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27.01.2020 | Halya Coynash
The right to life

Key suspect in savage murder of Ukrainian activist Katya Handziuk detained in Bulgaria

Katya Handziuk At a meeting demanding justice after her death Photo UNIAN
   

A key suspect, accused of organizing the fatal acid attack on Kherson activist Kateryna Handziuk in July 2018 has been detained in Bulgaria over a year after he fled from arrest.  It seems likely that the arrest of Oleksiy Moskalenko (Levin) is linked with a mass operation in Kherson oblast on 20 January and the laying of new charges against another suspect, Ihor Pavlovsky.

The Prosecutor General’s Office reported on Friday evening, 24 January 2020, that Levin had just been detained in an operation involving the police in Bulgaria and representatives of both the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office and the SBU [Security Service].  According to the Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Trepak, Levin’s extradition to Ukraine is now being sought.

Handziuk was an aide to the Mayor of Kherson and a civic activist, well-known for her hard-hitting criticism of corruption, especially in the Kherson police force.  She was attacked outside the entrance to her apartment block on 31 July, 2018, with the assailant hurling a litre of the acid used in car batteries at her.  She received burns to almost 40% of her body and needed to be airlifted to a hospital in Kyiv where she underwent 11 operations.  She died on 4 November, aged just 33.

It was only thanks to vigilant activists and journalists that the innocent man arrested within days was released and that real suspects were identified.

Five men have been convicted and imprisoned for their part in carrying out the attack, however all received sentences which Viktor Handziuk believes to have been far too short for killing his daughter.  He was not consulted before the suspects reached a deal with the prosecutor resulting in the charges against them (of murder as a contract killing) being significantly reduced to causing grievous bodily harm which resulted in a fatality.. On 6 June, 2019, Serhiy Torbin was convicted of having coordinated the attack and jailed for 6.5 years.  Mykola Hrabchuk got 6 years for having carried out the attack.  Volodymyr Vasyanovych and Vyacheslav Vyshnevsky were jailed for 4 years, Viktor Horbunov – for 3 over their roles in the crime. 

There have been repeated claims over the last 18 months that the law enforcement bodies were sabotaging the investigation, and certainly Handziuk’s friends and  investigative journalists seem to have played a major role in first identifying important suspects. 

One of the results of the change in charges with respect to the perpetrators was that the charges laid against other suspects were also reduced.  Ihor Pavlovsky was initially detained and accused of organizing the crime against Handziuk.   According to Viktor Handziuk, this charge was reduced on 17 April 2019 to having been silent about the crime (under Article 396 part 1 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code).   That, in turn, led to him being released under house arrest in May this year, with the house arrest then not extended.. He was, however, under a signed undertaking to appear at all court hearings and kept not turning up.  Levin, the man just detained in Bulgaria, is also suspected of organizing the crime.  There had long been concern over how Levin should have effectively been left to escape abroad after the now convicted perpetrators were arrested, since he had already been identified as a suspect.  It was also several months before he was even placed on the wanted list.

Suspicions about such a delay only intensified on 24 July 2019 when the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that the investigation had been suspended into the charges against Levin and Vladyslav Manher, former head of the Kherson Regional Council, due to the fact that Levin was in hiding and investigative activities could not be carried out with respect to him.   It was not necessarily clear why the investigation against Manher and Levin had been separated out into one, and the use of this as justification for suspending the investigation pending Levin’s arrest was strongly opposed by Viktor Handziuk, lawyer Yevhenia Zakrevska and activists from the Who ordered Katya Handziuk’s murder? civic initiative. 

On 11 February 2019, the Prosecutor General’s Office informed Manher that he was suspected of ordering Handziuk’s killing. He was remanded in custody, however paid the substantial bail imposed and was released immediately.  The charge against him was changed on 25 April 2019 to “commissioning the inflicting of bodily injuries”.

Manher was linked with the Batkivshchyna party of Yulia Tymoshenko.  This would not be relevant but for the fact that two other names of people suspected of involvement in commissioning the crime have been consistently mentioned by Viktor Handziuk and civic activists. Both men - Andriy Hordeyev, former head of the Kherson Regional State Administration and his deputy, Yevhen Ryshchyk – were, at the time of the crime, linked with the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko.

On 20 January 2020, around 35 searches were carried out in the Kherson oblast, with the prosecutor’s office working in cooperation with the SBU.  Although the Prosecutor General’s Office report did not identify Pavlovsky by name, the description (of a former MP’s aide, currently under trial) made it clear that he is the person who has now been charged – and since remanded in custody – of heading a criminal gang in Kherson involved in violence and arson attacks. Nine alleged members of the gang (possibly including Pavlovsky) have been told they are under suspicion, including Serhiy Torbin, who is currently in prison over Handziuk’s killing. The Prosecutor General’s Office report adds that the searches were aimed at obtaining additional evidence in the investigation into the attack on Katya Handziuk. Ukrainska Pravda and other media reported on 20 January that those searched included Manher, Hordeyev and Ryshchyk. 

It looks very much as though the operation on 20 January has helped to find and catch Levin. 

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