1937 — 1999
Nationalist leader, journalist, and member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Watch Group. His fight for Ukrainian autonomy cost him 12 years in Soviet prisons and five years in Siberian exile. In 1992, named chairman of Rukh (People's Movement for Restructuring), and later won a seat as deputy in the Ukrainian Parliament. In the course of challenging Leonid Kuchma for the presidency of Ukraine in 1999, he was killed in a mysterious car accident.
The Ukrainian Weekly
Rumors of conspiracy inflamed by lack of criminal investigation into fatal collision
by Roman WORONOWYCZ
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV — Even before the world and much of Ukraine had heard that Vyacheslav Chornovil had died in a car accident shortly before midnight on March 25, rumors were spreading like wildfire through the capital city that the fatal collision was not an accident, but a planned execution of the political leader by political opponents who had decided that the timing was right.
With the political party that Mr. Chornovil led in the throes of a deeply emotional split and with presidential elections approaching in October, the conspiracy theorists that quickly came out of the Kyivan woodwork surmised that those who wanted to be rid of Mr. Chornovil, a person despised by as many as adored him, could be safely removed before he played a defining role in the elections.
The rumors were flamed further by the government's quick announcement that the investigation into the Chornovil death would be limited to that accorded a fatal auto accident.
The day after Mr. Chornovil's tragic death, Minister of Internal Affairs Yurii Kravchenko, in an appearance on Ukrainian Television, explained that the possibility of a murder conspiracy "is not and will not be investigated under the circumstances." He explained that the incident was an unfortunate accident, and that the driver of the diesel truck and trailer was a stable family man with a wife, a 10-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter, who had lived in the same Dnipropetrovsk village of Oleksandropil for 12 years; a person who was not a hired assassin.
Although Mr. Kravchenko's ministry, which The Weekly contacted to get details of the collision, refused to comment until after its investigation is complete, much of what happened that night can be pieced together from various press accounts and interviews with people who were on the scene after the collision.
On the night of March 25, Mr. Chornovil was returning to Kyiv after a day spent politicking in Kirovohrad with National Deputy Hennadii Udovenko, Rukh's presidential candidate. The two politicians were returning together, but traveling in separate vehicles. The car in which Mr. Chornovil was a passenger, along with his press secretary, Dmytro Ponomarchuk, in all likelihood was traveling at between 140 and 150 kilometers per hour as it approached a KamAZ diesel truck hauling two trailers filled with a total of 11 tons of grain seed headed for the Volyn Oblast.
The KamAZ driver had missed his turnoff on the two-lane Boryspil-Zolotonosha highway near the village of Horodysche in Boryspil county, just outside of Kyiv, and the truck was perpendicular to the road as it made a slow U-turn on the dimly lit road.
The driver of Mr. Chornovil's Toyota, Yevhen Pavliv, hit his brakes about 39 meters from the truck, as evidenced by the skid marks. The car's anti-skid system did not allow the car to turn sideways, as could have been expected, and the vehicle hit the truck between the truck hitch and the front trailer wheels. As the car slid under the truck its top was sheared off, instantly killing Messrs. Pavliv and Chornovil.
Why Mr. Pavliv, a professional driver who had raced automobiles competitively, did not risk an attempt to swerve off the road, even though a ravine adjoined it, rather than hit the truck will probably never be known.
At the time of impact the Toyota had probably slowed to some 50 kilometers per hour, according to an official of the Security Service of Ukraine who wished to remain unidentified. He said that, had the car swerved into the truck or had it hit one of the truck's wheels, the chance that anyone would have died would have been greatly reduced as the Toyota's airbags would have absorbed much of the impact.
And that, said the official, is the main problem with the murder conspiracy theory: the certainty of death, given all the variables, would not be high in this type of a situation.
But those close to Mr. Chornovil and others at the scene of the collision soon after it occurred are questioning details that have led them to demand that an investigation into a possible murder conspiracy must take place.
