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12.03.2020 | Halya Coynash
The right to life

Interpol cancels search for key Odesa 2 May 2014 suspect who was helped to flee justice

   

Another criminal investigation into the events in Odesa on 2 May 2014 has effectively collapsed, with INTERPOL removing Volodymyr Bodelan from its database.  Bodelan remains on Ukraine’s wanted list, however the case against him appears to have been suspended, after being sabotaged from the outset. This is immensely frustrating given that the charges against the former head of the Odesa emergency services pertain to the tragic fire linked to the 2 May 2014 disturbances which claimed 42 lives, and which Russia and pro-Kremlin propaganda has spent the last six years claiming was a ‘massacre’ by Ukrainian nationalists.

Bodelan’s lawyer, Volodymyr Matsko, reported on 3 March that the Red Card against his client had been cancelled. He claimed that the reason was because the Ukrainian authorities had infringed procedure by not handing Bodelan notification that he was under suspicion.

Although Matsko claims that “the truth has prevailed”, the reason for the infringement was that his client had chosen to evade justice.  Bodelan fled Ukraine on around 1 March 2016, and was later confirmed to have received Russian citizenship and, in July 2017, to be working for the Russian occupation regime in Crimea.

In March 2016, almost two years after the tragic disturbances and then fire on 2 May 2014, charges were laid against both Bodelan and his deputy, Ruslan Veliky, over their role on that day.  The charge was under Article 135 of the criminal code (leaving people in danger, with this causing death or other grave consequences). 

On 25 July 2017, Vyacheslav Abroskin announced that Veliky had been arrested, after having been in hiding.  Veliky was, however, released on 8 August 2017, and his brother claimed that he had not been in hiding, but had been on paternity leave.  Oleksandr Veliky asserted that his brother had also been on paternity leave on 2 May 2014, i.e. the day of the fire.  All of this seems rather bizarre, but there has been no information about Veliky since then.

Bodelan’s role in the events on 2 May 2014 could not possibly be denied, however it took almost two years for charges to be brought.  This is not the only circumstance that has led to heavy criticism of the Interior Ministry under Arsen Avakov, and suspicions of sabotage.

Bodelan’s role in the tragic fire in the Trade Union Building on Kulikov Pole in the centre of Odesa had long been known, and was set out in the Council of Europe’s International Advisory Panel report, published in early November 2015.  That report made it clear that many of the 42 deaths in the fire could have been prevented had firefighters not taken over 40 minutes to arrive despite numerous calls.  The International Advisory Panel were damning on this subject, calling the failure to properly investigate how this had happened “the most striking example of a lack of diligence”.  The fact that the investigation had been left to the Interior Ministry was particularly criticized given the structural links between it and the emergency services.”.

Three emergency services officials were charged at the end of February 2016 under Article 135 § 3 of the Criminal Code (leaving people in danger).  Viktor Hubai, deputy head of the Emergency Services Regional Department was remanded in custody, while the head of the shift Yury Shvydenko and duty chief operator Svitlana Koyeva were placed under house arrest.  It is Koyeva’s voice that can be heard on the tape ignoring the calls for help.  It is not clear whether any of these prosecutions have resulted in convictions.

Whether or not the above individuals should have obeyed orders that placed lives in danger,  there was a disturbing unwillingness shown to charge the individual who had issued the order.  Such unwillingness borders on sabotage, since Bodelan was not arrested at the same time as his subordinates, giving him ample opportunity to leave the country.

Bodelan was on Kulikove Pole during the events that evening. He called the dispatch centre around a minute after the first emergency call was made instructing the controllers to only send out fire engines on his command.  He asserts that this was to avoid danger to emergency service staff following the seizure of a fire engine during the disturbances in the centre. 

He has repeatedly claimed that a fire crew was sent but that it was obstructed by aggressive protestors and that time was lost in negotiations to agree a safe corridor.  The 2 May Group, a civic initiative which closely investigated the events, has found no evidence to confirm this, and the video footage shows a very different picture. In fact, even his former subordinates have now given testimony which totally refutes that version. 

An emergency services internal inquiry found that Bodelan had been responsible for leading and organising the fire-fighting efforts, and issued a formal reprimand on June 11, 2014.  He successfully appealed and managed to retain his post until September 2014 when his contract ran out. 

Bodelan did, however, leave Ukraine for a while in 2015 after Petro Lutsiuk, the head of the regional police on May 2, 2014, was arrested and charged with professional negligence.  He later returned, and even become an aide to an MP from Odesa. 

While out of the country, he eagerly gave interviews to the Russian media with the same abundance of misleading information and attempt to minimise his own role as seen shortly after the tragedy.  None of the claims bear any scrutiny, including his claim to being a ‘specialist’ on fire-fighting.  Bodelan is the son of the former Mayor of Odesa, and became head of the emergency services under the patronage of another influential politician (Nestor Shufrych).  

The 2 May Group reported, on Bodelan’s first return to the country that he appeared to have his reasons for believing himself to be immune from prosecution.  It was totally predictable that he would leave the country again once his ex-subordinates were arrested. 

An investigation into how Bodelan was able to flee the country, and who had helped him, was announced back in March 2016.  If it ever got off the ground, it appears to have fizzled, probably after public attention waned.

See also:  Russia’s most toxic lies about a fictitious ‘Odesa Massacre’ and the responsibility Ukraine bears


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