Another serious step has been taken in solving the “Gongadze case.” Kyiv’s Pechersk District Court has imposed a sentence on the main perpetrator of crimes against public figure Oleksii Podolsky and journalist Heorhii Gongadze. Oleksii Pukach, former chief of the External Surveillance Department of Ukraine’s Interior Ministry was sentenced to life in prison, with his property to be confiscated, and banned from taking governmental offices. Pukach was also stripped of the rank of major-general and ordered to pay 500,000 hryvnias to Myroslava Gongadze, the widow of the slain journalist, and 100,000 hryvnias to Podolsky. It will be recalled that Pukach’s henchmen, the former policemen who actually committed the crimes (Naumets and Maryniak in the Podolsky case, and Popovych, Protasov, and Kostenko in the Gongadze case), has been convicted earlier. Now this tragic story awaits the last, but crucial, step – conviction of the true masterminds.
Media people lined up in the very morning to make way to the final court session. No wonder as it is a historic and high-profile case. Moreover, journalists were allowed to attend the session, for it had been a closed trial until that day. But, although the door was open, only a part of the journalists managed to come in: firstly, people were let in very slowly, and, secondly, the room, where the sentence was pronounced, was small. The sentence was read out for about five hours, including the break. Although most of the crime details were well known long ago, it was frightening to listen to the sentence. What really strikes one are deep cynicism, amorality, and cruelty of the crimes, and the overall atmosphere of that time.
The court heard ample evidence read about the kidnapping and beating of Podolsky and the murder of Gongadze, including the evidence of Protasov about the events of September 15-16, 2000. He said, among other things, that Gongadze had been caught on Lesia Ukrainka Boulevard and carried outside Kyiv, Pukach ordered the operatives “to go to the old man,” his father-in-law, where he took a spade and ordered a grave to be dug up for Gongadze, then he beat up the victim, took a belt and began to strangle the journalist. “Gongadze took a deep breath and fought to break loose, so Pukach ordered us to knock the living daylights out of him,” the evidence says. After killing him, the murderers with Pukach at the head threw out his cell phone and bag to different places in the Dnipro, had supper at a restaurant, drank a bottle of vodka, after which Pukach told his henchmen “to forget what they had been doing in the past two days.”
Pukach himself testified that he was going not to kill but to intimidate the journalist and check the information that Gongadze was engaged in illegal espionage. For this purpose they put a belt around Gongadze’s neck, and it unexpectedly broke a cartilage. So the convict believes that the journalist’s death was an accident, and he pleaded not guilty of a premeditated murder.
Commenting on the Pukach trial, the aggrieved person Podolsky called the convict “court executioner in the kingdom of Leonid Kuchma.” “The whole trial is a farce,” Podolsky says. “We, the aggrieved party, were used as stage setting. This trial never looked into the real motives of the crime. Pukach was a court executioner in the kingdom of Kuchma. He did what the then leadership with President Kuchma at the head ordered him to do. This trial never found out why Pukach had committed these crimes. The court also refused to examine the murder of Kravchenko on the grounds that it was suicide. It refused to summon Kuchma and Lytvyn as witnesses, on which we had been insisting. Judge Melnyk did not want to deal with all this, so I challenged him. He turned down all my petitions. Incidentally, he is the same judge who once falsified the case about the assault on MP Yeliashkevych. Yes, they convicted Pukach today, but he is just an instrument. They should finally name the true masterminds.”
As for those who ordered the crime, the judge mentioned a thing to which journalists did not pay much attention, when he was reading out the sentence. Reading out Pukach’s testimony, the judge said the following: “Approximately on September 11, 2000, Kravchenko summoned him [Pukach. – Ed.] and said that he should take against Gongadze the same measures that he had taken against Podolsky. In particular, he said it was necessary to ‘get rid’ of Gongadze in such a way that nobody could find him because he was conveying false information abroad about the country’s leadership. Asked what he meant by ‘get rid,’ Kravchenko said that Gongadze should be killed and his body should be burned or buried. Kravchenko said that he was speaking on behalf of Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma.”
Pukach in fact confirmed these words at the end of the trial. Once the sentence was pronounced, Judge Melnyk asked Pukach if he agreed with the sentence, to which he said: “I will accept the sentence when Kuchma and Lytvyn sit next to me in this cage.” These words can be said to be the quintessence of the entire Pukach trial. Other things apart, he thus keeps himself safe from “accidents,” for he has already said the key words. Incidentally, Myroslava Gongadze’s lawyer Valentyna Telychenko has already said she will be appealing against the Pukach sentence because the court failed to find all the motives of the Gongadze murder. “I think the court meted out an adequate punishment to the defendant,” Telychenko says, “but I think it failed to find all the motives. In other words, the court did not analyze the fact that it was a contract killing, even though we had repeatedly insisted on this. We also insisted that the court summon ex-president Kuchma and Volodymyr Lytvyn to the trial in order to confirm that it was a contract crime.”