The murder of MP Yevhen Shcherban is one of the most significant and tragic events of Ukraine’s contemporary history. By bringing it up today, the government revealed the old wounds of the lawless years of the primary accumulation of capital and physical elimination of political rivals. This time Ukrainian information space was shaken by sensational statements made by Yurii Didukh, one of the founders of the ATON Group, former partner of the deceased MP, during the show Exclamation Mark on the TVi channel. It was the first time we had had an opportunity to listen to a witness who reproduced the dramatic picture of the 1990s more fully and talked about new circumstances, that would not be ignored by either experts or journalists.
“Ironically, at that time, Shcherban’s death would benefit many,” Didukh says. “In particular, you know such structure as the Unified Energy Systems, headed by Tymoshenko. There also was Lazarenko. If you analyze this situation, you will see that there was no way these actions [Shcherban’s murder. – Author] at the airport could have been organized without a sanction of the highest executive, I mean the then president Kuchma. I am 90 percent sure that people mentioned above were directly involved in Shcherban’s assassination.”
For the first time after bringing the Shcherban case up, former president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma was also named as one of those who authorized the assassination, in addition to Lazarenko and Tymoshenko (the latter is now the main target for investigators in this case). According to Didukh, today investigators are only interested in “Yulia Tymoshenko and Pavlo Lazarenko; they are not interested in Kuchma’s involvement in the case at all.” “There is no evidence base, and it would be difficult to prove it, that is why they are interested in these two figures. I tried to suggest that it is not about these two figures only, Tymoshenko and Lazarenko. Such lawlessness is never done without an order from the very top,” the businessman noted.
And one more very important point. It was never mentioned before. Didukh said that right before his death, Yevhen Shcherban nurtured an idea of Kuchma’s resignation. “We did not talk on November 3,” says Didukh. “We talked on November 2, when he was at Kobzon’s anniversary party. We talked on the phone. During the conversation, he tried to warn me that the situation was very tense, and that he was going to fly to Kyiv on November 3 and impeach the then president Kuchma. And then he planned to come visit me in Tallinn.”
We contacted the host of Exclamation Mark Artem Shevchenko to find out what the reaction was. “Didukh’s words were widely quoted in the media,” Shevchenko comments. “This is quite logical, because Yurii Didukh is an interesting witness, who remained silent for many years, starting from 1997, when an attempt on his life was made (Didukh was in a car with Shcherban’s elder son, when it was fired upon). It is obvious that this man knows a lot, he has a lot of information about those events.”
On the other hand, does Didukh speak the truth? “It is unlikely that Kuchma ordered the assassination of Shcherban,” says political analyst Viktor Nebozhenko. “At least, this was not practiced back in 1996. But closer to the 2000s, political and economic rivals were already being eliminated. But at the same time, Didukh has some strong arguments. Indeed, the airport in Donetsk is well protected and it would have hardly been possible to commit such a crime without cooperation between the masterminds of the assassination and the authorities. Why didn’t the investigation clarify these circumstances? Security officials were subordinate to the president, but the investigation never probed that direction.”
Journalist Shevchenko’s version: “I cannot judge, but as far as I recall, Kuchma was accused of many crimes, including Shcherban’s assassination, back when he was a president. The main thing that Didukh said was that Shcherban had been preparing Kuchma’s impeachment. Also, Didukh told me (this was not broadcasted) that according to his evaluation, Shcherban, as a leader of the Liberal party and “Social and Market Choice” faction, controlled up to 60 percent of the parliament. I think that the information about impeachment is very important for the investigating authorities.”
In fact, when you listen to Didukh, it seems that a coincidence of interests occurred: Shcherban was preparing Kuchma’s impeachment and negotiating with Moscow on gas issues, while Lazarenko as the prime minister was promoting the Unified Energy Systems on Ukraine’s gas market. We also know about Kuchma’s communication “skills” in the presidential office (in other words, his ability to “solve” issues) from Melnychenko’s tapes. It is possible that all these compounds lead to the Shcherban’s assassination.
“The Shcherban case is an echo of all the mid-1990s conflicts, especially of 1996,” continues Shevchenko. “Because Shcherban’s assassination already happened after a number of crimes, resulting from big conflicts, both economic and political. The murder of Oleksandr Shvedchenko, head of the Ukrainian branch of the Russian gas company ITERA in Kyiv, and of the businessman Oleksandr Momot in Donetsk, the so-called attempt on Lazarenko and, finally, the assassination of Shcherban – which is essentially a political assassination, not just an elimination of a business competitor. This is my viewpoint, after communication with numerous sources like Didukh in particular.”
This suggests the Russian blockbuster series The Brigade, which has been obviously underestimated. Its plot has parallels in Ukrainian reality. The newcomers from Dnipropetrovsk, who invaded Kyiv and occupied the executive (Kuchma, Lazarenko, Tymoshenko et al.) are quite adequately shown in the role, played by the actor Andrei Panin. Yevhen Shcherban acted similar to another character, Sasha Bely, who wanted to put an end to all that system. It looks like today we witness the last episode of the series: the Dnipropetrovsk mob against the Donetsk mob. Or vice versa. But what is the role (and interest) of the Ukrainian people here?
The unlearned lessons from the recent Ukrainian past will repeat themselves, until Kuchma’s decade is over.