On 20 July, it is four years since the high-profile murder of a journalist in the centre of Kyiv. An improvised explosive device placed near the driver’s seat was detonated in the car that belonged to the Head of the “Ukrainian Pravda” website, Olena Prytula. At that time, journalist Pavlo Sheremet, who died at the scene, was driving the car.
The case immediately became one of the most high-profile in Ukraine, and high-ranking officials, including President of that period Petro Poroshenko, have repeatedly stated that it is an honour for them to investigate the murder.
Almost immediately, police announced several versions of the murder:
- Professional activity.
- Hostility in relationships or personal motives.
- “Russian trace” (attempts to destabilise the situation in Ukraine).
- Attempt to kill Olena Prytula.
Initially, the first version was considered the main one because in his work Sheremet raised quite acute issues. However, time passed and there were no results. The killers walked free. Society, the international community and the journalistic community reminded authorities of the need to punish the perpetrators.
A new outcome of the case as an attack on volunteers
On 12 December, 2019, law enforcement officers, led by the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov in the presence of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, held a press conference at which they announced that volunteer Andriy Antonenko would be the organizer of Sheremet’s murder. Volunteer and doctor Yuliia Kuzmenko and serviceman Yana Duhar were called accomplices. Inna and Vladyslav Hryshchenko, who were arrested in another case, were also accused of complicity in the crime.
These statements caused a serious public response, especially among former and current servicemen, and Ukrainian volunteers.
The majority did not understand even the formation of the motive for the crime: “fascinated by ultranationalist ideas, cultivating the greatness of the Aryan race, seeking to make their views the object of public attention, being on the territory of the ATO, among volunteers and those who have undergone military training in volunteer battalions and have skills in handling firearms and explosives, decided to create an organised group to commit the murder of journalist and radio host Sheremet Pavlo Grygorovych.”
For more than six months, law enforcement officers have not provided the public with convincing evidence of involvement of those arrested in the crime, while journalists and activists have a strong impression that the new government is simply destroying the image of volunteers for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and the Kremlin.
Considering the December mistakes, investigators made changes to the documents, so now Antonenko has simply become an executor. At the same time, there are some “unidentified persons” in the case, who, “acting for a number of personal reasons, decided to create an extremely resonant event in order to further provoke numerous protests.”
But “cosmetic” changes in the documents by investigators are still not satisfactory to the public, so activists come to every court hearing and demand that the prosecution show irrefutable evidence or release the suspects from jail.
The latest news of the case
On 17 July, Kyiv Pechersk District Court elongated Antonenko’s detention for two months. The day before, the same court left unchanged the preventive measures for another suspect, Yuliia Kuzmenko, who will be held in a pre-trial detention center until 13,September,.
But the third person involved in the case, Yana Duhar, was commuted by the judges. An electronic bracelet was removed from her, and she was allowed to travel in Ukraine. In addition, the girl was excluded from the list of witnesses with whom servicemen are not allowed to communicate, with whom she is serving.
It is worth noting that recently in the Ukrainian segment of social networks (especially Telegram) information began to spread that Andriy Antonenko, Yuliia Kuzmenko, Yana Duhar and the Hryshchenko couple are secret freelancers of the Counterintelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine. That is why the investigation is still misleading, and the public is not told the truth about Sheremet’s murder. At the same time, high-ranking officials of the Security Service of Ukraine just used all the suspects who did not even know whose car the explosive was being placed under.
Proponents of this version also note that investigators from the Ministry of Internal Affairs hoped that the suspects would eventually “split” and tell under the protocol about their connections with the staff of the 5th Department of the Counterintelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine.
This version became so popular that Antonenko and Kuzmenko told reporters on 17 July that they had not cooperated with the Security Service of Ukraine.
Antonenko emphasised that he had been inspected by the Security Service of Ukraine before serving in the Special Operations Forces, but did not work for the special services.
Kuzmenko insists that he has an acquaintance whose husband serves in the Security Service of Ukraine, but denies his cooperation with this law enforcement agency.
Presidents of Ukraine about the case
During a meeting with journalists in May, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the case of the murder of journalist Pavlo Sheremet is not so straightforward, and that Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov is responsible for it.
“As for Sheremet’s case, it is more complicated. Is it unambiguous or not? I don’t know either… Now Arsen Avakov is leading and responsible for this case. He knows that. This is his business – and he is responsible for the outcome of this business. If the investigation and the court prove that those people (suspects – ed.) are murderers, they will be in jail. If not, the people who brought this case to court and accused innocent people will be punished,” the Head of state said.
At the same time, he avoided answering the journalist’s clarifying question that being present at the press conference last December, when the opening of this high-profile case was announced, he actually violated the principles of presumption of innocence by supporting the investigators’ version.
At the end of June this year, Petro Poroshenko criticized the investigation of Sheremet’s murder, not forgetting to blame his successor as Head of state. In particular, the fifth President of Ukraine stated: “On the one hand, I fully share the aspirations of society, the demand to the authorities for an objective and impartial investigation of the murder of Pavlo (Sheremet – ed.) and bringing the killers, customers and organizers to justice. On the other hand, I categorically do not share when the President comes to record the video at a press conference and, pointing out the persons, points or appoints the culprits. He (Zelensky – ed.) has the right to demand an investigation… but in a democratic country with the constitutional rights of its citizens, including the right to the presumption of innocence, this is 100% categorically unacceptable.”
On 2 July, the National Police of Ukraine announced that the criminal case on the murder of journalist Pavlo Sheremet was ready for trial. So, now these cases can become a real battleground both for law enforcement officers, who will not be able to conceal some facts and ignore others, and for Minister Avakov, who is now almost personally responsible for the success or failure of the case in court, and for all Ukrainian society, which can demonstrate their commitment to democratic values and the rule of law by accepting a court sentence.