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Ukraine - A Murder in Kyiv

 


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "A Murder in Kyiv"

REPORTER'S SLIDESHOW
Scenes and opinions from the streets of Kyiv

INTERVIEW WITH OLENA PRYTULA
Editor and cofounder of Ukrainskaya Pravda

INTERVIEW WITH YEVHEN GLEBOVISKY
Outspoken TV journalist

FACTS & STATS
Learn more about Ukraine's history and people

LINKS & RESOURCES
Find out more about the forces behind the Orange Revolution

MAP

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The Story
Protestors; Montesinos; A Fish Kill

It was just a year ago, in November 2004, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians poured into Kyiv's Independence Square in what became known as the Orange Revolution. They chanted and sang in subzero temperatures, waving their orange banners, protesting a fraudulent election and trying to force democratic change in the former Soviet republic.

At the center was Viktor Yushchenko, the reform presidential candidate, who became a folk hero in Ukraine after surviving a dioxin poisoning by his unidentified political opponents. His badly scarred and pockmarked face would become the defiant image of a nonviolent revolution that captured the world's imagination.

Soon after the Orange Revolution swept him into office, the new president held a press conference in which he pledged to end decades of corruption. He also vowed to solve the mysterious murder of a journalist that has haunted Ukraine for years.

"Resolving the case of Georgy Gongadze is very important," Yushchenko declared. "It is a political, moral and human obligation."

Georgy Gongadze was a crusading journalist whose death helped spark the Orange Revolution. But today, despite the new president's pledge, Gongadze's murder remains curiously unsolved.

The story starts on September 16, 2000, when Gongadze stepped outside an apartment building in Kyiv, was pushed into a waiting taxi and disappeared.

Gongadze had become a major opposition figure in Ukraine. A year earlier, on national television, he dared to confront then President Leonid Kuchma for failing to investigate an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate. Kuchma, an authoritarian ruler, was not used to being challenged in public. But Gongadze was fearless and kept after Kuchma and his cronies -- until the night he vanished.

Months after his disappearance, Gongadze's body was found in a shallow grave in a forest 80miles south of Kyiv. It was badly decomposed, burned and beheaded. What happened to Gongadze that night has remained buried for five years, but now political pressure is mounting to dig up the secrets of the old regime and solve his case.

Since her husband's death, Myroslava Gongadze has lived in exile in the United States with their two young children. Hoping that the new government in Ukraine would uncover the truth about her husband's assassination, she returned to her homeland this year, accompanied by FRONTLINE/World reporter Brian Knappenberger.

"This is my home, this is where my heart is," she tells Knappenberger. "When Georgy was killed we were all in danger. There is still danger here, but I hope things have changed."

Myroslava's first stop is Ukraine's Interior Ministry, where the new boss is a symbol of how much things have changed. Yuri Lutzencko is an old friend of Georgy and Myroslava's. As a former antigovernment protester in the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement, Lutzencko was beaten by the very police he now leads. Once in office, Lutzencko opened his own investigation into the Gongadze case. He tells Myroslava that the plot was much larger than anyone suspected, involving 40 officers.

"Two people in the car beat him with fists until he was nearly dead," Lutzencko tells Myroslava. "The officer in charge had finished him off by strangling him with his belt."

Lutzencko's work led to the arrest and upcoming trial of three militiamen who kidnapped and beat Gongadze. But he tells Myroslava that he hasn't been successful apprehending the people who ordered the crime.

In a government convoy, Lutzencko takes Myroslava to the forest where Gongadze's body was found. "The Gongadze murder is not the only crime against journalists and politicians in Ukraine," he tells her. "But the murder of Gongadze was the last straw. It happened in a moment when people couldn't take it anymore."

There is a cross next to the shallow grave where farmers found Gongadze's body. As she places flowers on the earth, Myroslava says, "I loved Georgy so much. ... I need to believe that this new government is different and that things have changed. If they don't put Kuchma on trial for this, then maybe the revolution wasn't real."

