European Roma Rights Center Letter of Concern: Killings of Roma Poltava Province of Ukraine
22 May 2002
On May 22, 2002, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to Acting Chief Prosecutor of Ukraine Mr M.V. Garnyk to urge him to undertake all measures available to his office to ensure that justice is served in connection with the October 2001 killing by arson of five Roma in the Poltava Province of Ukraine. The ERRC's May 2002 letter is the second such letter sent to the Ukrainian Chief Prosecutor: A January 2002 letter to the same office has to date met with no response. The ERRC is concerned at the failure to date to bring justice in the case, as well as the impunity the perpetrators presently enjoy. Information on the human rights situation of Roma in Ukraine is available on the Internet at: http://errc.org. The text of the ERRC's May 22 letter, including details of the case, follows:
Honourable Acting Chief Prosecutor Garnyk,
Honourable Acting Chief Prosecutor Garnyk, the ERRC previously sent a letter of concern on January 16, 2002, in connection with the reported killing of a Romani family, allegedly by a police officer and two accomplices, in the Poltava Province of Ukraine. In our January 16 letter, we called upon your office to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation is carried out into the fire which caused the death of five Romani persons and serious injuries to another two Romani persons, and that any and all persons guilty of crimes in connection with the case are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As of May 22, 2002, the ERRC had not received any response to that letter. The ERRC hereby reiterates its appeal that any and all harmed parties receive due just remedy, including all relevant damages, and respectfully requests to be informed of the results of any actions taken by your office in connection with this case.
The ERRC has received information that in the morning hours on October 28, 2001, five members of the Romani family Fedorchenko died following an arson attack on their home at approximately 7:30 AM in the village of Malaya Kakhovka in central Ukraine. On the same morning, five members of the family were admitted to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and extensive burns. Twenty-one-year-old Mrs Zukhra Fedorchenko suffered burns to her respiratory tract and over 65 percent of her body. She died on October 30, 2001, two days after being admitted to the hospital. Her 6-year-old daughter Snezhana suffered burns to 100 percent of her body and died within forty minutes of arriving at the hospital. Her 3-year-old son Misha suffered burns to 80 percent of his body and died on October 29, 2001, in the hospital. Fifteen-year-old Takhar Fedorchenko suffered burns to 70 percent of his body. As of mid-January 2002, he was reportedly still being treated for serious bodily injuries sustained during the arson attack, and photographs taken on at the beginning of March 2002 show that significant injuries remain. Fifty-year-old Jurij Fedorchenko, father of Zukhra Fedorchenko, suffered burns to 40 percent of his body, but reportedly refused to be taken to the hospital out of fear. Twenty-five-year-old Vladimir Fedorchenko, Mrs Fedorchenkos husband, and their 6-year-old son Jura were found dead in the house the same morning.
According to Mr Jurij Fedorchenko's testimony, at approximately 7:30 AM on October 28, 2001, he was leaving his house while the rest of the family was sleeping. When he opened the entrance door, he allegedly came upon three men, one of whom he immediately recognised as Police Major Ivanov of the Kryukov Area Police Department, one tall unknown man with red hair and another unknown man. One of the two unknown men was holding a 5-litre polythene bottle. Mr Fedorchenko stated that the men pushed him inside the house, and one of them hit Mr Fedorchenko on his head with a hard object. Mr Fedorchenko reported that when he pleaded with Police Major Ivanov not to harm his family, Police Major Ivanov responded, "I will turn you into black roses." The tall man with red hair then allegedly started sprinkling what was apparently flammable liquid from the 5-litre bottle throughout the house, including on members of the Fedorchenko family. Mr Fedorchenko stated that the three men then set the house on fire and fled, barring the entrance door of the house from the outside, apparently to prevent people from escaping. According to Mr Fedorchenko, shortly afterwards, there was a large explosion, the force of which threw him from the house, together with the door. He told the ERRC that he was on fire at the time. Shortly thereafter, neighbours and fire-fighters reportedly pulled family members from the house and they were taken to the hospital.
According to the Kremenchug-based weekly newspaper Kremin' of November 2, 2001, witnesses stated that the windows and doors of the house were blown out during the explosion, and everything inside the house was burnt. Witnesses also reported seeing three men running from the vicinity of the fire immediately after the explosion. Kremin' also reported that the fire-fighter who extinguished the fire found evidence of arson a burnt piece of a 5-liter polythene bottle with the smell of an inflammable substance. The article in Kremin' also stated that unspecified sources alleged that police officers had asked the fire-fighters to state that the fire had started because straw had ignited, but that the firemen had refused to strike a "deal".
Mr Jurij Fedorchenko reportedly stated that he had informed the police that he believed the arson had been organised by Police Major Ivanov as punishment, allegedly because the Fedorchenko family could not pay a monthly bribe of 200 Ukrainian hryvna (approximately 43 euros), levied by Police Major Ivanov because Mrs Zukhra Fedorchenko had been involved in drug trafficking for a short time. According to Mr Fedorchenko, Police Major Ivanov had been at his house two months before the arson attack to demand a bribe, when Mrs Zukhra Fedorchenko told him that she was no longer involved in drug trafficking and that she had no money to pay the bribe. Police Major Ivanov then allegedly made verbal threats to the family, and on several occasions made illegal searches of their house and beat Mrs Fedorchenko's children. During an interview with the ERRC on March 6, 2002, Takhar Fedorchenko also stated that Police Major Ivanov had visited their home several times during the month before the arson attack, threatening revenge because the family did not pay him bribes.
According to Kremin' of November 2, 2001, Prosecutor Aleksandr Jarmonik, charged with investigating the case, claimed to know who the perpetrators were. He was further quoted as saying that the involvement of "drug kings in police uniforms" was being considered probable. Poltava Province Police General, Mr A. Prisyazhnyuk, stated at an October 29, 2001 press conference that one of the alleged arsonists was in hiding. The suspect had allegedly stated: "I myself set those Gypsies on fire," and confessed to burning two other houses, also on October 28, 2001, with two accomplices. Police General Prisyazhnyuk also confirmed the likelihood of involvement of a police officer from the Department of the Fight Against the Illegal Use of Drugs in the arson. In accordance with Police General Prisyazhnyuk's order, Police Major Ivanov was reportedly temporarily suspended from his duties. As of March 10, 2002, no charges had been brought against Police Major Ivanov in connection with the case. As of May 16, 2002, the two unknown men were reportedly being held in detention in connection with the case, and investigation was ongoing. According to a local Romani man, who due to fear of retaliation requested that his name not be revealed, since the attack, Police Major Ivanov has regularly threatened Roma, and many Roma have fled the village, fearing further violence. The Romani man also informed the ERRC that he believes high-ranking officials at the County Prosecutors Office and the police have covered up police involvement in the crime.
We look forward to any and all details of actions undertaken by Ukrainian authorities to see justice served in this case.
Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:
Mr. M.V. Garnyk, Acting Chief Prosecutor of Ukraine
Fax: 38 (044) 690-26-03
Mr. J.V. Smirnov, Minister of Internal Affairs
Fax: 38 (044) 291-17-33
Mr. O.V. Lavrinovich, Minister of Justice
Fax: 38 (044) 229-66-64
Mr. A.K. Khinah, Prime Minister of Ukraine
Fax: 38 (044) 293-16-63
Mr. L.D. Kuchma, President of Ukraine
Tel: 38 (044) 291-53-33