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16 years: the indictment of a system

Expert: “So far, ‘revolutions’ have only been hitting the tip of the iceberg without touching its foundation. The recipe is to finish the Gongadze-Podolsky case at last”
19 September, 18:20
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

It saddens and annoys me to write on this topic again. Of course, I would like very much to be in a different mood but this country’s longtime inability to resolve one of the most high-profile criminal cases not only in Ukraine, but also in the world makes me ask the same question over and over again: why do those who ordered the crimes against journalist Georgy Gongadze and public activist Oleksii Podolsky still remain unpunished?

Gongadze was murdered 16 years ago on September 16, and, three months before that, on July 9, 2000, Podolsky was kidnapped and badly beaten. In this time span, one is born, goes to and finishes school, and is given the internal passport. In other words, it is quite a grown-up individual who can bear responsibility for his or her actions. Regretfully, most of the politicians, public activists, and journalists still cannot answer for their actions connected with this high-profile tragedy.

At first glance, nothing more is needed to put an end to this disgraceful story. Millions of words were said, thousands of texts were written, and hundreds of programs were broadcast. I have personally been in charge of this topic for seven years in the newspaper Den/The Day which had also tackled this problem before me. Last year our newspaper published a new book, The Trap, or a Case without a Statute of Limitations, on this subject. There are all kinds of evidence, including testimony of the aggrieved party Podolsky and the Melnychenko tapes, the chief perpetrator Pukach was convicted. Society seems to have known everything for a long time, but there is still no juridical answer.

How can this be remedied?


Naturally, it will take several books or even an action-packed TV serial to describe everything. Maybe, this idea will be implemented one day. And, in the meantime, let us try to tell briefly the crux of the matter. As a result of the 1999 presidential elections which applied the Russian technique of “Red threat” (they had Ziuganov vs. Yeltsin in 1996, we had Symonenko vs. Kuchma) and were rigged, Leonid Kuchma remained in power. Aware of complete impunity – for there were five more years in office – and taking into account the Melnychenko tapes, the then leadership took a number of steps to mop up the rivaling environment.

Of course, the groundwork had been laid before that, for the main mines under Ukrainian statehood, such as clannishness, corruption, nepotism, elimination of opponents, oligarchs, were planted in the 1990s when Kuchma came to power in 1994 (and he was also the prime minister for a year before that). In the 1990s, this country was rocked by high-profile murders of politicians (Vadym Hetman…), businesspeople-cum-politicians (Yevhen Shcherban…), journalists (Borys Derevianko…), etc.


The year 2000 saw a series of crimes clearly aimed at intimidating the country. In the political environment: the opposition MP Oleksandr Yeliashkevych was assaulted on February 9, but he managed to survive. Two years later, he had to emigrate to the US which granted him (the only politician in all the years of independence) political asylum, for he “faced danger” from the then leadership with President Kuchma at the head. The Yeliashkevych case was a downright frame-up – the trial was held on paper only, and the criminals have not yet been punished. In the civic sector: a crime was committed against Podolsky in June, when the future scenario against Gongadze was in fact tried out. In the journalistic sphere: the founder of Ukrainska Pravda was killed in September.

Clearly, there was no question of investigation during the presidency of Kuchma. All kinds of nonsense were being invented: for example, Gongadze was alive and hiding somewhere. A chance came in 2004, after the Orange events. Punishing those who ordered the murder was one of the Orange Revolution’s slogans. But the revolution never produced the expected results. Through the mediation of Kuchma’s Polish friend Aleksander Kwasniewski and chairman of the Supervisor Board of the Yalta Economic Strategy (YES) Viktor Pinchuk, the authorities managed to soft-pedal on the situation. Although Viktor Yushchenko eventually became president, nobody troubled Kuchma and his family in the next years, and his people still remained in active politics.

Yet we must give Yushchenko his due: during his presidency, the perpetrators of Gongadze’s murder – police outdoor surveillance officers Protasov, Kostenko, and Popovych (who suddenly died in March 2016) – were tried and sentenced to 12, 12, and 13 years in prison, respectively. Also convicted were Naumets and Maryniak, the turncoat policemen who committed a crime against Podolsky. The chief perpetrator, Oleksii Pukach, who had led the police teams in both cases, was arrested in 2009. Judicial litigations over this figure are still going on. A very important point: Interior Minister Yurii Kravchenko, who Podolsky says received the instruction and ordered Pukach to do away with Gongadze and Podolsky, was killed (he did not commit suicide, as the official version said) in March 2005. This means that a very important knot in this case was untied.

