators first asserted that the young men had themselves prepared the bomb and there is video footage where Serhiy describes to the investigators how he made it. His description does not match the actual bomb. Later the story changed and they are now accused of buying the bomb.
Olha Dyomina, Serhiy and Anton’s mother saw her sons after their interrogations and has asserted from the beginning that they gave the confessions which were later retracted in court under enormous pressure. She says, for example, that the investigators threatened to cut off Anton’s genitals if he didn’t sign a confession. Anton’s trousers with the pockets cut out were caught on the video footage taken during the re-enactment of the crime, and were shown in court. The investigators were unable to explain why the trousers were in this state.
According to one of the lawyers involved in the case, Oleh Veremeyenko, the person who had confessed to making and selling Serhiy the detonator later retracted his evidence. The defendants’ lawyers are also adamant that their clients all have alibis.
The Donetsk Forensic Investigation Institute last week found that pressure had been brought to bear on the young men. It does not appear to have addressed Serhiy’s allegations of physical ill-treatment, but found that all defendants had been put under psychological pressure, that they had not given their confessions independently and that the investigators had put questions that they then answered themselves.
It should be emphasised that the investigators were also put under enormous pressure to “solve the crime” quickly. Ukraine has a shockingly small percentage of acquittals to a large degree because of the pressure for “good statistics”. In the present case, the pressure came from the President himself and by now, with the police officers, investigators and others all at very least frightened of losing their jobs, the prosecution is most unlikely to budge.
These are three young men who have already spent two years in remand prison. Attention is vital in order to impress upon the Human Rights Ombudsperson and President the need to intervene in what is already bearing the hallmarks of another grave miscarriage of justice.