At a public meeting held at Baikove Cemetery before Mr. Chornovil's body was interred, several members of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada stated outrightly that the late Rukh leader was murdered.
National Deputy Les Taniuk, a leader of the Rukh Party who remained with Mr. Chornovil after the split, called the incident "a killing."
National Deputy Vitalii Zhuravskyi, leader of the Christian Democratic Party, was even more explicit. "I do not believe the death of Vyacheslav Chornovil was an accident. It was a fair warning to those who have not made their choice on the eve of the election season."
Ilko Kucheriv, head of the sociological polling organization Democratic Initiative and a close friend of Mr. Ponomarchuk, told The Weekly that too many questions remain unanswered to limit the scope of the investigation. "It looks very suspicious, and the investigation should include the possibility of an organized murder," he said.
He explained that he was present at the scene of the crime not long after the collision, where he talked with Mr. Udovenko's body guard, who told him that he never saw any headlights or running lights shining from the KamAZ. According to Mr. Kucheriv, the body guard also stated that two other men seem to have been with the driver, but soon afterwards they disappeared.
Time will tell whether such questions will be answered, but some believe a criminal investigation is unlikely.
"If the government refuses to consider the possibility of murder, then nothing will come of it," Serhii Naboka, a journalist and political commentator, told The Weekly. "And, if the driver was in fact involved, then he was paid off in such a way that he will never talk."
Mr. Naboka said that in his opinion most of the evidence is merely circumstantial or downright conjecture, but he agreed that certain inconsistencies in the facts as they have been reported leave room for questions.
Mr. Naboka also explained that sufficient precedent exists to believe the "wild speculation" that to an extent surrounds the Chornovil death and that it can be found in the way the Soviet KGB operated historically. The KGB was the secret service arm of the Soviet government that was well-known for its creative and ruthless suppression of political critics and opponents of the Soviet regime.
Mr. Naboka said the manner in which Mr. Chornovil died was similar to one method that Soviet leaders used to rid themselves of political opponents and potential adversaries. Trucks were used in the murder deaths of at least one early Soviet revolutionary, who was known as Kamo. He died after he fell into disfavor with Stalin, when a truck ran into the bicycle on which he was riding.
Then, in 1980, the head of the Belarusian Communist Party, Petro Masherov, who had become popular among the Belarusian people for advocating an early form of glasnost, died under questionable circumstances when his Chaika automobile ran into a truck carrying tons of potatoes.
Mr. Naboka emphasized, however, that those incidents and others are not proof that what happened to Mr. Chornovil was no accident. "All that can be built is a chain of similarity," said the political commentator.
Mr. Naboka said the field of those who could be responsible is wide open because there were many who might find political expedience in the death of the vocal and uncompromising Mr. Chornovil.
Although many have woven a complicated web of conspiracy, few, if any are ready to publicly come forward and say who they suspect might be responsible for Mr. Chornovil's death. Mr. Naboka said he has heard accusations aimed at everybody — from the Communist Party leadership and the current Ukrainian state leadership to those on the far right who often had been at odds with the late Rukh Party leader and the splinter Rukh Party that broke with Mr. Chornovil weeks before his death.
But, as Mr. Naboka underscored, "there is no evidence," only the theories, rumors and wild speculations of people trying to find the answer to why the political force that was Mr. Chornovil died so suddenly and so tragically.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 4, 1999, No. 14, Vol. LXVII
Questions Remain in Boryspil Car Crash
By Viktor VORONIUK
Questions remain about Vyacheslav Chornovil's tragic death in an auto accident. This is hardly strange since our people are already used to hearing about the uncooperative being claimed by fate and parallels have been drawn between the fate of the Ukrainian politician in 1999 and Belarus Communist leader Petr Masherov in 1980.
