Ukrainian activist Kateryna Handziuk dies from acid attack

Poroshenko urges law enforcement agencies to find and punish her killers

Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk, who died on Sunday.

Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk, who died on Sunday.


Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk died on Sunday from injuries suffered in an acid attack, increasing pressure on officials who are accused of doing little to stop violence against the country’s embattled civil society.

Ms Handziuk underwent at least 11 operations since July 31st, when someone poured sulphuric acid over her head as she left home for work in the southern city of Kherson, where she was also an adviser to the local mayor.

Five men have been detained over the attack, but Ms Handziuk shared the scepticism of many observers over whether they were actually linked to the crime, and whether police and officials really wanted to catch the culprits.

Despite suffering burns to about 35 per cent of her body, Ms Handziuk (33) corresponded with journalists from hospital in Kiev and recently made a short video address condemning the state of Ukraine’s justice system.

“Yes, I know that I look bad now,” she told Ukraine’s Hromadske television, speaking with difficulty and with her raw wounds clearly visible.

“But at least I’m being treated. And I’m sure I look better than justice and the judicial system in Ukraine, because no one is making them better,” she said in late September.

“There have been over 40 attacks [on activists] in the last year. Who ordered these attacks? Who is covering up for those who ordered them? Why are investigations being blocked?” she asked.

Gangs and politicians

In other interviews, Ms Handziuk said it was pointless to complain about graft and other crimes to the police in Kherson, because the service was intertwined with crime gangs and corrupt politicians, who in turn could act with impunity as long as they showed loyalty and delivered votes to their party bosses in Kiev.

Four years after Ukrainians revolted against corruption and oligarchic rule, Ms Handziuk’s death will ramp up pressure on politicians finally to crack down on endemic graft ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday called on law enforcement agencies “to do everything possible to ensure that the killers are found . . . and punished.”

Populist opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko called Ms Handziuk’s death “a verdict on the system”.

“Something is not right . . . when the best people are losing their lives in a daily battle,” she added.

Journalists face similar dangers to activists in Ukraine, where their national union says 143 reporters have been attacked since the start of 2017, with only 14 of those cases going to court.