The detained attackers of journalist Tetyana Chornovil who was brutally beaten in Ukraine have links to the opposition, according to police. The opposition has condemned the claim as an attempt to deflect suspicions of government complicity.
"In the course of the investigation it was established that the detained had been in close contact with members of the party UDAR [Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform],” head of the main investigations department, Mykola Chynchyn, said in a video statement posted on the Interior Ministry’s website.
UDAR is headed by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, one of the top three opposition leaders in Ukraine.
Chynchyn revealed that the investigation uncovered a connection between one of the detained and the head of a criminal gang "with whom the Klitschko brothers had closely cooperated.”
He also added that there were ties between one arrested suspect and a lawmaker from the opposition Fatherland party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
On Wednesday night, law enforcement officers found a Chevrolet Aveo parked in a ditch on the highway connecting the Ukrainian capital and Borispol International Airport. Inside the car was journalist Tetyana Chornovil, 34, who had been brutally beaten. They immediately took her to a hospital for treatment.
A video later showed an unconscious woman with bruising on half her face, swollen lips, and cuts across her cheeks. Medics applied several stitches to the journalist’s face, stating that she had suffered a concussion and multiple broken bones.
The journalist said she was driving to the village of Gora when she noticed her car was being followed, Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayyem said on his Facebook page.
Chornovil allegedly attempted to get away, but a dark colored SUV intercepted her vehicle and forced her to stop. Two men then attacked her vehicle, breaking the side windows. When Chornovil attempted to run away, the men beat her up and drove her car into a ditch. The attackers reportedly did not say a word during the battering.
The victim is well known in Ukraine for a number of investigative reports on the activities of officials. According to unconfirmed reports on Ukrainian blogs, Chornovil was collecting material for new revelations on the day prior to the assault.
The police have arrested five people in connection with the
incident, with one of them confessing to taking part in the
actual beating of the journalist.
Four suspects were detained before December 23. They are Aleksandr Hramtsov, brothers Sergey and Aleksandr Kotenko, as well as Andrey Nasikovsky.
According to the police, Hramtsov was detained due to being the owner of a Porsche Cayenne, which the attackers used.
Sergey Kotenko has denied involvement in the beating, saying that he only wanted to sell the SUV to some unidentified people, who are responsible for an assault of the journalist. Andrey Nasikovsky was arrested after providing night lodging to Sergey Kotenko after the attack on Chornovil.
The four men, who will remain in custody for the next two month, are suspected of hooliganism and causing grievous bodily harm.
On Friday, the fifth suspect in the case was detained by Ukrainian law enforcement officers.
“It’s a 34-year-old resident of the city of Dniprodzerzhynsk in the Dnipropetrovsk region, who worked in a private security firm. He said he came to Kiev to buy a Porsche Cayenne. According to his testimony, the suspect personally participated in the beating of the victim,” a statement by the Interior Ministry said.
The investigators now plan to perform simultaneous interrogations of the suspects in order to recreate the full picture of the events, connected to the assault on the journalist.
The opposition has denied the allegations against them, with Klitschko stating that he would sue for libel. "Instead of conducting an objective investigation and finding who really ordered and carried out the beating of Tetyana Chornovil, the ministry of Zakharchenko turns to provocation and effectively tries to conceal the criminals," he said in a statement issued by UDAR.
Vitaly Yarema, a member of Tyomshenko’s Fatherland party, said the Interior Ministry is trying to exploit the assault for political reasons.
The Ukrainian protests began in November over the government’s decision not to pursue closer ties to the EU, instead deciding to turn towards Russia. The demonstrations have been slowly dying down, with less and less protesters coming out to Kiev’s Independence Square.