Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Gongadze-Podolsky case: 17 years on

Expert: “Unless we untie the ‘Kuchma knot,’ our country will be falling lower and lower”
19 September, 2017 - 11:31
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Journalists and media organizations are inviting their colleagues and active citizens to join an event to honor the memory of Georgy Gongadze and all the journalists who died in the line of duty. It is a traditional ritual now to gather every year in mid-September, deliver speeches, light candles, and call on the government to investigate this high-profile case. But it would produce a much better result if those who take part in these events – journalists, public activists, and politicians – went to courts, showed consistency and attitude, and kept the case investigation under control.

Can you imagine it? It is 17 years since the journalist was killed brutally and brazenly, but the organizers still remain unpunished even in spite of the “Melnychenko tapes.” Moreover, they continue to influence Ukrainian politics. Notwithstanding the efforts of some people in this country and the numerous calls of the West to finally resolve the high-profile crimes against Gongadze, public activist Oleksii Podolsky who was kidnapped and beaten up, as was the founder of Ukrainska Pravda, but was left alive, Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, MP of the 2nd and 3rd convocations, on whose life an attempt was made, Ukraine continues not to comply with PACE resolutions. All these crimes were committed in 2000, but they still remain unresolved in legal terms.

A whole generation has grown up since then – people were born, went to a daycare facility, then went to and graduated from school. Why has Ukraine, which has seen more than one president, not to mention premiers and prosecutors general, and two Maidans since then and has been at war for three years, not yet restored justice in these tragic matters? How long can we carry this burden, when problems are only on the rise? When and how will all this end?

WHAT IS THE SITUATION NOW?

The perpetrators of Georgy Gongadze’s murder, former policemen, were sentenced to various prison terms – Mykola Protasov to 13 years (he died in prison in March 2016), Valerii Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych to 12 years. Their sentences came into force in March 2008. In the case of Podolsky, the crime against whom was committed on June 9, 2000, the Kyiv Court of Appeal sentenced in 2007 the “uniformed turncoats,” Colonel Mykola Naumets and Major Oleh Maryniak, to three years in prison for abuse of power. But the story of the main perpetrator Oleksii Pukach, the former chief of the Interior Ministry’s Outdoor Surveillance Department, who commanded policemen in both cases, is still going on. Kyiv’s Pecherskyi District Court sentenced Pukach to life imprisonment, and the Kyiv Court of Appeal upheld this ruling. But the parties to the trial did not stop at this and filed further appeals. The main “battles” continue now at the High Specialized Court.

This court was last in session on May 31, 2017, when it handed down the following ruling: “to insist again that the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) include information about blackmail and threats into the Single Register of Pretrial Investigations and conduct a proper inquiry [the PGO registered this crime at last in August this year. – Ed.]; to instruct the chairpersons of Kyiv’s Pecherskyi District Court and the Kyiv Court of Appeal to see to it that the audio and video recordings made during the sessions of the courts of original and appellate justice are declassified; to debar Valentyna Telychenko from further participation in the Pukach case and suggest to the aggrieved party, Myroslava Gongadze, that her interests may be represented, if necessary, by a different person.”

THE FUNERAL OF JOURNALIST GEORGY GONGADZE WAS HELD ON MARCH 22, 2016, IN THE COURTYARD OF ST. NICHOLAS THE MIRACLE-WORKER’S CHURCH IN KYIV’S PODIL. THE JOURNALIST WAS BURIED NEAR THE MEMORIAL CROSS TO THE NEW MARTYRS OF UKRAINIAN LAND – VICTIMS OF THE TOTALITARIAN COMMUNIST REGIME IN THE 20th CENTURY. PICTURED: GEORGY’S GRAVE TODAY / Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

The latter decision caused a sensation of sorts and, naturally, aroused indignation on the part of Telychenko and Myroslava Gongadze herself. But Podolsky’s party, which insisted on debarring Telychenko, explained this as follows. “We did this on the grounds that Ms. Telychenko is a witness in this case and, in accordance with Article 63 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine in the 1960 version, is to be debarred from participating in the case as representative of the aggrieved party Myroslava Gongadze,” Podolsky’s representative Oleksandr YELIASHKEVYCH said in a comment to The Day. “Besides, Ms. Telychenko was in fact exercising the powers of a deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine (which she gained in an unknown and dubious way) and, before the High Specialized Court began to handle the case, she had repeatedly commented in the mass media on the actions of her as deputy Prosecutor General as well as on the prospects of the Pukach case and the likely results of the PGO investigation into the case of those who ordered the murder of Gongadze and the torture of Podolsky.”

