On 4 November, Kateryna Handziuk, civil society activist and official of Kherson City Council’s Executive Committee, died in the burn treatment department of the Kyiv City Clinic No. 2.
She died three months after a brutal attack on her on 31 July 2018 in Kherson when a liter of sulfuric acid was poured on her. She was brought to intensive care with burns covering 40% of her body and has remained there the whole three months, undergoing 15 operations, which still failed to save her life.
This brutal act of violence against Kateryna Handziuk is an attempt to intimidate all Ukrainian civil society activists fighting corruption and organized crime that have been festering in cities, towns and villages for decades.
The investigation into the attack on Kateryna Handziuk once again revealed the glaring inability of law enforcement to conduct efficient investigations, both of this and other assaults on civil society activists perpetrated in various regions of Ukraine since the Revolution of Dignity.
Thus, despite the severe harm inflicted on Kateryna Handziuk by the attackers that posed a real threat to her life, the police initially classified the attack under Art. 296 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code (hooliganism). When the incident gained publicity, it was re-classified as “serious bodily harm caused with the aim to intimidate”. Afterwards the classification was changed once again, now to “attempted murder”. Only two months later, on 25 September 2018, at the request of lawyer Yevgeniya Zakrevska, the Main Office of the National Police in Kherson Oblast added signs of a contract killing to the crime’s classification (under clause 11, part 2, Art. 115 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code). However, these signs still have not appeared in the charges brought against the performers of the crime.
It should be noted that, in an attempt to silence public outcry and report a swift success in the investigation of this high profile crime, the police arrested as a suspect Mykola Novikov, just a random person. Investigative journalists managed to prove Novikov’s innocence, who nearly became a scapegoat for the police, which undermined what little credibility law enforcement had in this case. All this time the real perpetrators had been free and if not for the pressure put on law enforcement, they might have still remained at large.
Kateryna Handziuk herself criticized corruption in Kherson police and doubted the ability of local law enforcement to find her attackers, requesting to have her case transferred to the Security Service of Ukraine.
On 17 and 19 August 2018, officers of the National Police and Security Service arrested five persons who are justifiably suspected of organizing and performing the assault, one of them suspected to have been involved in the planning, and another – in the attack itself. Both of them are currently in custody, the rest, given a different preventive measure, are under house arrest.
The victim reported multiple procedural problems that resulted from the pre-trial investigation being carried out in two different bodies – the National Police and the Security Service. The victim made requests to have her case assigned solely to the Security Service.
Those behind the murder of Kateryna Handziuk have not yet been identified, and even such possibility is in question due to procedural obstacles created intentionally or by mistake by the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine.
Thorough investigation of this murder, including the search for those who hired the attackers, is required by Art. 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Unfortunately, this and at least a hundred other attacks on civil society activists perpetrated in Ukrainian government-controlled territory after the Euromaidan are not being properly investigated. Moreover, even in those few cases when attackers have been identified, those that hired them are usually never found, which is why the attacks on civil society activists are only getting more frequent and the evil go unpunished.
The corruption, impunity and lack of effective reforms of the police force and the prosecution service result in widespread persecution of and attacks on civil society activists. As long as the attackers, organizers and clients in more than a hundred attacks perpetrated in the last few years remain punished, no activist can feel safe.
The Coalition for the Protection of Civil Society expresses deepest condolences to Kateryna Handziuk’s family and friends. It is a heavy loss for all of us – loss of an honest, principled, courageous and fearless colleague devoted to the ideals of democratic and corruption-free Ukraine.
We are outraged by the progress of investigations into the attacks and killings of civil society activists and demand dismissal of the leadership of Kherson police, which had been undermining the investigation into the attack on Kateryna Handziuk from the start, as well as the dismissal of Yuriy Lutsenko, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, and Arsen Avakov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, who sabotaged the reform of law enforcement in Ukraine.
We demand a thorough investigation into the murder of Kateryna Handziuk and a public report on measures taken to identify and punish those behind this heinous crime, as well as a thorough investigation of this and a hundred other attacks on civil society activists perpetrated throughout Ukraine since the Euromaidan.
Member organizations of the Coalition for the Protection of Civil Society:
Human Rights Information Center
Ukrainian Institute for Human Rights
Center for Civil Liberties
Bureau of Social & Political Developments
Luhansk Region Human Rights Center “Alternative”
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Cherkasy Human Rights Center
Open Dialogue Foundation
Human Rights Platform
Center for Law and Political Studies “7”
Helsinki Initiative XXI
Digital Security Lab
Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research
Right to Protection
Crimean Human Rights Group
Media Initiative for Human Rights
NGO Youth Organization STAN
Kharkiv Oblast Foundation “Public Alternative”
Vostok SOS charitable foundation
The statement is also supported by:
Anticorruption Action Center
Transparency International Ukraine
Reanimation Package of Reforms
Open Society Foundation
Civil Society Institute
All-Ukrainian Association AutoMaidan
Civil Movement Chesno
National Union of Journalists of Ukraine
Institute of Mass Information
Kharkiv Institute of Social Researches
Center for Economic Strategy
NGO Together Against Corruption
NGO Public Control Platform
NGO People’s Protection
Charitable Foundation Parity
Anticorruption Forum of Lviv Oblast
NGO Obukhiv Development Association
All-Ukrainian Public Association OPIRORG
NGO Media Detector
Liberation Movements Research Center
Civil Network OPORA
Ukrainian Science Club
Ukrainian Insurance Federation