Like fathers, like sons: Ukraine’s untouchables

 The brutal rape and murder of Oksana Makar, apparently committed by well-connected children, has forced Ukrainians to reflect on power, elite privilege and impunity, writes Mykola Riabchuk 

Mykola Riabchuk
12 April 2012

In early March, 18-year-old Oksana Makar was beaten and raped by three drunken youngsters in the South Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. To hide the crime, the miscreants tied her up and set her on fire. Oksana later died in hospital from horrendous burns.

The city was shocked and hundreds of people took to the streets to protest after a rumor spread that the culprits had been released, placed under house arrest, and were likely to avoid punishment, which typically happens in Ukraine when the children of big bosses and wealthy businessmen are involved in crimes. The rumors proved unfounded, but people have become so accustomed to daily lawlessness and the rampant impunity of the strong and wealthy that they tend, naturally, to overreact.

Boys behaving badly 

A few years ago, Dmytro Rud, the 25-year-old son of the Dnipropetrovsk prosecutor, ran down three women at a marked road crossing and disappeared after being placed under house arrest. Serhy Kalynovsky, the 23-year-old son of a rich oil trader, crashed at high speed into a parked car containing two passengers, killed both, and eventually escaped from the hospital and took a chartered plane to Israel. Oleksandr Shpyrko, the son of a colonel of the National Security Service in Odesa, heavily drunk, plowed into a boat on his scooter killing one person and injuring three. Again, as the typical story goes, he was released on probation and, after due pressure on victims, witnesses, investigators and judges, received a four-year suspended sentence, later repealed by an amnesty.

Dmytro Rud, 25, is the son of a regional prosecutor. A few years ago, he ran over three women at a marked road crossing. Remarkably, he was only placed under house arrest, from which he fled. 

By late 2010, as such tendencies became all too obvious, I began to collect the stories of violent crimes committed by Ukrainian VIPs and, especially, their offspring. The list is certainly not exhaustive since I picked up the stories occasionally, inter alia, while searching materials for different projects and screening only a handful of sources. Yet, having gathered about a hundred stories of this kind in less than a year, I found out it tempting to classify them and to denote some distinct features and tendencies.

‘Whenever senior VIPs or their junior offspring are involved in killing a pedestrian or beating a commoner, the pattern of investigation is virtually the same. The speed of their cars is always recognized as being within the permissible limits... Alcohol is never found in their blood... All of them are placed on probation, even though many fled from the accident scene rather than help the victim... And witnesses are pressed to reconsider their earlier testimonies’

First of all, the lion’s share of violent incidents in which VIPs and their progenies are involved pertains to speeding (usually in a state of drunkenness), or to some restaurant and post-restaurant brawls (again most frequently with the perpetrators in an inebriated condition). Predictably, young people are much more prominent in this activity, partly because of the age and respective hormones, and partly because their progenitors use (as a rule) personal drivers and bodyguards, in order to preclude such problems.

So, when a minor oligarch and MP from Luhansk, Volodymyr Landyk, happened to be stopped by a traffic policeman because his car was traveling at double the speed limit, he had no need to contest the charge. It sufficed to order his bodyguard: “Go and sort him out!” (The Russian form is much cruder: “Пойди въeби его”) and the issue was settled. The policeman ended up in a hospital with concussion and bruises to his chest, whereas Mr. Landyk swore solemnly that nothing illegal had occurred: “The injuries he has got, well, he had probably inflicted them upon himself, no one beat him!” (“Ті травми, які він отримав, напевно, завдав сам собі, ніхто його не бив!”).

Recurring trademarks

This spectacular chutzpah seems to be the Party of Region’s trademark. Back in 2010, after the bloody melee in the parliament, when oppositionists blocked the podium protesting procedural violations and Mr. Landyk’s colleagues broke their noses in response, Mykhaylo Chchetov, the informal “director” of the Party’s parliamentary faction, brashly explained the incident to the journalists: “There was no assault. Maybe they [hospitalized oppositionists] beat their heads [against a wall] themselves and now decided to blame it on us.” 

In any case, whenever senior VIPs or their junior offspring are involved in killing a pedestrian or beating a commoner, the pattern of investigation and the subsequent findings are virtually the same. The speed of their cars is always recognized as being within the permissible limits and is never found to be 150-200 km per hour, the speed at which they usually drive. Alcohol is never found in their blood, even though witnesses often attest that they are barely able to speak or even stand. All of them are placed on probation, even though many fled from the accident scene rather than help the victim. In every case, the victims’ relatives and victims themselves (if alive) are intimidated or bribed or both, to withdraw their claims. And witnesses are pressed by both the defendants and investigators to reconsider their earlier testimonies or merely to forget some details.