“The analysis of just a small part of Ms. Telychenko’s actions and pronouncements in and out of court, on television, and her comments to the mass media in the whole period of the hearing of the Gongadze-Podolsky case, amply reveals her true role. She is not a representative of the aggrieved party,” Yeliashkevych added. “For many years, her goal was to influence the formation of false public opinion, hide the truth, discredit important evidence, pressure witnesses and the defendant, distort the facts she came to know as she was allowed to take part in the case, and mislead society so that Leonid Kuchma, Volodymyr Lytvyn, and other members of an organized criminal grouping, could remain unpunished. In this connection and, taking into account her reaction to the court ruling (she plans to go on exercising her powers), we are going to raise the question of Ms. Telychenko’s criminal liability.”

As is known, it is the then Interior Minister Yurii Kravchenko who ordered Pukach to commit crimes against Gongadze and Podolsky. The official version says that he committed suicide in March 2005 by shooting himself… twice in the head. According to Podolsky, it was a murder, not suicide, and the investigation of this murder could have helped identify organizers in the Gongadze-Podolsky case. The Prosecutor General’s Office is conducting a separate investigation about the latter, which Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko says is to be completed before the end of his term in office. But it turned out that the status of an aggrieved party in the “crime organizers case” remains unchanged. “As before, he enjoys no procedural status of an aggrieved party,” Podolsky’s lawyer Tetiana KOSTINA told The Day in a recent interview (No. 46 of August 15, 2017). “Failure to grant Podolsky the status of an aggrieved party in the ‘crime organizers case’ is a breach of the current Ukrainian laws and all the international commitments Ukraine has taken, not to mention the norms of morality. It is a crime and super-cynicism that Podolsky has still no status of an aggrieved party 17 years after he was beaten up.”

So, while judicial red tape about Pukach continues, crime organizers in the Gongadze-Podolsky case are still at large. As for the Yeliashkevych case (the attempt on his life was made on February 9, 2000), the situation is even worse. The case is not just being investigated. Back in 2002, Judge Andrii Melnyk (who convicted Pukach at the Pecherskyi Court and whom Podolsky’s party and Pukach himself accuse of falsifying the case) rigged the Yeliashkevych case: there was no trial as such, the aggrieved person did not know about it, and the suspect confessed later (in 2006) that he had not committed this crime and pleaded guilty under duress. Incidentally, the goal of the Kyiv prosecutors, who will investigate blackmailing and threatening Pukach, is also to assess the actions of Judge Melnyk.

“Undoubtedly, only a court can identify the murderer and the organizers,” political expert Yevhen MAHDA comments to The Day. “So far, the court has only managed to identify the perpetrators – Pukach and his accomplices were convicted. Therefore, we can only say that the need for justice has been met partly. Why can society not receive a clear answer about the organizers? On the one hand, society has been tackling this topic in a roundabout way for a long time. On the other hand, we must say frankly that Ukraine has no experience of bringing to justice persons who held or hold a super-high office. Some of them no longer wield the levers of power, but they still in fact remain very influential. For me personally, it is important not so much to see concrete people in the dock as to see the action of and the likely changes in the mechanism that is supposed to curb the arbitrary rule of top officials.”

“AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE YES FORUM IS ALREADY BEING PREPARED IN UKRAINE”

It is right on the anniversary of Gongadze’s murder that the Kuchma-Pinchuk family held the YES forum. It is now a cynical tradition to hold this event on an anniversary of the journalist’s death. But what looks still more cynical is the picture of dozens of people who still go to Pinchuk in spite of all the available information in this connection. This year there were many guests, both Ukrainian and foreign. And the plenary meeting of the 14th annual Yalta European Strategy forum began on September 15, 2017, with the speech of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.

“Among the speakers on the first plenary day are Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Energy Union; Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner in economics; John Kerry, US Secretary of State in 2013-17; David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK in 2010-16; Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State in 2005-09; Suma Chakrabarti, President, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense in 2006-11; Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives; philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy; Ian Taylor, Vitol Chairman and Group CEO; General (RT.) Jack Keane, Chairman of the Board, Institute for the Study of War; Keith Alexander, former Director, US National Security Agency,” yes-ukraine.org says.

On September 16, the second plenary day opened with the speech of Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman. Besides, a special session with participation of Yurii Lutsenko, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, was devoted to the rule of law. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to deliver the Shimon Peres Peace Lecture. “Panelists will include former US Ambassador to Russia and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University Michael McFaul; US Secretary of Defense (2006-11) Robert Gates; Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Alan Duncan; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin; Member of the US House of Representatives Will Hurd; former Prime Minister of Ukraine Arsenii Yatseniuk; Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Germany’s former Ambassador to the US Wolfgang Ischinger; Secretary General of NATO (2009-14) and member of the YES Board Anders Fogh Rasmussen; Chairman of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov; Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations at the US Department of State Kurt Volker; and former president of Ukraine (1994-2005) Leonid Kuchma,” the website says.