Kuchma denies any involvement in Gongadze's murder, despite startling evidence brought forward by one of his former bodyguards -- secret audiotapes recorded in then President Kuchma's office. On one tape, Kuchma is heard telling his interior minister, Yuri Kravchenko, to "do something" about Georgy Gongadze. Kuchma claims the tapes are a fabrication, but Myroslava and many others believe they are real and that they incriminate Kuchma's regime.

Now, at last, Myroslava has a chance to press her husband's case with the new president, the hero of the Orange Revolution, President Yushchenko.

"For years, there has been a huge question mark hanging over this country: Who killed Georgy Gongadze?" says Yushchenko. "This is a question of my honor, and I will resolve it regardless of how much it will cost me politically or personally."

But he provides few new details, and he spends most of his time trying to convince Myroslava to come back to Ukraine and support his reform efforts -- something she is not willing to do until her husband's case is solved.

Why hasn't President Yushchenko pushed more aggressively to solve the Gongadze case? One theory, espoused by Sergiy Teran, an authority on the case, is that in the heat of the Orange Revolution, when it was feared that Kuchma might unleash the army and police on the demonstrators or that the Russians might intervene to restore the old order, there was a deal. Teran tells Myroslava, "I believe that the international community gave guarantees to Kuchma that if Kuchma does not use force during the revolution, then he would not be prosecuted, regardless of what he did."

In a bizarre twist, Kravchenko -- the then interior minister heard on the secret tape being ordered by Kuchma to "do something" about Gongadze -- was found dead in his home the day before he was called in to testify about the murder. "The authorities called it suicide," says Knappenberger, "but Kravchenko had been shot in the head twice."

In her most important meeting, Myroslava confronts Kuchma's former chief prosecutor, Svanislav Piskun, the man in charge of investigating Kravchenko's suspicious suicide. He's the same man investigating the murder of her husband.

"Did Kravchenko really commit suicide?" Myroslava asks him.

"Absolutely," asserts Piskun. "For sure."

He offers a rambling discourse about people who have managed to kill themselves in odd ways. "Piskun is not entirely convincing about Kravchenko's death," comments Knappenberger.

Myroslava presses Piskun to authenticate the tapes recorded by Kuchma's bodyguard so that they can be used as evidence in a trial, but Piskun is evasive. Nevertheless, he tries to reassure her that he will keep the investigation going. "I try to nurture it as a flower," he says.

Although Gongadze's killers have not yet been brought to trial, his death has already had an impact on journalism in Ukraine. At Ukrainskaya Pravda, the Internet newspaper that Gongadze co-founded in the months before his death, a new generation of reporters is taking up where he left off. Journalists in Ukraine no longer have to fear the government they report on, says Olena Prytula, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Ukrainskaya Pravda.

"We are not in danger anymore. I think everyone can criticize everybody from the highest levels," says Prytula, who was a close friend of Gongadze's. "I think that our newspaper is like a monument to him."

But after weeks of meeting with top officials, Myroslava is leaving the country, worried that her husband's death won't be solved any time soon despite the political promises she has received from President Yushchenko and others.

After her departure, on the fifth anniversary of Gongadze's death, supporters held a candlelight vigil and demanded the firing of General Prosecutor Piskun, who has failed to bring the case to trial. This month, President Yushchenko removed Piskun from office -- a sign that the Orange Revolution may yet fulfill one of its key promises: finding and prosecuting those who killed Georgy Gongadze.

 


CREDITS

Produced, Reported and Filmed by
BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER

Senior Producer
KEN DORNSTEIN

Editor
WILLIAM A. ANDERSON

Associate Producer
YULIYA VOLKHONOVYCH

Additional Editing
GREG MCDONALD
BO PRICE
DAVID RITSHER

Additional Camera
RUSLAN DEYNYCHENKO

Translation
NATALYA SLOBODYAN
OXANA SHEVEL

 

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