Series of Mysterious Deaths Plague Yanukovych’s Former AlliesApril 27, 2015 in Ukraine
Oleg Kalashnikov, a former Ukraine deputy and a member of Party of Regions was shot dead in Kiev at the entrance of his apartment on 15 April. According to the Interior Ministry’s statement, police are investigating his death as a murder. Kalashnikov had participated in protests in support of the pro-Moscow former President Yanukovych. This incident is the latest in a series of deaths involving allies of deposed President Yanukovych. Seven other Ukrainian officials died under mysterious circumstances this year. According to the Ukrainian authorities, all of them took their own lives in the past weeks, something that has raised many suspicions. These suspicions are encouraged since the deaths took place in a really short timeframe, targeting people that were associated with ex-President Yanukovych and under mysterious circumstances with the majority of the victims being under investigation by the Ukrainian authorities.
The first in the line of these deaths was Oleksiy Kolesnyk, ex-head of Kharkiv’s regional government, who was found hanged on January 29. It was followed by Serhiy Valter, who was a major in the south-eastern city of Melitopol, and was found hanged on February 25. Similarly to Chechetov that was killed only three days later, he had been accused of abuse of office and he was under investigation. Oleksandr Bordyuh, a former police deputy chief in Melitopol connected to Mr Valter, was also found dead at his home the next day. Similarly, Mykhaylo Chechetov, who was the deputy chairman for the Party of the Regions, died after he allegedly jumped from a window in his 17th-floor flat on February 28. The authorities claimed that he left a suicide note. He was one of the most prominent politicians under Yanukovych’s rule. Before his death he was accused by the new government of abuse of office and fraud and he was under investigation. He had been arrested a few days earlier as part of the investigation against him related to a series of laws passed in a controversial vote in January 2014 to crack down on the massive Maidan protests. He was suspected that he falsified the results of the vote. He paid bail and went home on February 23. Several hours before his death, Ukraine’s prosecutor general told the local media that new charges were being prepared against him. Only nine days later, Stanislav Melnyk’s death followed. He was an ex-MP in Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and the manager of several businesses in the separatist-minded eastern city of Donesk, and he was found dead by his wife in his bathroom on March 9. The authorities reported that they retrieved a suicide note that was asking for forgiveness. He was also under investigation and was facing charges of abuse of power.
In the next couple of days, Oleksandr Peklushenko, a Ukrainian former regional governor and an ally of the ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych, was found dead on March 12. According to the Ukrainian authorities, he was shot in the neck and police claimed that initial enquires point to suicide. Peklushenko was the governor of the southern region of Zaporizhzhya from 2011 to 2014. He was suspected of arranging for demonstrators to be dispersed by pro-government thugs at the height of the protests against Yanukovych’s rule in January 2014, and he was facing charges of abuse of power. Sergei Melnychuk, who was a prosecutor in the southern port town of Odessa died ten days later on March 22. Police initially claimed that it was a suicide. But it soon emerged that alarmed neighbors had called the police after they heard noises that indicated a struggle coming from his house. Pathologists found that he had been badly beaten before he fell from his ninth-floor balcony. The same day, Odessa prosecutors registered his death as murder instead of police’s claims for his death being a suicide. They arrested a former police officer who they described only as ‘’citizen K’’.
On top of these deaths two other incidents were added to this puzzle. The first one concerned Yanukovych’s 33-year-old son who was found dead after his car apparently fell through ice on Russia’s Lake Baikal on March 20. The second and most recent one concerns the death of the journalist Oles Buzyna, who was widely known for his pro-Russian views. He was gunned down by masked assailants in a drive-by shooting, just one day after Kalashnikov was shot dead on April 16.
Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, dormant since his deposition, said in a statement that the death of Peklushenko and others was a consequence of ‘’political reprisals’’ by the new government, accusing it of employing terror practices against its opponents. The Opposition Bloc, the country’s major opposition party, also shares the same opinion calling these deaths as ‘’bloody terror against opposition politicians and journalists’’. Despite Kiev’s rejection of the allegations that claim that these incidents are connected, there have been calls for a thorough probe that will help extinguish any lingering suspicions that these top figures of the previous regime are being extrajudicially punished. The Ukrainian judicial authorities seem to endorse the government’s opinion that these deaths may be motivated by ‘’fear of being held responsible’’ since they were under investigation.
Police were initially quick to classify the majority of these deaths as suicides. However, in recent weeks and in the absence of credible investigations and the rapid succession of the deaths within the wider context of Ukraine’s political situation, there have been suspicions that some of these deaths were politically-motivated killings, since the majority of the deaths took place amid mysterious circumstances and there were open investigation queries against these political figures.