It is perhaps too much in detail, but it is important, especially if we recall that as recently as in December 2016 Viktor Pinchuk contributed an article with the so-called “painful compromises” to The Wall Street Journal. In this publication, the oligarch in fact devised a formula of compromise for reaching “peace,” ostensibly recognizing the occupied territories as part of Ukraine, but in reality he suggested giving them up in favor of the invader until better times. But in spite of all this, the topmost leadership of the Ukrainian state is still among his guests. As if nothing had happened… As for foreigners, it is a separate story, for it is we who must be blamed first of all for failure to punish evil.

“Unpunished evil produces metastases,” lawyer Hennadii DRUZENKO comments to The Day. “There is every reason to consider the then leadership guilty of committing this evil, i.e., murdering Gongadze. So I fully agree that there is a direct link between such victims of the government as Georgy Gongadze, hundreds of victims on the Maidan, and thousands of victims of war. It is karma of sorts. Unless we correct it (and it can only be corrected by punishing the guilty), this evil will keep not only reproducing itself, but also multiplying. I must say that those who wield the sword of justice now are showing enormous shortsightedness and irresponsibility. As for Lutsenko, he saw himself how curved this sword can be, but still he does not bring high-profile cases to the end.”

Hennadii DRUZENKO: I cherish a hope that politicians will manage to be more constructive and apply fundamental political principles under a watchful eye of the people who are becoming wiser,” Druzenko emphasizes. “If there are no principles, there will be just nothing to speak about. The greatest curse of the Revolution of Dignity is that we have seen no strong quality alternative in the past four years. We constantly see the same people. If we are not yet mature enough to have our own Washington, we must at least put the leadership to its proper place from time to time, clearly distinguishing between what is a statesmanlike attitude and what it is to take advantage of the state for one’s own purposes, which is in fact feudalism. We should slap the leadership on the wrist every time it tries to use the state’s bricks for building its own factory. I’d like to thank Den for reminding us of crucial things, including the Gongadze murder case.

“I view the fact that our so-called elite like visiting the forums of Kuchma’s son-in-law as absolute moral disorientation,” Druzenko continues. “Let me remind you that those who once carved out a career in the publication founded by Gongadze have long been in fact eating out of the hands of the son-in-law of the man who is suspected of ordering the murder of Georgy. I am speaking concretely about Pinchuk and Kuchma. I would advise to learn a free lesson from the Lithuanians who have said clearly that there are some things after which nobody will shake hands with one individual or another. Such people are not invited to your country. I mean the Russian constitutional court judges who ‘blessed’ the annexation of Crimea. This is an answer to why Ukraine, where these principles are not adhered to, is still running along the circle of post-Soviet courses, whereas Lithuania has become a European country which reminds even other Europeans about European fundamental principles.”

Some Ukrainians also mention principles. As far back as 2014, Hanna Hopko, a public activist at the time, supported Podolsky’s position and called on everybody to boycott the Kuchma-Pinchuk family’s events. What is more, she did so in a public answer to the invitation to take part in the forum from Aleksander Kwasniewski, Chairman of the YES Board. This year Hopko, now an MP and Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Foreign Affairs Committee, and some other MPs suggested establishing an alternative to the YES annual forum, which could gather leading politicians, diplomats, businesspeople, public activists, and experts. Hopko said in a comment to The Day that this initiative of Ukrainian MPs had received support from the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.

The organizers explain that Ukraine’s main international forum under the patronage of Pinchuk should be replaced with a discussion platform under the auspices of the state because the chief sponsor of YES lacks a statesmanlike and patriotic attitude. “This is not the first time Ukrainian intellectuals and politicians, including the authors of this address, are calling for boycotting this kind of events organized by the Kuchma-Pinchuk family. Participation in them is becoming a permanent source of reputation losses and poses a threat to Ukraine’s national security. For the true Ukrainian interests are substituted at these assembles with Viktor Pinchuk’s ‘painful compromises.’ It is particularly obvious under these circumstances that now, in the times of a foreign aggression and serious tests for national statehood, Ukraine needs an effective platform to discuss important challenges to this country and the entire world,” says the address of MPs to the president, the parliamentary speaker, and the prime minister.

Ms. Hopko called on the public not to help oligarchs whitewash their image, not to attend oligarchic platforms, where the owner imposes his agenda, and to come up with an alternative. In her words, the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade have expressed their support in organizing such a platform.

