The attention to Kyiv’s Court of Appeal on January 21 should be no less than to the Maidan events over the past months. Why? Because this will be a trial in a sensational case, which symbolizes the system against which Ukrainian citizens are so ardently protesting in the Euromaidan. This symbolical case should have been finished long time ago, but namely due to the sustainability of this system a legal line in the investigation has not drawn. This is the Gongadze case. On Tuesday the Court of Appeal is supposed to start to consider the appeal of the verdict announced to former police general Oleksii Pukach, who was sentenced by the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv to lifetime imprisonment for murdering journalist Heorhii Gongadze, as well as for kidnapping and brutal beating of public figure Oleksii Podolsky.
Will this case enjoy any attention of public and media? Unfortunately, previous experience shows that the activity in highlighting of this topic does not meet the level it should have. For example, recent events and statements connected with the abovementioned case have come practically unnoticed by society and journalists. And they were quite sensational. As a reminder, on November 21 last year Pechersk District Court of Kyiv considered the remark to the protocol of a court session submitted by Pukach’s lawyer, Hryhorii Demydenko (the verdict to former head of the department of external surveillance of the MVS of Ukraine has not been brought into effect). According to complainant Podolsky, during the session Pukach said the following:
“He claims Justice Anatolii Melnyk permitted tens of people to come to his ward – employees of prosecutor’s office, witnesses on the case, and unknown persons, who blackmailed him, begged, threatened to take measures, said that his children would be put to jail, that bad things would happen to his wife. ‘I’ll announce the names at the session of the Court of Appeal’ he said. Everything was done to make Pukach change the line of his behavior, obey to Melnyk, and not do any stupid things. His words were recorded in court protocol. During the break, when the participants of the process were absent, Pukach explained to me that they demand him to stop talking about Kuchma and Lytvyn, who ordered the crime.”
Pukach told these names a year ago, after the verdict was announced. Responding to Justice Melnyk’s question whether he understood the verdict, Pukach stated: “I will understand it only when Kuchma and Lytvyn join me in jail.” However, the Prosecutor General’s Office, apparently, holds to a different opinion. The latest statement made by Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka in this regard was as follows: “The investigation in the case is underway, including the part concerning the motives of the ordered murder of Gongadze.” Answering the question whether Kuchma’s name figures in the investigation, Pshonka said: “In legal terms, a name can figure only when an accusation was made, i.e., when there is evidence for an accusation and it’s mentioned in the materials of the case. Kuchma was interrogated in this case as a witness, like many others.”
Flagrant statements made by Pukach and unconvincing position of the Prosecutor General’s Office… Meanwhile, some mass media are hunting after sensational headlines, or even worse – misinform the society (this refers to the question how broadly journalists are highlighting the topic). After it became known that Pukach’s appeal will be considered on January 21, certain mass media published the following headlines: “Is there any possibility that Pukach will be released on January?”
“Such versions are created by the team who ordered this crime to Pukach,” Oleksii Podolsky comments to The Day. “Nobody is going to release Pukach, because his guilt was proved, but the motives of the crime were partially not proved: it is unclear why he killed Gongadze or beat me. The court never found this out. The person was convicted without motives. This is wrong. Pukach must share the responsibility, because he’s the executor. Was it his own decision to go kill Gongadze or beat me? Pukach did not know anything about our existence. This should be written down: he was fulfilling the will of the president of Ukraine. Then it will be justice.”
The appeal against the ruling of the Pechersk Court was filed by Myroslava Gongadze’s councilor, Valentyna Telychenko. In her opinion, the pretrial investigation and court proceedings were not done properly, therefore Pukach’s verdict has essential legal gaps. Complainant Podolsky filed an appeal as well. “Indisputably, I want my appeal to be allowed, in particular, Justice Melnyk to be removed from the case, because his trial was followed by violations of law,” the complainant says. “The most important thing is that the case should be considered from a new angle. For example, Kuchma and Lytvyn should be subpoenaed, and the case of Kravchenko’s death should be examined. Then the trial will be just.” How real is this?