Then Viktor Yanukovych came to power, and, paradoxically enough, it is during his presidency, in 2011, that a criminal case was opened against Kuchma who was suspected of taking out a contract on Gongadze and Podolsky. But prosecutors failed to carry the case through. Later, when a court dismissed the decision to open this criminal case, Renat Kuzmin, who had instituted and conducted the proceedings in the Prosecutor General’s Office, blamed journalists and the public for this. He was in general right because when the proceedings were instituted, journalists were mostly writing about various motives of the current government rather than about the importance of this action.

“The curse of the unresolved Gongadze-Podolsky case is still hanging over Ukraine,” Oleksii Podolsky says to The Day. “Now, 16 years after the murder of Gongadze, we can still see a big political game, rather than justice, around this case, when everybody is trying to cash in on the journalist’s memory. There has been a bargain between presidents and the Kuchma-Pinchuk family for many years. The latter has always managed to make a deal – first with Yushchenko who gave Kuchma safety guarantees at the Orange Revolution roundtable, and then with Yanukovych who Kuzmin says even took a billion dollars from this family to have this case suspended indefinitely.”

The situation seemed to be going to change radically after the bloody Euromaidan events. But, unfortunately, the picture is the same. Although the current President Petro Poroshenko said that the Gongadze case is a matter of honor for him and even knelt down in front of the journalist’s commemorative plaque, you will see that nothing has change if you visit the court. What also proves this is the fact that Kuchma is today Ukraine’s chief negotiator in Minsk and sits on the Constitutional Commission which is drawing up amendments to this country’s fundamental law, while Volodymyr Lytvyn has been sitting in parliament for years in spite of the changes of leadership. Incidentally, in one of his latest statements, he in fact called for restoring relations with the Russian aggressor.

“In my view, it is the result of unscrupulousness, a general ailment of our politicians,” OstroV editor-in-chief Serhii Harmash comments to The Day. “Politicians only have their immediate interests, not principles. This is what distinguishes our figures from Western politicians. Hence is obsequiousness to the people who created conditions for what is now going on in the Donbas and Crimea. Moreover, this country’s topmost leadership is showing them an example. Most of today’s politicians were ‘hatched in Kuchma’s nest,’ made their money under him, and are, of course, sincerely grateful to him. And, by force of human nature, you assess other people not by what they have done in society but by their attitude to you personally. Naturally, Kuchma must bear if not legal then at least political and moral responsibility for the Gongadze case alone, for Kravchenko and Yanukovych. However, money and the authorities’ interest have relieved him of at least the first and the second.”


On October 12, the High Special Court will begin consider the appeal against the conviction of Oleksii Pukach, the chief perpetrator of these crimes. Earlier, the Appeal Court of Kyiv confirmed the Pechersky Court’s ruling to impose a life sentence on Pukach. Incidentally, the Verkhovna Rada resolved very recently to dismiss Andrii Melnyk, the judge who handed down the Pukach ruling at the Pechersky Court and for whose dismissal Podolsky’s party turned to the Higher Council of Justice. Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, Podolsky’s representative in the trial, commented to The Day: “This means he was quietly dismissed not to draw attention to his criminal falsification of high-profile cases. They can say now that this judge no longer exists, but they have left all his privileges intact.”

We will see the result of the appeal very soon, but I can say after visiting an Appeal Court session that it was a veritable epic of the confrontation of the aggrieved party, i.e. Podolsky, and his representatives with the judicial and prosecutorial system.

“With due account of the current situation in Ukraine, everything depends on President Poroshenko,” Podolsky predicts. “If he is not afraid of repercussions and it is really a matter of honor for him, there may be positive shifts. But if he still wishes to protect Kuchma, the scenario of those who ordered the murder will be put into practice. But it does not mean at all that this will put the matter to an end. My appeal is not the end of the process. It is just a formal stage so that I can turn later to high international courts because, to do so, you must first go through the courts of all levels in Ukraine. I think Ukraine will then be compelled to ratify the Rome Statute, which will allow bringing the highest-ranking officials to justice in international institutions, particularly, for complicity in the Gongadze-Podolsky case.”

One can take all kinds of attitudes to Renat Kuzmin, the former First Deputy Prosecutor General, but his recent Facebook post deserves attention.

“I think that, in order to bring to criminal justice those who ordered and organized the murder of Gongadze, the sentence on Pukach must be vacated and his case should be investigated again and combined with the case about the organizers and instigators of this crime. Let me explain why,” Kuzmin writes. “I condemn the murder of the journalist and the participation of Pukach in it, as I also condemn the criminal nature of his actions, for he was a police general. At the same time, Pukach’s life sentence is not an act of justice – it is an act of intimidating all those who demand that organizers and instigators of Gongadze’s murder be punished. Unfortunately, the previous leadership used Pukach’s testimony for a purpose that is very far from justice and from being disinterested. And, but for the 2014 events, Pukach could have disappeared for good. Unfortunately, the post-Maidan authorities continue to do what their predecessors began and will try to bury society’s hope for a fair trial.”

