Ukraine is attracting hitmen largely because corruption is rampant and professionals are leaving law enforcement agencies
The September 30 event on a highway near Odesa, when two policemen were killed by criminals, followed by a gunfight in the city itself showed more clearly than ever how inadequate our police chiefs are in fulfilling their primary task of protecting citizens. The Interior Ministry’s leaders later tried to blame the poor performance on … underfinancing. But this rationalization appeared patently cynical, as the Odesa District Police Chief Mykhailo Yatskov arrived at the site of the operation against the contracted killers wearing an expensive suit from Brioni.
UAH 1 MILLION OPERATION
Even the first stage of the operation looked as if were planned by police academy freshmen. Instead of using the Sokil special task unit to seize the professional killers near Odesa, a group of young Berkut troops without bulletproof vests, automatic guns or cover was dispatched. As a result of this grievous error, Berkut serviceman Viktor Kozhek, 21, and traffic police inspector Oleksandr Rozmaritsa, 40, were killed and four more policemen were wounded. Later, when the killers were found in the privately-owned Osobniak hotel, the police opened a barrage of fire of incendiary grenades and bullets — all in a densely populated district of Odesa. One policeman even calculated that about 7,000 rounds of ammunition were fired. In other words, shooting two criminals cost the state over a million hryvnias. And while two of the criminals were killed (a fact which will no doubt complicate the investigation), their accomplice managed to escape. Yet even more troubling is the fact that the Interior Ministry suffered a crushing blow to its reputation. For appearance’s sake Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov ordered an internal investigation, but the most recent meeting of the ministry’s leadership resulted in no decision to dismiss anyone. The Odesa chief of police kept his office, and all the blame was pinned on Odesa District Criminal Police Chief Oleksiy Khlivny. But even he was merely temporarily suspended rather than fired.
Police General and MP Hennadiy Moskal is convinced that the percentage of contracted killings in the country has been on the rise because of the Interior Ministry’s inadequate performance.
“The Interior Ministry has sunk to the point of concealing statistics and polishing figures to a shine as if to show we live in a paradise where the law rules,” Moskal says indignantly. “However, I have managed to obtain real data, and it shows that the situation in this category of crimes is extremely tense now. These crimes are not being solved well in eastern Ukraine or in Crimea. Prevention is even worse. Solving [such] a crime under Minister Mohyliov is out of the question if a couple of killers nearly besieged the entire city of Odesa. These days, the police can at best solve the murder of a mother-in-law by her drunk son-in-law. We are sliding back into the 1990s.”
WHO HIRES PROFESSIONALS
Lieutenant General Mykhailo Kornienko, former head of Ukraine’s Chief Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime, is not so categorical: “Just compare 1995, when I was appointed police chief in Crimea, when there were 72 unsolved contracted killings there, which is indeed a lot for one region. A special program to eliminate hitmen was developed. It included surveillance and keeping up-to-date records of the actions of organized criminal groups that had close ties with contract killers. This program was very efficient. In 1995, there were nearly 80 killers that we knew about, while 15 years later there were 20 of them at the most. Now there are even less.” He adds that the most professional of these hitmen are former military men who took special training and served in hotspots, as well as athletes who specialized in pistol or rifle shooting.
“Professional killers would never commit a domestic crime,” says Kornienko. “They only take business contracts from people interested in eliminating competition or debtors. It is not easy to track down true contracted killers. Only serious organized criminal groups can boast of connections with them.”
In Russia, there are a number of training centers where contracted killings are organized. The murder of Russian citizen Maksim Kurochkin in the Sviatoshyn District Court in Kyiv on March 27, 2007, was likely carried out by a Russian hitman likely contracted by Kurochkin’s former business partners. The killer has not been arrested and even his identity remains unknown. Groups of contract killers are controlled by former policemen, military men or so-called “thieves in law.”
Policemen who fight organized crime say that there are cases when killers take a significant advance payment and disappear. The criminal group then announces a reward for finding the man and once found, he is tortured for a long time and killed. Information about the execution is disseminated in the criminal world as a warning to others. Contracted killers sometimes, but not often, inform the police. They do so when they suspect the contract is being used to set them up, for example, by ordering them to kill people with whom they are closely acquainted.
Expert crime fighters say that domestic murders are usually carried out by ordinary ex-convicts without any special skills and drug addicts — people who need money and have no moral barriers to killing their fellow man. The main thing for them is to have something with which to kill: if they are given a gun, they will shoot; given a knife, they will stab. Firearms are rarely used in contracted domestic murders – perhaps a hunting rifle or a sawed-off shotgun at the most. These hired killers have no special skills, so they stalk their victims clumsily, often even very primitively. In contrast, professionals work out a detailed plan and know their victims almost intimately.
According to public information from the Interior Ministry, most of the contracted murders it has managed to prevent were domestic killings. This is because when an ordinary person not linked to a criminal gang goes shopping for a hitman, he is bound to run into police informers. Law enforcement officers imitate a murder, take staged photos, show them to the client and arrest him as he transfers the money.
“Attempts on the lives of businessmen make up 90% of all contracted killings, while domestic murders, such as those caused by family feuds, division of property or other material interests, account for just a few percent of the total,” Kornienko explains.
CONTRACTED MURDERS AS A SIGN OF BACKWARDNESS
According to open sources, contracted killings make up a small percentage of the total number of murders in most Western countries, for example, not more than 5% in Great Britain and the USA and 2% since the early 2000s in Australia. This index is much higher in CIS countries, including Ukraine. Specialists say that one-tenth of all murders are contracted in our country. According to the most recent estimates, they cost from USD 1,000 (for a domestic murder) to USD 50,000-100,000 if a professional is hired.
March 27, 2007– a marksman shot Maksim Kurochkin, a reportedly shady Russian businessman alleged to have been associated with a number of corporate raids in Ukraine, in the yard of the Sviatoshyn District Court in Kyiv.
June 5, 2007– Hennadiy Suprunenko, director of the radio market in Kyiv, was shot in his office. He was in the middle of a meeting when the killers stormed into the room, ordered the director to stand up and everyone else to lie down. They fired 10 bullets at him. Sources in the Interior Ministry say he was murdered over debts and that those who ordered the killing and the hitmen are now under arrest.
May 20, 2008 – Valeriy Arseniuk, a manager at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, was shot in the head near his house on 4/6 Antonovych Str. The Kyiv police believe that the main cause was his professional activity. The case remains unsolved.
October 2, 2009 – Shabab Aloyan and his two bodyguards were shot near the 4room furniture supermarket in Kyiv which Aloyan owned. One of his bodyguards fatally shot one of the killers, while the other hitman was seized on October 4 in Zhytomyr Region. Merab Suslov, Aloyan’s former business partner who likely ordered the killing, was recently extradited to Ukraine.
January 5, 2011– Oleksandr Korobchynsky, businessman and leader of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, was shot in downtown Odesa. He ran for mayor in the city and owned the Aleks Grup and the Intobud construction company. That crime remains unsolved.