Loshchynivka child murder – mounting evidence that case against Roma man was falsified
In the trial over a child’s murder in Loshchynivka (Odesa oblast) that made world headlines, two witnesses have given testimony contradicting the prosecution’s version and raising serious doubts about the ‘investigators’’ wish to find the real killer. This is all the more disturbing as a young Roma man, Mykhailo Chebotar has been in custody for over three years, charged with the crime.
Chebotar, then 21, was arrested on 27 August 2016, shortly after the body of 8-year-old Angelina was found close to her home. Although the young man had lived in Loshchynivka all his life, the murder and his arrest were used to prompt appalling anti-Roma riots which the police effectively stood back and observed. This was already shocking, however the main reason for the world headlines lay in the reaction of the local authorities. Instead of taking proper measures to protect Roma families, the Mayor of the Loshchynivka Village Council Viktor Paskalov told a village gathering the following day that Roma had committed unlawful acts and that therefore he, like other villagers, wanted only one thing – that the Roma stopped living in Loshchynivka. He also signed and read out a ‘decision’ of this meeting spelling out “the demands of residents of Loshchynivka that the Roma did not live in Loshchynivka”. At least seven families whose homes had been destroyed by the rioters were then ‘escorted’ out of Loshchynivka. Claims that they had left of their own free will were immensely cynical, as evidenced by the fact that the families were too fearful to even return to collect their possessions. For details of progress in seeking redress, see: Crucial victory as Ukrainian court orders compensation for Roma families driven out of Loshchynivka
Chebotar had spent most of the evening and much of the night before Angelina’s body was found in a pub, together with Oleksandr Matyash, the little girl’s step-father, his brother, sister and her friend.
At a recent court hearing, on 24 October, two brothers – Armen Muntyan and Rustam Churar - who were present that evening gave testimony, officially as witnesses for the prosecution. The prosecutor, Svitlana Kolohreva has repeatedly asserted that she had tried in vain to find the two brothers, however the defence managed to contact the two, one of whom lives in Loshchynivka, the other in a neighbouring village.
Both men worked with Chebotar, and had spent the evening, after payday, drinking with him, Matyash and the others.
Matyash has asserted that the group had had some drinks in a local bar, after which they went to celebrate his brother’s girlfriend’s birthday. They were there, drinking beer and vodka, until around midnight, and then returned to the bar.
On the way, Matyash dropped in to check what the children were up to. He says that he saw that Angelina and her younger brother were asleep and left. Chebotar did not enter the house, but waited on the street. They were in the bar until three, after which Matyash says he returned home and fell asleep immediately as he was extremely drunk.
The defence have long pointed out that the estimated time of the little girl’s murder coincides with when Chebotar was in the bar, in the company of several witnesses. Andriy Leshchenko, Chebotar’s lawyer, has also noted that the forensic examination found DNA on Angelina’s hands that has not been identified. A sample of Matyash’s DNA was never taken.
Now two witnesses have come forward whose testimony about that evening and about the behaviour or both Chebotar and Matyash differs radically from that given by other witnesses, who are all either Matyash’s relatives or friends. Tatyana Gerasimov, from the Centre for Legal Monitoring, reports that the details can only be made public after all witnesses have testified, but says that the brothers’ testimony “places the prosecution’s version in serious doubt”.
They also stated that they had received calls from Matyash shortly after Angelina’s body was found, asking them to come. The police were there when they arrived, with Matyash initially under suspicion and taken away for questioning. Then a cap was found in Matyash’s home which led sniffer dogs to Chebotar’s home nearby. After a search was carried out of Chebotar’s home, he was taken to the village council, together with the brothers. In court, they testified that they had been shouted out by the police who demanded that they say that Chebotar had killed the little girl and that the cap was his. They defended Chebotar then and in court, saying that they did not believe he was guilty. They also assert that the police beat them. Several days after the murder, Churar asserted in an interview to a television channel that he believed Angelina had been killed by her stepfather. Churar knew both Chebotar and the Matyash family well, and was often at their homes. He asserted in court that both Angelina’s mother and her stepfather had often beaten the child and that she had often wandered around the village hungry, and that Loshchynivka residents knew this. He added that Chebotar had looked after the little girl as her mother and stepfather were at work all the time.
This is not the first evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s version. Although the forensic expert, Oleh Halev was placed under enormous pressure and seems to have accepted an earlier stretch of time than he originally thought possible, his originals findings as to when Angelina was killed would mean that Chebotar has an alibi.
It also looks likely that evidence incriminating Chebotar was faked. How else is it possible that a hand swab taken from Chebotar should have contained only the murder victim’s DNA, but not his own?
The trial of Chebotar on a charge of murder began in November 2017 in the Prymorsky Court in Odesa and is continuing. Despite the earlier doubts roused by the above-mentioned discrepancies, the court has consistently refused to release Chebotar on bail or under house arrest.