Here is an important nuance: Valentyna Telychenko has said more than once that the court must really finish the case of the perpetrator Pukack and only then pursue a separate case about investigators. But if the trial never found the motive of Pukach’s crime (he did not kill Gongadze and beat up Podolsky at his own will or in accordance with the wishes of the then Interior Minister Kravchenko), there is no need to throw out the case, for there were other people who issued orders and whose voices sound on the Melnychenko tapes. Moreover, it has turned out that Podolsky has no status at all in the investigators case – it is about progress of the Prosecutor General’s Office in this direction.

“By the information I have, attempts are being made to foist a deal on Pukach – if he retracts his accusations against the ex-president and his chief of staff, his life sentence will be commuted to 15 years in prison, which, taking into account the term he has already served and the notorious ‘Savchenko law,’ will let him be freed in the near future,” Kuzmin continues. “If he refuses, the life sentence will remain in force, and the organizers and instigators of Gongadze’s murder will hardly be ever punished. Incidentally, it would also be possible, as part of this investigation, to check the information that an unheard-of one million dollar worth bribe was paid for stopping the inquiry against Kuchma, which I said as long as two years ago. But the president and all the prosecutor generals he appointed have always pretended that they knew nothing about that.”

But Myroslava Gongadze’s representative at the trial, Valentyna Telychenko, has a different opinion. Commenting recently on the prospects of appeal, she said to “Pukach has the right to complain, and I am sure the court will carefully examine all his arguments, but there are no grounds to quash or alter the rulings of inferior courts. So I don’t think this hearing will have any impact of Pukach’s destiny.” Saying this, Telychenko hides that Pukach is not the only one to file an appeal. Podolsky, the aggrieved party, and his representatives have also turned to a court of appeal.

“I think Telychenko is doing this on purpose, for, as her behavior and actions show, she has long been in the instigators’ team,” Podolsky notes. “She is part of the mechanism and, accordingly, will do everything she is told by the law-enforcement bodies which have a clear strategy about this case. At trials, Telychenko was in fact backing the public prosecutors and judges who framed up the case. That this case was framed up was confirmed by Anton Chernushenko, the former chair of the Court of Appeal, in his video address. He emphasized that the president and deputy chief of his staff Oleksii Filatov were personally guiding her.”

One more point is noteworthy. At his first press conference later last May, the newly-appointed Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko, for whom a law was specially amended to allow a person without juridical education to hold this office, publicly promised me to give the answer about the Gongadze-Podolsky case, as far as instigators are concerned. But the new prosecutor general, who has been in office for 100 days now, has not yet answered.

“Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko often says today that investigation of Yanukovych-era crimes is a matter of honor for him,” public activist Oleksii Tolkachov says to The Day. “But, in my view, the Gongadze-Podolsky case should be the only matter of honor for the prosecutor general. It is this case and the ‘Ukraine without Kuchma’ campaign that Mr. Lutsenko’s political career began with. But it looks as if the prosecutor general wants to forget this for some reason. If a true investigation began, I am more than convinced that Yanukovych’s criminal regime would look like an innocent lamb compared to the ‘Kuchma system.’”


Those who ordered the crime and are trying to create a parallel reality, as well as those who help them and sell themselves out, have enormous resources and influence, but this does not mean they are invincible. The truth will prevail sooner or later. When? It depends on us, on our ability to understand the situation and do our utmost. So we must understand that events which the Kuchma-Pinchuk family organizes and which are ostensibly aimed at helping Ukraine are in reality a case of misplaced ideas, an instrument of sorts to whitewash the ex-president.

“It is no accident that the YES forum is being held right now, on an anniversary of Gongadze’s death – it is a little subconscious triumph of sorts,” Podolsky stresses. “They also did so in the previous years. For this reason, I have long been calling for boycotting the Kuchma-Pinchuk forums, but the absolute majority deliberately ignore my call – many come here for money, others do so because it is their commitment, and still others are on the ‘family’s’ payroll. Of course, we can point an accusing finger at foreigners, who help Kuchma with their presence, but it is, above all, our problem which we ourselves must resolve. On the other hand, it is important that, according to the leading US media, the West begins to take a closer look at the role of the Kuchma-Pinchuk family in financing the Clinton Fund.”

