The persons accused of murdering the Ukrainian lawyer Yury Grabovsky who defended Russians, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, and Evgeny Erofeyev, called in the Ukrainian media “GRU soldiers”, made the revealing statements. From the Lukyanovsky pre-trial detention center of Kiev, the Ukrainian Artem Yakovenko admitted in an interview with the“Vzglyad” newspaper that he lured the lawyer to a rental apartment in Odessa on the instructions of the SBU. For Yakovenko, this interview is an attempt to protect himself from the Ukrainian special services.
Yury Grabovsky was one of the most known and, perhaps, scandalous lawyers in Ukraine, being at the same time absolutely apolitical. At different times he defended the authorities, oppositionists, officials, businessmen, frank bandits. He defended activists of Maidan free of charge. He was not afraid to undertake complex and ambiguous cases that were fraught with risk for his reputation and even his life. This was exactly what happened vis-a-vis the captured volunteers of the people’s militia of the LPR Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Evgeny Erofeyev, who the government in Kiev called Russian military personnel, “GRU soldiers“.
To defend in court “soldiers of the aggressor country” meant to pit themselves against the authorities, army and special services, street nationalists, and the most part of the media, and to throw down an open challenge to the government. It was a courageous and uncommon act. After the death of the lawyer, Aleksandrov and Erofeyev were exchanged for Nadezhda Savchenko.
The case of the murder of Grabovsky is extremely complicated and contradictory. On March 5th 2016 the lawyer went from Kiev to Odessa to meet friends, stayed at a hotel, and then suddenly disappeared. A day later, the lawyer was seen being accompanied by unknown persons at his Kiev office – he took away some documents. He was unsociable, nervous, and in a hurry.
Strange, atypical for him messages started to appear on the FaceBook account of the lawyer. “We go for a walk! Thank you for accepting“, then “I will be in touch tomorrow“, and then the lawyer wrote … from Egypt “It was necessary to leave Ukraine against my will! But I am in safety”. Three weeks later, the disfigured corpse of the lawyer was found in a forest belt in the Cherkassy region. His facial bones had been shattered. According to the Ukrainian military prosecutor’s office, the lawyer fell victim to a robbery.
The defendants were named as the 26-year-old Artem Yakovenko and the 19-year-old Maksim Chmilev. But, firstly, the robbers for unknown reasons recorded a video with Grabovsky, in which he refuses to defend the “Russian soldiers” since he has “realised his mistake” (usually robbers, after all, do not record videos with the political repentances of the victims). Then this recording was presented by the chief military prosecutor Anatoly Matios. Secondly, the witness who saw Grabovsky at his office (it was Sergey Fedoseyenko), did not identify either Yakovenko or Chmilev as the accompanying person. And afterwards Fedoseyenko himself was found dead.
Lastly, the colleagues of Grabovsky consider that certain “documents proving Aleksandrov and Erofeyev’s innocence” disappeared from the office that day. All these details demonstrate that the case may not just be criminal, but also political.
According to the request of the prosecutor’s office, the Shevchenkovsky court of Kiev is considering the case behind closed doors. At the same time, judging by the indictment, in the materials there is no information that constitutes a state secret. But it extremely simplifies charge work. “Vzglyad” communicated with the main suspect of the murder Artem Yakovenko, who is now in the Lukyanovsky pre-trial detention center (a recording of the conversation is at our disposal).
Artem, how long have you known Grabovsky? How did you become acquainted with him?
“6 years already. In Kiev, there is such a shopping center named ‘Globus’. And there is a Vodka Bar. We sat with Grabovsky at different tables. He had a conflict, so to speak, with Caucasians. I knew the founders of the bar and helped to solve this situation, I helped Grabovsky to exit the conflict. I professionally play sports, I am a boxer. I helped him. And so we became acquainted. He gave me his business card. It seems that he was at the time the assistant deputy…”
When did you see him for the last time?
“In Odessa, shortly before his murder. I was asked to meet him by people from the SBU.”
Did you collaborate with the SBU?
How long have you collaborated? How did it start?
“At the beginning of 2016, when they ran into my business, they threatened my relatives. I was involved in trading, investments, currency conversion. The business was ran together with a partner from Macedonia. We had an office in the ‘Gulliver’ business center. At first, some people just came to us, they did not introduce themselves, they said that I have to talk to them if I want to keep my business. I told them to f*ck off. Quite rudely, it is necessary to say. Then a few days later, when I was coming back home from the gym (I always go by feet, – it’s 3 kilometers), I was dragged into a car.
I was taken away. I was strongly beaten. My head was struck. These people showed SBU IDs. I do not remember how they introduced themselves … one, I think, was called Aleksandr or Andrey. I was told that now is ‘difficult time’ and I am obliged to ‘repay debts to my Motherland’, to help to deal with those who ‘do not love Ukraine’. And then everything would be okay for my business. This was about Grabovsky.”
The SBU knew that you were acquainted with Grabovsky?