“I’m Vladimir Kryvko, f…! Get off my way, f…! I’m having a good time, as I like it. It’s up to me, f…, either to smell coke, or inject, or drink, or drive, or f…, or shoot. I’m Vladimr Kryvko! Any questions?”

Vladimir Kryvko

Another habitual feature of all these stories is their almost exclusive localization in Southeastern Ukraine—the area firmly controlled by the Party of Regions, alongside the capital city of Kyiv where an enormous number of national VIPs is ominously concentrated. It is no accident that all the heroes of these stories are either members of the Party of Regions or their close political-cum-business associates. The only story in my collection that occurred in the West of the country refers to a young man and his cronies at Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk region, who tried to solve a road incident with the help of gas and traumatic [rubber bullet] pistols. Remarkably, the main culprit, yet again, was the son of the local Party of Regions MP Volodymyr Lychuk.

All these youngsters, like their parents, are strongly convinced that might is right. And they are very cognizant of the open secret of who holds the real power in this country and how. They have no doubt that the law, or whatever this silly word may mean in Ukraine, is on their side. Actually, it is them and their parents and friends who own it. They have captured the state like an alien army, and can pillage it now as they wish.

‘I’m Vladimir Kryvko’

Police, as a rule, avoid confrontations with these new landlords and their bubbling offspring. (The poor fellow from Luhansk who dared to stop Mr. Landyk was an exception: his singular bravery, or perhaps naivety, would rarely be replicated by anyone, including himself.) One can see in this video how reluctant they are to detain an aggressive youngster whose heavily inebriated monologue sounds like a motto for his entire generation:

“I’m Vladimir Kryvko, f…! Get off my way, f…! I’m having a good time, as I like it. It’s up to me, f…, either to smell coke, or inject, or drink, or drive, or f…, or shoot. I’m Vladimr Kryvko! Any questions?” 

Last year, a big scandal occurred in Luhansk when Roman Landyk, a deputy of the city council and, yes, the son of the same Volodymyr Landyk whose bodyguard knocked out the traffic policeman, brutally attacked a young woman in a night club because she refused his gentle offer to have a good time with him at some other place. The story would have probably have had no consequences for the junior, just as the earlier incident had had no impact on his father. But, unfortunately for him, it was recorded on camera and placed on the Internet. The authorities had to react, so they brought the playboy to court and sentenced him to three years in prison – suspended, despite the fact he had never repented. On the contrary, he constantly and openly threatened the victim and journalists with revenge, behavior that in a normal country may have cost him more than three years in prison. Today, the cheerful owner of a 230,000 Euro Bentley Continental needs only to wait for the next pardon (likely in August, by Independence Day) and then try to fulfill all his promises and concealed desires, perhaps with a better luck, i.e. no cameras around.

This assumption may sound somewhat grotesque, but all those who know the story of Dmytro Kravets, the son of a member of the Odesa regional council (one can guess from which party), would certainly recognize it as quite common. This car-lover had killed, at high speed, a young man and seriously mutilated his partner. The prosecutor (under the Orange government) demanded six years in prison for him but the government changed meantime, and the speedster received a pardon. What makes the story even more poignant is that Mr. Kravets Jr. had already been pardoned twice after receiving minor sentences for stealing 16 (!) cars, just for fun.

One should not be surprised, however, by the leniency of Ukrainian judges, if they belong to the same caste as their VIP clients (and patrons). They cooperate in a mutually beneficial enterprise of state capture and looting. And in most cases, they expose the same love for a dolce vita and disrespect for the law. My favorite story of this kind is that of Dmytro Chernushenko, a former deputy of the Odesa city council and, now, a consultant for the anti-corruption (!) committee in the Ukrainian parliament. His drift to the capital coincided, remarkably, with his father’s career jump from the position of a judge in Odesa to the head of the Court of Appeal in Kyiv. Both events (and many more of the sort) coincided with Yanukovych’s ascendancy to power.