No one knows what really happened, but the fact that the investigation sticks to the road accident version, without taking a single step either way, is suspicious enough. Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko told journalists that the assassination version "has not even been considered and nor can it be considered for whatever reasons." He further explained that the KamAZ truck driver, Volodymyr Kudelia, was traveling on business from a state farm to Kyiv, that he chose the wrong road, realized his mistake, and was making a U-turn, which caused the tragic crash. (One cannot but remind oneself that Masherov's Chaika also jammed into a GAZ-536 truck loaded with potatoes.) The Interior Ministry says it has no evidence that the truck driver made the U-turn "on purpose."
According to the Center for Journalistic Research, 48-old Kudelia "has a positive side." He is married and has two children, a 10-year-old son and an adopted daughter of 15. He has lived in Oleksandropil, a village in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, for the past fifteen years, and he and other truck drivers are regularly sent on trips like that one (he was carrying wheat to trade for automotive parts in Volyn oblast).
An experienced driver, why did he not make a right turn to proceed on a highway reserved for trucks, bypassing Boryspil? Why did he decide to make the U-turn after riding 120 meters in the wrong direction and fail to notice the Toyota rushing head-long? Why did he not take any precautions riding at such a late hour?
Why did Hennady Udovenko, an eyewitness, say in an interview with STB Sunday before last that all the time while he and his friends were waiting for the militia and ambulance, and even after they arrived, he "did not notice" the KamAZ truck driver?
At an Interior Ministry briefing Oleksandr Shtanko, Deputy Minister, head of the Chief Investigation Directorate, and Oleksandr Bevz, head of Kyiv oblast interior directorate, announced that, although the KamAZ's head and rear lights were found to have been in order, they could not be seen in the onrushing Toyota during the U-turn.
Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko says the Toyota was doing 120-130 kph (in the former Soviet Union, incidentally, the secret services strongly recommended 100-120 kph to make cars a difficult target). The truck and its trailer blocked the highway completely and the Toyota driver could spot them only when the Toyota headlights caught them. However, the center cites reliable sources that the driver, Yevhen Pavliv, was a top-notch driver who had even done some professional racing in his time. The Toyota's braking distance is 29 meters, quite enough for a professional to avoid a head-on collision, the more so that Mr. Shtanko confirmed that that section of the road had no protective railing on the sides.
It is hard to say what the truck driver was doing at the moment of impact: making a U-turn or standing still. Just as it is hard to explain why General Bevz first said that journalists could interview the KamAZ driver and later, when asked where and when, said he meant he wished they could (by the way, the truck driver has not returned to his village).
A WAY TO GET PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES OFF THE HUSTINGS?
"It was just an accident," People's Deputy Roman Zvarych (Rukh) told the center. "If they wanted to get Chornovil, they would have found a more subtle way." Oleksandr Shtanko, when asked by The Day if the Interior Ministry had any information pointing to unlawful acts against the Rukh leader, said there had been no complaints.
Dmytro Panamarchuk, the only surviving Toyota passenger, said in one of his first interviews after regaining consciousness that the accident could have something to do with the presidential campaign.
During the previous parliamentary elections Rukh collected almost 2.5 million votes, placing it second among 30 parties and political blocs. Most of its support came from Lviv, Ternopil, and Rivne oblasts. The local electorate listened very closely to every word Chornovil said, hence his importance in the coming presidential elections, the Center for Journalistic Research stresses.
Whether what happened on the highway near Boryspil was an accident or not, one thing is clear: Chornovil no longer suited those in power currently bargaining with the Left. Indeed, he was a thorn in their side, considering that the current political leadership actually sanctioned Ukraine's accession to the Interparliamentary Assembly, pouring oil on the Left's fire, capitalizing on the Red peril, so that the voter would choose the lesser evil and vote for the current President, even if Ukraine would wind up a smoking ruin. Destroying the Center Right, even if politically, would play into their hands.
Many years passed before it was established that Masherov's road accident was a professional job. We might learn the truth about Vyacheslav Chornovil's death (Yevhen Shcherban's and Vadym Hetman's assassination, and the attempt on the then Premier Lazarenko) only after different people come to power in Ukraine.