“Yes, they had access to the contacts on his phone, seemingly, through one of his assistants. And they found my number there. So they contacted me. I was supposed to lure Grabovsky, to offer him a ‘joint pastime’ with a mutual friend. Or rather I was supposed to acquaint him with my acquaintances. With a nonconventional sexual orientation. In addition, I was told that Grabovsky is not only a homosexual, but also a pedophile. I was shown the corresponding video. This is 80% of the reason why I consented to cooperate with the SBU vis-a-vis Grabovsky.”
You made an appointment with Grabovsky. Then what?
“He wanted to go to a restaurant, but I persuaded him to go to a rented apartment. There was an instruction to take him there under any pretext, to make any promises to him. I told Grabovsky that food and alcohol and so on were ready at the house, and that there I will acquaint him with the person for the sake of who he appeared. He agreed and smoked a cigarette. And we went up to the apartment.”
What then happened?
“Near the house there were two Volkswagen vans with staff of the SBU inside, who monitored me. In the apartment I tied up Grabovsky using plastic ties. I was supposed to ask Grabovsky about the Russian soldiers and about pedophilia and make recordings.”
The video that was published by the military prosecutor’s office, is that everything you recorded?
“No, it is short excerpt of 30 seconds … In total there were about 8 recordings. These videos were not published. In them Grabovsky says that for money he had sex with young people and gives the names of people who were engaged in the same thing. Now I cannot remember them, but as I understood, these are very influential people. After a while I received a SMS saying that it is time to ‘hand over’ Grabovsky. And so I handed him over to these people below me, in the ‘Volkswagens’. I did not see him again.”
Judging by the video that was published, Grabovsky was under the influence of drugs.
“No, he was not on drugs. There were no such instructions. He was tired after the journey, on the way to Odessa his car broke down. He was in a ‘dead’ state, he had almost no rest. Maybe he drank beforehand. Then I was told that it was necessary to leave the territory of Ukraine for several days and after to destroy the phone of Grabovsky. To create the impression that Grabovsky had left the country for some time.”
After your meeting there were several messages on the FaceBook account of Grabovsky. Who posted them?
“I did. As I said, it was necessary to make it look like Grabovsky was active and was abroad.”
On March 6th Grabovsky returned to Kiev, he went into his office accompanied by another person and, perhaps, took away some documents and valuables from his office. It wasn’t you or the other defendant?
“No, it wasn’t me, the witness did not identify me. He did not identify Maksim Chmilev either. I do not know who this person was who was with Grabovsky in Kiev, but I know that there was an employee of the SBU. Therefore, I think that the witness who saw him was also removed from the equation.”
What do you think – who killed Grabovsky?
“This is the Ukrainian security service, the SBU. It wanted to compromise and dishonour him, presented him as a pervert, as a homosexual, as a pedophile. After all, only such a person can also defend Russians.
It wanted to give a signal to the others. But something didn’t go as planned. Perhaps it did not want to kill him, but the plan changed. Or Grabovsky behaved in a way that was not according to the plan. Maybe he said names on these recordings I made that frightened it. And then all of them were dumped on us. It is profitable and convenient for the SBU.”
The second defendant, your acquaintance Maksim Chmilev, admits his guilt and cooperates with the investigation. Why?
“This is due to threats and a promise to give him a small prison term, a promise of guarantees and material benefits later, apparently, an apartment. I was also promised money.”
Who represents your interests in court?
“Aleksandr Panchenko. He does this as follows. When I say ‘I did not kill’, he translates it in court as: ‘My client has not understood the question and has incorrectly answered, he says that he killed’. Panchenko is a lawyer of the SBU. He also works for them. I tried 6 times to involve another lawyer. We sign a contract, but the next day the contract is torn up. Nobody agrees to work with me. The lawyers are put under pressure. I consider that I do not have a lawyer in this court. There is a second prosecutor instead.”
The colleagues of Grabovsky, for example his business partner Oksana Sokolovskaya, who also represents the interests of “GRU soldiers” in court, do not trust the household version of murder. “This crime is connected to professional activities,” considers Sokolovskaya. Artem Yakovenko’s relatives – his mother Valentina and his sister Anna – received numerous threats. As they said to the correspondent of “Vzglyad”, they are constantly being called from different phone numbers and advised to “not interfere, not to twitch and not to instigate”.
At the disposal of the editorial office of the “Vzglyad” newspaper is Artem Yakovenko’s appeal addressed to the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada and Vice-Chairman of the Rada Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement Vitaly Kupriy. This is one of the closest employees of Igor Kolomoisky. His “deputy for the police and the security service”. In his letter to Kupriy, Artem’s talks about how law enforcement bodies and the SBU put pressure on him, threaten him, and he also complains that journalists are not allowed to attend court hearings.
Artem does not trust Ukrainian justice; he pins his hopes on the European Court of Human Rights, which he intends to address when a Ukrainian sentence is pronounced. The main task of Yakovenko now is to live up to this point.
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