Ukraine's prosecutor general offers to resign over activist's murder

Deadly acid attack on Kateryna Handziuk ignites anger over crime and corruption

People holding placards reading “Who are Gandzyuk’s killers?” in front of the ministry of internal affairs of Ukraine. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty

People holding placards reading “Who are Gandzyuk’s killers?” in front of the ministry of internal affairs of Ukraine. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty

 

Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko has offered to resign over the murder of activist Kateryna Handziuk, amid anger about the investigation into the acid attack that killed her and violence against many other civil society figures.

Ms Handziuk (33) died on Sunday, three months after someone poured sulphuric acid over her head in the southern city of Kherson, where she was an adviser to the mayor and an outspoken critic of police and political corruption.

Her death ignited widespread frustration over the failure of Ukraine’s local and national authorities to crack down on crime and graft at all levels, almost five years after the nation demanded an end to impunity in the Maidan revolution.

Hundreds of people protested in several Ukrainian cities on Sunday night, reformist deputies called for the creation of a temporary investigative commission to look into attacks on dozens of activists, and more than 70 NGOs jointly requested the dismissal of Kherson police chiefs and Mr Lutsenko and other senior officials.

“So there can be no doubt about anyone trying to cling to power, I will hand my resignation today to the president of Ukraine, ” Mr Lutsenko told parliament on Tuesday after being summoned to deliver a report to deputies.

“And you here in parliament should consider this question. I ask you to do it this week,” he added.

Immediate backing

Mr Lutsenko won immediate backing from deputies loyal to the coalition government and to President Petro Poroshenko, however. “We, the ruling coalition, do not support the resignation of the prosecutor general,” said deputy speaker of parliament Iryna Gerashchenko.

“At the same time, we expect Yuriy Lutsenko and our other colleagues to conclude high-profile cases,” she said.

The issue was put to an informal vote to gauge the view of the chamber, and only 38 of the 332 deputies registered as present backed Mr Lutsenko’s departure; it is not clear if parliament or Mr Poroshenko will address the question again.

With presidential and parliamentary elections due next year, Mr Lutsenko – a close ally of Mr Poroshenko – accused critics of trying to score political points over the death of Ms Handziuk and complained that leaks to the media were harming efforts to bring her killers to justice.

Five people are in custody over the case, including men accused of organising the murder, buying the acid and pouring it over Ms Handziuk as she left home for work on July 31st.

Mr Lutsenko said investigators had a list of 12 people suspected of ordering the attack, some of whom had been mentioned by Ms Handziuk during questioning.

Government critics accused Mr Lutsenko of having no real intention to resign, but they succeeded in winning parliamentary approval for a temporary investigative commission of deputies to examine the attacks on Ms Handziuk and other activists.