“There are purely political things that prevent the trial from being just,” Podolsky goes on. “The power may give a signal to attack Kuchma. It is no secret that the family of the ex-president stands behind the certain part of the opposition. My attitude to the opposition, especially to Yatseniuk, is very skeptical. I know how they formed the lists. I don’t like this team. Maybe something will be done, not for justice’s sake, but to blackmail the opponent. But I have doubts in this concern. I think a deal will be made. The trial will show what relations between Kuchma and Yanukovych’s teams are.”
Kuchma’s team has been recently mentioned in America in comparison with another team – that of Yushchenko. US Ambassador to Ukraine in 2003-06, John Herbst said in an interview to Ukrainska Pravda that he is not sure that the Orange team was much more ethical than Kuchma’s team. Serhii Volkotrub gave an interesting comment on Facebook, where ambassador’s statement sparked a discussion: “The Orange are Kuchma’s team. If you doubt this, look at the bios. How the ambassador distinguishes between Kuchma’s team and the Orange is a great mystery.”
In his turn, Bruce Jackson, President of Project on Transitional Democracies (Washington), said in his Vienna lecture dedicated to the topic “The Twilight of the Post-Soviet Space”: “Former President Kuchma once told me that the only thing that I needed to know about Ukrainian politics was that every major politician (Yanukovych, Yushchenko, Lazarenko, even Yulia Tymoshenko) worked in his Administration.”
Herbst’s next phrase is the most demonstrative. He says that Kuchma “acted in a very clever and moral way in his last two or three months as president. He was under the pressure from Yanukovych’s environment, who wanted to break the resistance at Maidan. But he did not apply force and earned historic respect.” What about the falsification in presidential elections? Who was the president then? Is not assessment of the previous years of his activity part of the historic respect? Former ambassadors, of course, can express an opinion of their own, but the fact that he was an ambassador to Ukraine during the Orange Revolution adds authority to his word. These conclusions today misinform the readers.
“Kuchma understood that if he used force, which would be multiplied by the Gongadze case, in case of defeat he would face trial in the Hague, like Milosevic,” Podolsky shares his impressions. “The ambassador may respect Kuchma, but I don’t share his respect. We should not make a hero of him. If he wanted to be good, he would have created a real democracy in Ukraine. However, he laid the foundation of the mechanisms, problems, oligarchic family clans, which are still functioning. When I hear such phrases from top-level foreigners, I think that human and financial possibilities of the Kuchma family have influence not only in Ukraine, but far abroad.”
The Gongadze case is a concentration of many problems of today. Lack of a final line in this sensational story, like in the stories of Podolsky’s beating, attack of MP of two convocations Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, generates new crimes. The latest example is the beating of journalist Tetiana Chornovil. Amendments of the Constitution or writing of good laws won’t change a thing, until the country clears the past scores, until society makes sure that the criminals, no matter who they are and what their offices are, will be punished. Then we will be able to speak about reforms and modernization of the country. Otherwise, there will always be a temptation to use the power with a personal aim, in particular the task forces. Lack of punishments gives way to the vicious circle of crimes.
“The thing is that the roots of today’s Maidan, discontent of people about the current state of the country, endless corruption, arbitrariness of law-enforcing bodies, which have turned into the armed troops of power’s defense, should be sought in Kuchma’s time,” Podolsky underlines. “The laws that protect the regime and help it get rid of political opponents – the groundwork of all of this was laid during the rule of the second president. I am sure that thugs were shouldered by the police in their provocations during the mass protests. These people are well-armed and well-trained. We all have already come through this. Kuchma’s system was not assessed in the time of Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, or Lutsenko – they were not fighting against this. Everything remained on its places. And today is not an exception.”
Finally, yesterday it became known that Heorhii Gongadze’s body will be buried this year. The deceased journalist’s wife Myroslava Gongadze told Segodnia about this: “Yes, we plan to bury him. We will tell about the time and the place, when we take care of the details.” As it is known, for 14 years Heorhii’s remains have been kept in one of the capital’s morgues. If this year they will be buried, what will be next? Will the page of this tragic story be turned over? It will be reminded that Heorhii Gongadze’s mother, Lesia Gongadze, died recently on the night of November 30. On the same night the student’s rally in Kyiv was cruelly dispersed. One more coincidence: a long interview with Kuchma’s daughter Olena Pinchuk was published in Ukrainska Pravda on November 29. It is symbolical. At the same time, Podolsky continues to get refusals to open a blog in Ukrainska Pravda. It is up to you what conclusions to make.