The Day www.day.kiev.ua/DIGEST/1999/13/soc/soc-2.htm
[...] Îáñòàâèíè ñìåðò³ ×îðíîâîëà âèêëèêàëè ñåðåä áàãàòüîõ ï³äîçðó ó çàïëàíîâàíîìó âáèâñòâ³. ²ðèíà Êàëèíåöü íàâ³òü ââàæàº, ùî öå º î÷åâèäíèì, ÿê º î÷åâèäíèì ³ òå, êîìó â³ã³äíà ñìåðòü öüîãî ïîë³òèêà. Îäíàê ì³í³ñòð âíóòð³øí³õ ñïðàâ Óêðà¿íè Êðàâ÷åíêî çàÿâèâ, ùî â³äïîâ³äíî äî îáñòàâèâ òðàã³÷íî¿ ïîä³¿, âåðñ³ÿ çàìàõó íàâ³òü íå ðîçãëÿäàºòüñÿ. [...]
[...] The circumstances of Chornovil's death elicited in many the suspicion of a planned killing. Iryna Kalynets even observes that this is self-evident, as is self-evident who gains from the death of this politician. Nevertheless, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Kravchenko, said that in view of the circumstances of this tragic event, the interpretation of assassination was not even being considered. [...]
CRIME DIGEST — APRIL 1999|
United States Embassy
THE KIEV OBLAST MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS IS INVESTIGATING THE TRAFFIC DEATH OF VIACHESLAV CHORNOVIL, HEAD OF THE RUKH PARTY. THEY ARE EXAMINING THE INFORMATION CONCERNING TWO PASSENGERS IN THE KamAZ TRUCK, RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACCIDENT, THAT ILLEGALLY TURNED AROUND ON THE ROAD AND THE VOLKSWAGEN THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FOLLOWING CHORNOVIL'S VEHICLE BUT NEVER MADE IT TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME. [...]
United States Embassy www.usemb.kiev.ua/rso/CrimeDigest9904.html
Vyacheslav Chornovil, a former political prisoner and long-time leader of the Rukh party was killed in Spring, 1999. The death of this potentially powerful challenger to the incumbent in November’s presidential elections is widely attributed to the SBU (Ukranian Security services). Rukh split soon afterwards which further fuelled suspicions that foul play was involved in his death. Whilst official sources refute absolutely charges of involvement, the death of a leading opposition politician in a car accident provokes immediate suspicion across the former Soviet Union where such methods have often been used by the Security Services to eliminate political enemies of the ruling power.
British Helsinki Human Rights Group www.bhhrg.org/ukraine/ukraine2000-2/background.htm
Udovenko wing becomes more infectious
Kostenko's Rukh asks "new information" on the death of Chornovil to be checked
By Tetiana SHULHACH
Late last week eight People's Deputies of the Rukh faction headed by Yuri Kostenko made a request to the parliamentary commission investigating the cause of the death of Rukh (Popular Movement of Ukraine) leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, that it check new information concerning his death, specifically: why, according to unofficial sources, Hennady Udovenko had departed from Kirovohrad in the same car with Chornovil, but was in his own car near the crash scene? Udovenko, whose car was driving ahead of Chornovil, a few kilometers from the crash scene stopped and let Chornovil's car pass. Kostenko's group also requested finding out why Chornovil's Rukh administration had employed Yevhen Pavliv (who also died in the accident) as Chornovil's driver — previously, before the split in Rukh, he was fired by the party secretary for "immaturity," Rukh's Bohdan Boiko stated at a press conference last Friday.
On July 4's "Epicenter" television program Kostenko repeated this. Quite logically, the journalists present interpreted such a statement as a direct accusation against Udovenko. However, Kostenko answered that he had no reason whatever to suspect the former foreign minister of anything. "There simply is information and we ask it be verified," he added.