To tell the truth, not all are ignoring Podolsky’s call. For example, MP Hanna Hopko is taking a principled stand. Two years ago, she said in answer to Kwasniewski’s letter of invitation: “For many years, the family of Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma has been holding (via his son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk’s businesses) the YES forum and funding some influential American and European politicians and the related foundations and structures. I cannot accept your invitation. Boycotting this kind of events in a critical time for this country sends a clear signal: Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych must be held responsible for the crimes they committed and stand a fair trial. In the past few years, you have spent very much time in Ukraine but, unfortunately, have not paid attention to the high-profile criminal cases and trials connected with Leonid Kuchma’s involvement in harsh violence against politicians, journalists, and activists.”

Gongadze’s widow Myroslava has also reacted to the concurrence of dates: “This year Pinchuk’s YES opens on September 16. Somebody has thought it out very well – I suppose Kuchma will be present at the opening and the conference will begin with a minute [of silence] in memory of Georgy Gongadze. For September 16 marks the 16th anniversary of his death. I’d like to see a manifestation of journalistic solidarity, especially on the part of Georgy’s former colleagues, such as Serhii Leshchenko and a number of others who regularly attend this conference and even, as we now know from their official tax declarations, have been paid for making speeches there.”

Myroslava is absolutely right, but there are some essential nuances. “Myroslava can, of course, protest against YES, but then she should also protest against the Prosecutor General’s Office which in fact frames up her husband’s case, as far as instigators are concerned,” Podolsky says. “In this case she levels criticism at YES but, at the same time, still keeps Telychenko, who has totally discredited herself and shown that she sides with the Kuchma family, as her representative in court.”

“Although I have no right to judge the late Georgy’s relatives, I cannot understand the logic of the behavior of their representatives in court,” Tolkachov says in surprise. “I can’t see their interestedness in justice. Likewise, the public and the journalistic milieu have long forgotten about this high-profile case which could be the point of departure in dismantling the criminal oligarchic system whose patriarch Kuchma was and still is. The only ones who are still speaking about the Gongadze-Podolsky case are Den journalists.”

The behavior of the media environment is a special topic. Who else but the killed journalist’s colleagues are supposed to aspire for justice? However, unfortunately, we have seen degradation of not only politicians, but also some journalists in these years. It is not enough to come out on the Maidan once a year on the anniversary of Gongadze’s murder – one must show his or her position every day by refusing to hush up this case and visiting trials.

“The condition of many media reminds me of a marketplace or a fair – they shouted a little and forgot,” Podolsky says. “We can hear today that this case is no longer interesting and has been forgotten. But, unless this disgraceful tradition is broken and the Gongadze-Podolsky case is finished, no crimes on the Maidan and in eastern Ukraine will be solved. What deserves special attention here is Ukrainska Pravda, an example of how things must not be done. This publication’s journalists have long betrayed and sold out the memory of their founder. Moreover, they work for the Kuchma family by publishing, among other things, information in support of its campaigns. UP is today the official media partner of YES. On the other hand, they have been blocking – for years – information about our case and the Yeliashkevych case, they denied me the possibility of opening a blog, etc.”

“The last example with Leshchenko is a brilliant illustration of their moral qualities,” Podolsky continues. “I have a feeling that, although Poroshenko will be opening this year’s Yalta forum, the Kuchma-Pinchuk family already considers him a ‘shot-down pilot’ and, accordingly, is gradually bringing into motion the mechanism of his removal – hence are the rumors about early parliamentary and even presidential elections. I think Poroshenko himself is also feeling this instinctively. So it is not ruled out that all the scandals and combinations with Leshchenko are, to a large extent, part of the Poroshenko-Pinchuk relations. Kuchma’s son-in-law is playing up to a new breed of politicians, the so-called Euro-optimists, preparing an alternative to the current leadership.”


Georgy Gongadze’s remains were at last buried in March 2016. I can remember very well that Podolsky could not stand the atmosphere and walked out of the church where the burial service was being held. In his words, the body could have been committed to the ground long ago, but some of those standing in the temple and straining their faces, betrayed him, as did those who have not resolved this case over all these years. In spite of a sad mood, I still believe that an unrelenting struggle will bear its fruit. The road of the truth is rough, but it is sure to break through. This will trigger the cleansing of this country.

“I’ve gained a strong impression that Kuchma is still wielding a great deal of clout in Ukraine,” Tolkachov says. “The system he created still works smoothly, and its safety mechanisms remain intact. This means that both the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity only hit the tip of the iceberg without touching the foundations of the system. The faces of politicians are changing, and society projects a kaleidoscopic image that comprises high-profile events, scandals, arrests, etc. The idea is that nobody should look behind the scenes, at the roots of problems. Society is often blind, naive, and with a robbed memory. But it is time to sober up and become conscious. This can be achieved by way of a shock caused by the truth. And the truth about the murder of Gongadze and the crimes against Podolsky and Yeliashkevych will raze the current political reality to the ground.”

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