01.08.2013 | Halya Coynash

Volodymyr Honcharenko. No End to Impunity


It is exactly a year since a fatal attack silenced prominent environmentalist Volodymyr Honcharenko just four days after he had warned of a “chemical time bomb” with potentially devastating consequences for his native Dnipropetrovsk and beyond. 

Mr Honcharenko died two days later in hospital having managed to tell his son-in-law about the assailants before he lost consciousness.  Despite clear indications that he had been the target of a deliberate attack the investigators are trying to close the case and deny any link with Volodymyr Honcharenko’s work as an environmentalist.  The Dnipropetrovsk Regional Prosecutor Natalya Marchuk has said she does not agree with the investigators, yet there is no evidence of any real measures being taken to solve the crime.

Ongoing secrecy

Considerable publicity and uncomfortable questions in Geneva about compliance (or lack of any) with the Aarhus Convention resulted in the removal of hazardous scrap metal from Dnipropetrovsk but no indication of where it had been taken, and no answers to other questions of clear public importance.  

Four days before the attack, on 27 July, Volodymyr Honcharenko had informed that 180 tons of scrap metal – three massive heat exchangers - contaminated with one of the world’s most toxic chemicals, hexachlorbenzol, were being transported without any proper safety measures around the city of Kryvy Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. He warned of likely attempts to cut the metal up and mix it with uncontaminated metal. Ample evidence was provided of efforts to alert the authorities to the danger and the latter’s total failure to respond. 

During subsequent months all the standard denials and / or assurances were heard.  At a meeting of the  working group monitoring compliance with the Aarhus Convention in Geneva, the Environment Ministry’s spokesperson asserted that a committee had been set up and that the results of tests were expected on 10 September. 

No tests were ever forthcoming.  Nor is there any sign that the infringements listed in a letter to the Aarhus Convention Bureau have been eliminated.  

Publicly Dangerous Silence

The implications if people who expose inconvenient information of public importance can be killed with effective impunity are terrifying. 

There was immediate response from some media sources – Kyiv Post and Telekritika and statements from the international NGOs Article 19 and Frontline Defenders.  A large number of NGOs and concerned public figures, well-known journalists and others endorsed a call for a proper investigation. 

Packed into one paragraph the above can sound impressive.  National input, however, was confined to fobbing international bodies off with yet another fictitious committee; the story was not taken up by the national media, and not surprisingly a year on there is no sign at all of any real effort to find Volodymyr Honcharenko’s killers. 

The record is abysmal, the consequences of such impunity frightening.

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