Ten years ago, on August 30, 2011, Oleksii Pukach, the prime suspect in the killing of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhii Gongadze, stated at his trial that former President Leonid Kuchma was among those who ordered the murder. Gongadze’s headless body was discovered in a forest outside of Kyiv in late 2000.
Oleksii Podolskyi, a former colleague of Gongadze’s who attended the closed-door court session, said Mr. Pukach “clearly named former President Leonid Kuchma and former Internal Affairs Minister Yurii Kravchenko as having ordered the murder.”
Mr. Kuchma, who served as president of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005, was charged earlier in 2011 with exceeding authority with actions that led to the Gongadze killing.
Mr. Kravchenko was found dead at his summer house near Kyiv on March 4, 2005, with the official cause of death determined to be a suicide.
Valentyna Telychenko, an attorney representing Myroslava Gongadze (Heorhii Gongadze’s widow), told journalists after the court session that Mr. Pukach testified that he killed Gongadze “to save Ukraine.”
Mr. Pukach told the court that Gongadze and two associates had been preparing “since 1997 to seize power in Ukraine illegally, and so I killed him to save the country,” Ms. Telychenko told reporters. “One has to have guts and nerves to listen to something like that,” she said.
Mr. Pukach was the former head of the Main Criminal Investigation Department at the Internal Affairs Ministry’s Foreign Surveillance Unit. He was arrested in July 2009 in Zhytomyr Oblast, and charged with Gongadze’s murder.
Andriy Fedur, an attorney for Gongadze’s mother, Lesia Gongadze, told journalists he was convinced the Pukach trial was being held behind closed doors to ensure that Mr. Pukach’s testimony does not become public.
During the trial, Mr. Pukach also testified that Volodymyr Lytvyn, former chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, also ordered the murder of Gongadze. Mr. Pukach was sentenced in January 2013 to life in prison by the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv, which ruled that Mr. Pukach had murdered Gongadze on orders from Mr. Kravchenko.
This year, the Supreme Court of Ukraine on July 2 rejected Mr. Pukach’s appeal for a retrial and upheld the sentence issued by the Pechersk District Court.
Source: “Suspect testifies Kuchma ordered Gongadze killing,” (RFE/RL), The Ukrainian Weekly, September 4, 2011.