It should be pointed out that Kostenko's charges were made public virtually immediately after the Supreme Court adopted the ruling recognizing the legitimacy of Udovenko's Rukh. No matter what Kostenko might say later, the information he released might be interpreted as a form of political revenge. In fact, one could get the impression that Kostenko's adherents have become infected with a disease previously noticed only among Udovenko's supporters (recall the publications insinuating that one of the presidential candidates was associated with Chornovil's death). It should be noted that such serious accusations are based, according to Kostenko's group itself, on information provided by unofficial sources.
Naturally, Udovenko's group refutes such charges. In an interview with The Day, Chornovil's press-secretary Dmytro Ponamarchuk, who was in the same car with the Rukh leader before and during the crash, called Kostenko's statement in the Epicenter program a "barefaced lie." According to Mr. Ponamarchuk, all the way from Kirovohrad to Kyiv Udovenko was sitting only in his car and "nobody changed cars." Ponamarchuk also told The Day that the Popular Movement's political council is preparing a serious statement on the issue and perhaps a lawsuit.
Ukraine-Belarus Project www.corridor.cn.ua:8101/en/Reviews/07/13_4.html
By 1999, the West had started to be critical of Kuchma. He hadn’t put Ukraine’s state-owned enterprises up for sale to foreigners yet, and his associates had become very wealthy. But in spring, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Ukraine’s most famous Soviet-era dissident and leader of the now-fragmented Ukrainian National Movement (Rukh), had become the latest of the USSR’s oppositionist stalwarts to die in an auto "accident" when one of the wheels fell off his car.
Chad Nagle, The Ukrainian Model of Democracy, www.antiwar.com/orig/nagle4.html.
By V. BARANOV
KIEV. "Amnesty has been granted to Vladimir Kudelya, the driver found guilty in the death of former political prisoners and chairman of the Narodnaya rukha (People's Movement) party of Ukraine Vyacheslav Chornovil," Nikolai Pastushenko, special investigator for the Ministry of the Interior of Ukraine announced on January 31.
At the end of March of last year, Kudelya illegally turned his KamAZ car into the middle of the highway he was travelling on, as a result of which Chornovil's compact Toyota struck it. Chornovil and his driver, Yevgeny Pavliv, were killed. The members of the parliamentary commission to investigate the causes of the accident objected to the closed trial given Kudelya and his subsequent amnesty. They are convinced that "minister of the interior Yury Kravchenko has hidden a number of facts indicating that the incident was the doing of the special services."
Russia Online www.online.ru/sp/chronicle-eng/5-Feb-00/101-eng.html
TRAGEDY: KamAZ Truck Driver Fears Retribution
By Vadym RYZHKOV
People living in Oleksandropil, a modest village in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, will probably long remember. On the morning of March 26 word spread that the previous night their collective farm's KamAZ truck with three fellow villagers ["with two fellow villagers, for a total of three villagers in the truck" is probably intended], while on its way to Volyn oblast, had been hit by Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil's Toyota. The accident still worries the village; over the past weeks the place has been visited by numerous enforcement officials. Recently, the key figure in the tragic episode, 37-year-old truck driver Volodymyr Kudelia, returned from Kyiv after questioning, released in his own custody.
We met with Volodymyr near his house in a quiet village street, not far from the local graveyard. Of medium height and looking tired, he was filling a bucket at a hydrant. Parked by the gate was the KamAZ truck. It was lunchtime and Volodymyr had driven over to help his wife with household chores. He listened to us gloomily and was silent for quite some time. Finally he sighed and invited us into his small village home. Inside the furniture was more than modest, yet the place looked neat and spotlessly clean. Chain-smoking (the man had had obviously more than he could digest the last couple of weeks), he told us about himself and what had happened on that highway near Kyiv.
Volodymyr was born into a rural truck driver's family in Mykolayivka, a village in Novomoskovsky district where Pavlo Lazarenko would eventually head the local collective farm (and where the post is still held by his brother Ivan). Before long the family moved to the neighboring village of Hubynikha. The boy grew up there, was then drafted into the army where he was a truck driver with a motorized battalion stationed at Ussuriysk (Siberia). After demobilization he worked as a truck driver in Novomoskovsk and Dnipropetrovsk where he met Olena, his future wife. Eight years ago, fed up with renting rooms in the city, without a home to accommodate the family (they had two children), they decided to live with Olena's parents in Oleksandrivka. It would be easier to keep the family in the countryside than on city asphalt.
