war crimes in Ukraine

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Sentences in the Gongadze case: the end of the story?

18.03.2008    source:

What we’d awaited for many years has finally happened.  The Kyiv Court of Appeal has passed sentence on the killers of Georgy Gongadze. Yet the case has not been fully solved, those who ordered the killing not found, and for those who called the case a matter of honour this has not added esteem – yet again.

On trial were three former police officers who on that September night killed Georgy Gongadze. As reported already. Valery Protasov was sentenced to 13 years, while Oleksandr Popovych and Valery Kostenko received 12-year terms. They were stripped of their police rank and prohibited from working in the public service for three years.

Yet those who ordered and organized the crime have remained unpunished. The journalist’s widow Myroslava Gongadze stresses that it is they who should stand trial.  Her statement issued after the verdicts reads: “Until all those complicit in Georgy’s murder receive punishment, neither the President nor other high-ranking officials have the right to tell society and the international community that the Gongadze case is closed.”  Yet nobody is in a hurry to seek out those who initiated the crime. The verdict reads that the convicted men did not act of their own free will, yet the investigation into the ordering of the murder remains blocked.

“The court ruling in the case around Georgy’s killing de jure establishes the fact that under the Kuchma regime, subdivisions or individual police officers were used to carry out politically motivated crimes.”

The verdict which took five hours to read out gave an account of all the unlawful surveillance of Georgy, the terrible crime and all the details of the system at that time. The defendants asserted that they had not intended to kill Gongadze, but simply scare him. Pukach, who began suffocating the journalist himself, then issued an order and they obediently carried it out.  And it’s not even that the high-ranking officers, not little children, could not understand what was happening. It can be deduced that all these events were normal for them. It was entirely normal for a person to be abducted in the centre of Kyiv and taken out of the city, beaten, placed in a newly-dug grave and suffocated. The general gave the order and they helped him to kill a man. Yes, Oleksy Pukach was also carrying out orders. The late Kravchenko could perhaps have told us a lot. We can only guess whether Pukach is still alive. We know who killed him, but only guess who ordered the killing and who created a system in Ukraine where anybody who got in the way could be taken out of the city.

Lesya Gongadze, the journalist’s mother believes that after the trial, the investigation into those who ordered the crime will be terminated, and they will never be named.  She told the Ukrainian service of Deutsche Welle that the convicted men were more like “hostages”, a “weapon in the hands of the state”. And that the State had pinned a heavy sentence on them although in fact it should have been shared between the Prosecutor and those who ordered the killing.

There is indeed less and less cause for optimism. Seven years have passed since the killing. Ex-Prosecutor Potebenko has received the Yaroslav the Wise Honour, while Judge Maria Pryndyuk (who took the decision to terminate the criminal investigation against General Pukach over the destruction of documents pertaining to the investigation, and thus increased Pukach’s chance of escaping justice) – was given the honour of “merited lawyer” of Ukraine. IMI, incidentally, has yet to receive a response from the Presidential Secretariat to the formal information request it sent with regard to this award.

One might think that commentary is redundant. However dozens of television cameras and journalists who filled the Court of Appeal on Saturday were a reminder that nothing is forgotten. This is a reminder to the law enforcement agencies that the regime and generals change and leave the stage, and that one must serve the people of Ukraine – not its leaders and own work ranks. A court ruling can easily strip one of the latter.

Politicians can and will give each other guarantees to stay silent on certain issues  which one feels happened with the Gongadze case. However the task facing society is to demand justice and a full investigation into all crimes, and especially the most prominent political killing in Ukraine’s post-independence history.


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