Car-Bomb Murders Terrify Ukraine’s Capital, and Many Suspect the Kremlin’s Behind Them
The attempt to kill a right-wing member of parliament on Wednesday night was just the latest in a string of murders targeting critics and enemies of Russia in Ukraine.
KIEV, Ukraine—On Wednesday at 10:05 p.m., Ukrainian Member of Parliament Igor Mosiychuk, his bodyguard Ruslan Kushnir, and a political analyst named Vitaly Bala were walking toward their cars after appearing on a live broadcast of Espresso TV when they were hit by a powerful blast. It killed Kushnir, the bodyguard, as well as a retired police colonel, Mikhail Mormel, who just happened to be in the parking lot. At least three people were severely injured, including Mosiychuk and Bala, who were rushed to intensive care.
The explosion outside of the Espresso TV studio was the fourth car-bomb assassination attempt in Kiev and the sixth in Ukraine in the past 16 months. And it came as especially bad news in a capital where hundreds of veterans returning from the war-torn Donbas region in the east of the country are protesting day and night, denouncing the current leadership of President Petro Poroshenko and the Rada, the parliament. An atmosphere of despair and rebellion has returned to Ukraine as we saw it in years past. Once again people building barricades in the city center, cooking food there over open fires, setting up a tent camp, and demanding a coup.
“We want to get rid of President Poroshenko, of all the Rada deputies, of the entire government, as they are shamelessly corrupt, they take a stake in the smuggling business with the [rebel] occupied territories and they have no desire to make people’s lives better,” Victor, a soldier from the volunteer Aidar Battalion, told The Daily Beast. Victor was supposed to get compensated for his wounds but the government had not paid him a cent, he claimed.
The war began in Donetsk in 2014, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and turned it into a part of its own territory. The fighting and sieges have left dozens of Ukrainian towns and villages ruined and more than 10,000 people dead.
And now terror has hit Kiev. “Nobody can feel safe in our city,” Ukrainian attorney and criminal expert Anna Moliar told The Daily Beast. “There are too many explosives, illegal weapons brought from the eastern regions by criminals plotting more assassinations.”
At 10:10 p.m., minutes after the bombing, the wounded Mosiychuk posted on Facebook: “There was an assassination attempt on me just now. They blew up my car outside of Espresso TV, where I had been on a livee show, they blew up my vehicle.” But later the post disappeared from Mosiychuk’s page.
On Thursday, investigators clarified that the explosive device had been planted not inside the deputy’s car but on a motorbike parked next to Mosiychuk’s vehicle. Also on Thursday, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) called the bombing a terrorist attack.
Why might Mosiychuk be targeted? In an interview last month he told The Daily Beast that back in the mid 1990s he supported the recruitment of Ukrainian volunteer soldiers going to Chechnya to fight against Moscow. In 2014, Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, called for a criminal investigation against Mosiychuk in Russia. On Thursday, Kadyrov's spokesman denied Kadyrov's involvement with the bombing in Kiev.
Mosiychuk, who a deputy from the Radical Party in the Rada, had previously played leading roles in Ukrainian far-right movements. In August 2011 he and his partners were accused of preparing a “terrorist” attack on a statue of Lenin. A Ukrainian court sentenced Mosiychuk to six years in prison, but after the Maidan Revolution in 2014, Mosiychuk was released from prison.
Few people in Kiev are waiting for the results of the investigation before pointing the finger of responsibility for the murderous car bombs in Ukraine.
“The Russian special services do that to destabilize the situation now, when we have opposition protests in Kiev,” Anton Geraschenko, a member of the Rada and advisor to the interior ministry, told The Daily Beast.
Gerashenko listed victims of previous car bombing assassinations in a Facebook post: a colonel in Ukraine’s intelligence, Maksym Shapoval; a colonel of counter-intelligence, Yuriy Voznoy; a lieutenant colonel of the SBU Alexander Kharaberyush. “They prepared the same fate for me in January this year,” Gerashenko noted.
In the interview with The Daily Beast, Gerashenko said he has no doubt that Moscow’s hand is behind all this. “Russia uses its agents, Ukrainian citizens, to conduct assassinations and remove well-known personalities,” Geraschenko said. “In the past Mosiychuk openly criticized the Russian government, so yesterday we saw an act of revenge.”
Not all victims of such assassinations are politicians. In July last year a car carrying Pavel Sheremet, a journalist with Ukrainskaya Pravda, blew up right outside of Kiev’s Opera house.
Sheremet was like a father to Ukrainskaya Pravda’s young reporters and the paper remains one of the most trusted sources of information in Ukraine today. In spite of the enormous loss, it continues to conduct independent investigations, unveiling corruption schemes that involve state officials of top level. Together with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ukrainskaya Pravda urges President Poroshenko to carry out an independent and effective investigation of their colleague’s friend.
“It looks like there is a group of contract murderers operating in Kiev these days,” Sevgil Musaieva-Borovyk, editor in chief of Ukrainskaya Pravda, told The Daily Beast. Even today, more than one year after Sheremet’s murder, Sevgil’s eyes filled with tears when she talks about her friend. “We live with a constant feeling of insecurity. Ordinary pedestrians fell victims of yesterday’s explosion. And the scariest thing? We are already used to bombings.”
Meanwhile, protesters in the camp outside the parliament began having lunch under the rain. Men in uniforms poured soup for the homeless, for ordinary pedestrians, for anybody who was hungry. At times there were up to 500 military veterans in the camp, and big military vehicles block the streets around it.
Artem, one of the protesters, gave The Daily Beast a tour. The war with Kremlin-backed militants controlling Donetsk and Luhansk regions left 22-year-old Artem with damaged eyes, and he was limping because of an injured foot.
“I cannot go to the university and live a normal life while these [parliamentary] deputies and the presidential administration take 10 percent from contraband. They are just as bad as our enemies in the war,” the veteran told The Daily Beast. The veterans insisted that they had nothing to do with the Wednesday assassination attempt.