June 29, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Online newspaper editor’s murder still unpunished nearly 10 years later

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the meeting that took place between President Viktor Yanukovych and Lesya Gongadze, the mother of slain journalist Georgiy Gongadze on 21 June, two weeks after she said during an interview for Deutsche Welle that she would like to be able to discuss the investigation into her son’s murder with the new president.

The details of what they discussed have not been released as the investigation is still ongoing.

Gongadze was a politically committed journalist who edited the online newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda. A critic of then President Leonid Kuchma, he was kidnapped on 16 September 2000 in Kiev. DNA tests carried out on a headless body found two months later ultimately confirmed that it was Gongadze’s. His mother was among those who had called for independent analyses.

The initial lack of progress in the investigation highlighted the difficulties of combating impunity in Ukraine. That changed after Viktor Yushchenko took over as president in January 2005 but, despite his declared desire to solve the case, the investigation has yet to reach its conclusion.

Two police colonels arrested on 1 March 2005 told investigators that Gen. Oleksiy Pukach, the former head of the interior ministry’s intelligence service, had personally strangled Gongadze. After being arrested and questioned, Pukach was released. He then disappeared although subject to judicial control. He was finally rearrested on 21 July 2009 in a village in the north of the country.

Meanwhile, on 12 July 2009, the Kiev supreme court ruled that secret recordings made by former President Kuchma’s bodyguard, Mykola Melnichenko, could be incorporated into the investigation. Previously declared inadmissible, the recordings were expected to open the way to the identification of the senior officials believed to have ordered Gongadze’s murder.

The day after Gen. Pukach’s second arrest, investigators announced he had confessed to strangling Gongadze on the orders of senior officials. He has since been held on pre-trial detention under article 156 of the code of criminal procedure but his trial has yet to take place.

Three former police officers who were under Pukach’s command – Mykola Protasov, Oleksandr Popovich and Valeri Kostenko – were convicted on 15 March 2008 of being accomplices to Gongadze’s murder. Protasov was sentenced to 13 years in prison. The other two got 12 years.

Gongadze would have been 41 on 21 May. In a statement on his birthday, his widow, Myroslava Gongadze, said the authorities had never informed her about what was happening in the investigation and, 10 years after his murder, she was unaware of the current state of the case.