Last July, a young lawyer with his girlfriend who also appeared to be a member of the legal profession, a judge of the district court in Kyiv, went to a nightclub in Odesa in which all visitors were required to pass the metal detector gate. The pair refused and, reportedly tipsy, began a brawl with the club personnel. When the police arrived, the “Kyiv lawyers” badmouthed them with obscenities and promised all would be fired. The journalists also got their portion of slander: “I don’t give a s…t whether you’re journalists,” the young district judge put it elegantly, “You will pay for this!”

“We cannot do anything,” a police officer confessed to journalists, under conditions of anonymity, “If we detain them, we would have a lot of trouble. The most we can do is compile a protocol and charge them a minor fine for petty hooliganism…. We encounter problems like this all the time. Children of judges, MPs, top officials behave here like hoodlums. They even spit on the police. They can beat anybody and will be released regardless.” 

Hello Cousteau

It is depressing even to read the titles of these stories: “Policeman in Kyiv charged 225 hryvna [$28] for killing a mother with a child at a street crossing”; “Judge from Kupyansk [Kharkiv region] who killed two people with his Jeep is acquitted”; “A judge from Luhansk who killed a women with a boy at a street crossing is promoted to the High Court” ; “A young member of the Valky city council [Kharkiv region] kicked a 17-year-old girl” (the story is very similar to that of Mr. Landyk Jr., with the only difference that here the hero’s father, the head of the local council, did not try to excuse his scion: “He drinks too much. We tried to cure him but in vain. He is 26 years old, all I can do is give him a good telling off”.

Perhaps the ugliest story in this collection of the lawlessness that reigns supreme in Ukraine comes from the recent publication in Kyiv Post about three mobsters who, back in 2007, kidnapped a man’s business partner-cum-rival, tortured him for three days, and then, as the story relates, “tied an iron radiator battery to his back and tossed him over a bridge into a Dnipro River canal with the words: “Say hello to [Jacques] Cousteau!”

Only one of the killers, Oleksander Kudrin, was convicted for intentional murder and received a seven-year prison sentence, exactly like Yulia Tymoshenko for her unfortunate gas contracts with Putin. Two other accomplices, Serhiy Levchenko and the alleged ringleader Serhiy Demishkan, were given milder sentences on the lesser charges ofkidnapping and concealing a crime. District judge Volodymyr Yeremenko provided this remarkable revelation about the possible usage of heating radiators tied to victims’ backs: “There was no intent of premeditated murder,” he told the journalists. “They (the culprits) wanted to take him (the victim) to a notary public… Perhaps their actions led to accidental manslaughter” [http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/122175/].

However strange the court decision, a real miracle happened in December 2010, when a Kyiv appellate court judge ordered an additional investigation into the case and freed Mr. Demishkan with a suspended sentence. The reason for the court’s lenience was very simple: Volodymyr Demishkan, Serhiy’s father, was the head of the state roadway service Ukravtodor and a good friend of the incumbent president Viktor Yanukovych.

Demishkan Senior deserves a book to himself, but it requires a genre that I would rather leave for Ukrainian followers of Mario Puso or Martin Scorsese. Suffice it to say that he is cofounder (with Messrs. Yuri Boyko and Serhiy Tulub, the incumbent and former ministers of fuel and energy) of the Society of the Hunters and Fishermen “Cedar,” patronized by the chief hunter of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. Such patronage pays off: at the end of last year, “Cedar” received 9,000 hectares of highly valuable reserve lands in Crimea at cut-price rates.

To Mr. Yanukovych’s credit, neither of his two sons is alleged to have beaten traffic police or uncooperative girls, or to have tied radiators to the backs of their political rivals or business competitors. There was a minor incident with Viktor Yanukovych Jr. last year when journalists filmed him roaring drunk in the street and cursing with his full vocabulary. He did not asault anyone, however, nor even sue, though he threatened to do so after the video was placed on Youtube. Both he and his older brother Oleksandr are serious statesmen and businesmen (in Ukraine it is a normal combination), with personal bodyguards and therefore the state apparatus that can do the dirty jobs rather than they themselves.

Oleksandr Yanukovych came to prominence as the alleged shadow owner of “Tantalit,” a murky offshore company that lends the president the estate on which his opulent residency is located, as well as a helicopter and other facilities—using taxpayers’ money, of course, and doubtless at exorbitant prices.

This is how the pyramid ends. Or, rather, begins. And everything one sees at the bottom is just a reflection of what is happening at the top.

Thanks to Ukraine Analysis where this article was originally published

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