Gradually, their life took a more or less steady course, but then he was sent to Volyn and the most horrible thing in his life happened. According to Volodymyr, they had driven there on several previous occasions, as the local farming Luhovske Co. practiced barter deals, sending truckloads of grain to Manevychi and bringing back spare parts for the tractors. That time, too, they were sent with grain (the spring campaign had started and spare parts were in short supply). There were three of them in the KamAZ cabin: Volodymyr at the wheel, Viktor Chernetsky, Luhovske's chief engineer, and Ivan Sholom, a tractor driver. They set off around noon, March 25, and made two stops on the way for gas and lunch. They reached the Zolotonosha-Boryspil highway at 11.30 p.m., past the crossing with the Kharkiv-Chernihiv highway. It was then Volodymyr noticed the road sign reading "Freight transit prohibited." Since the centerline was broken, he decided to make a U-turn. He let a car race by and started turning with head, rear, and side lights on. In the distance he spotted a pair of headlights, but Volodymyr thought nothing of it; time and distance enough to slow down and stop. And then the car smashed in between the truck and trailer. There was nothing Volodymyr could do. His was a heavy-duty truck, fully loaded, and there were deep ditches on both sides of the road. As a driver with 20 years of professional experience, Volodymyr Kudelia thinks that the man at the Toyota wheel must have dozed off or turned his attention from the road, and since he was doing 160-180 km/h the tragedy was unavoidable.
The impact was so powerful the Toyota bent the thick and strong coupling rod and got stuck underneath.
One of the surviving passengers identified himself as Udovenko [Udovenko was in another car] and said that inside the green Toyota was Vyacheslav Chornovil. He had a mobile telephone, so they called for the ambulance and highway patrol. They broke down the car doors and pulled out the driver and a passenger who was sleeping in the back seat at the time of impact. They put the driver on top of the grain, he was still alive, but soon his heart stopped. They could not revive ["retreive" is probably meant here] Vyacheslav Chornovil until a truck-mounted crane arrived. Judging from bodily injuries, his death was instant, on impact. The police took Volodymyr Kudelia to Boryspil for questioning and he spent several days at a hotel. He says he was also questioned at the Kyiv City Police Department. Finally he was released on his own recognizance. He drove the KamAZ truck and trailer home and his fellow travelers, Chernetsky and Sholom, left Boryspil earlier, after reloading the grain on another truck sent from Dnipropetrovsk oblast.
Volodymyr lives in constant nervous expectation, unsure of what lies ahead, although he is positive that he did not violate any traffic rules (and the highway patrol examining the scene seemed to agree). However, one of the interrogating police officers pointed out that two dead bodies were something to reckon with and that he should find a lawyer. This last remark was an especially heavy blow to the family; the unfortunate driver told us he has been paid practically nothing by way of salary for the past four years. Olena added that the family lives on what he can earn in the city and what little they can get from their vegetable garden and sell on city street markets. Their children, 15-year-old Yuri and 10-year-old Anton, will need a hundred hryvnias each for textbooks next year. Two hundred hryvnias. Where will they get it, considering that there is not enough money for clothes and shoes? True, the management promised to let them use a minibus in case of court hearings in Kyiv...
No one in the village believes stories about a "contract job" or "planned road accident" and Kudelia's wife just smiled sadly, "Who? Volodymyr? He won't cut off a chicken's head. I always do. You've got to be kidding."
It was time to leave. We shook hands in the yard and wanted to take pictures, but Volodymyr was adamant. No pictures. Never. He even hid behind the KamAZ. It was thus we learned that the family fears retribution from Vyacheslav Chornovil's associates. We looked at each other and shrugged. We left Oleksandrivka and rode back to Kyiv, careful to keep to the speed limit, reading every road sign.