WHERE SHOULD WE SEEK AN ALTERNATIVE?

It is a question to everybody. Where should we seek an alternative if crime organizers remain unpunished for years, for they can impose a false reality by means of influence and money?

“Once thousands of people used to take to the streets, demanding that those who ordered the murder of Georgy Gongadze be found and punished,” censor.net editor-in-chief Yurii Butusov writes in Facebook. “And all the current political leaders, including Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko, gained popularity in politics thanks to ‘Ukraine without Kuchma’ protests. I hope Mr. Lutsenko and all the others who swore to find and bring to justice the crime organizer will honor the memory of our colleague killed after the kidnapping ordered by the then president Leonid Kuchma. The Gongadze case is a test for a struggle against arbitrary rule and authoritarianism. And society failed this test. All those who attend Pinchuk’s luncheons and forums must, in my opinion, prove their adherence to principles and attend the rally in memory of Gongadze. This will be honest. The journalist was killed 17 years ago for his work, and the fact that the current leadership is blocking the trial of Kuchma shows that we have not yet become a society, where human life and freedom of speech are the highest value. Kuchma is not being put on trial only because of a deal with present-day politicians – both in power and in opposition – who take part in a conspiracy of silence about this case.”

“Three revolutions in 25 years is not the indication of a high level of democracy or a clear understanding of these national interests,” Mahda says. “On the contrary, it is, rather, an indication of the fact that democratic procedures do not work in our country. For a long time, politicians and society were worlds apart. Only the Russian intervention changed a little the state of affairs. Whenever we see societal apathy, including to the Gongadze case, we should recall that in the elections, too, nobody forces us to take money for votes. Of course, people were put into the conditions when economic hardships, administrative pressure, etc., prompt one to focus their attention on commonplace moments. If society musters enough strength to grow, the attitude to politicians, their behavior and impunity will be totally different. The problem is that the history of the Ukrainian people is longer than that of Ukrainian statehood. We lack the memory of our state in the making. We start everything from scratch. For this reason, we will have to seek answers to thorny questions.”

Did we have a chance to follow a different path? “It is sad that we have lost very much time,” Druzenko answers. “We could have followed a different path. The alternative was to reject Kuchma’s course. But, unfortunately, we were forced to follow his course – towards the oligarchy which adhered to the principle ‘for my friends everything, for my enemies the law.’ Kuchma showed himself as the most cynical politician. The trouble is not even in the fact that he played cynically, but effectively, for himself but in the fact that his opponents agreed to be pawns in his game. This calls to mind the action of Oleksandr Moroz who in fact ruined the ‘Kaniv Four.’ In particular, his ambitions did not allow history to be turned to a different side. This is why the leadership, which is supposed to carry justice by its very nature, became a source of crimes. And we will all be granted no pardon until we finally solve the Gongadze case. Unless we get cleansed of this, we will be making the same blunder over and over again. The price is the lost lives that grow in a geometric progression. Unless we untie the ‘Kuchma knot,’ our country will be falling lower and lower, and we won’t be able even to hope for quality breakthroughs in the future.”

“I cherish a hope that politicians will manage to be more constructive and apply fundamental political principles under a watchful eye of the people who are becoming wiser,” Druzenko emphasizes. “If there are no principles, there will be just nothing to speak about. The greatest curse of the Revolution of Dignity is that we have seen no strong quality alternative in the past four years. We constantly see the same people. If we are not yet mature enough to have our own Washington, we must at least put the leadership to its proper place from time to time, clearly distinguishing between what is a statesmanlike attitude and what it is to take advantage of the state for one’s own purposes, which is in fact feudalism. We should slap the leadership on the wrist every time it tries to use the state’s bricks for building its own factory. I’d like to thank Den for reminding us of crucial things, including the Gongadze murder case.”

***

Indeed, various forces – in society, politics, and journalism – are playing an important role in this high-profile case. It is very difficult to push the process of cleansing this country by the efforts of a few people. Here, of course, the role of journalists is of paramount importance, all the more so that the true murderers of their colleague remain unpunished. Incidentally, there have been some changes among the YES forum’s official media partners. Instead of Ukrainska Pravda, the list shows Dzerkalo Tyzhnia: Ukraina. This hardly reflects any radical changes in the relations between UP and Pinchuk – it is, rather, frankness in the relations between DT and Pinchuk. For this reason, it is very important for the mass media not to sell themselves out, not to forget this case, and persist in seeking the truth. Naturally, we can honor the memory of the killed journalists at special events, but we should not forget about our daily laborious tasks. It is the only way to win.

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, Valentyn TORBA, The Day

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