Five Roma Die in Arson Attack by Police in Ukraine

According to information received by the ERRC during field investigation, 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. In the morning hours of October 28, 2001, 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 Fedor-chenko, Mrs Fedorchenko's husband, and their 6-year-old son Jura were found dead in the house the same morning.

Jurij (left) and Takhar (right) Fedorchenko, two surviving members of the Fedorchenko family, five of whom died in an October 2001 arson attack in the village of Malaya Kakhovka, Poltava province, central Ukraine.
Photo: ERRC

According to Mr Jurij Fedor-chenko'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 I. 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-liter polythene bottle with a flammable substance. 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 I. not to harm his family, Police Major I. responded, "I will turn you into black roses." The tall man with red hair then allegedly started sprinkling the flammable liquid 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".

Above, the dead victims, below - the charred remains of the house.
Photo: ERRC

Mr Jurij Fedorchenko reportedly stated that he had informed the police that he believed the arson had been organised by Police Major I. as punishment, allegedly because the Fedorchenko family could not pay a monthly bribe of 200 Ukrainian hryvna (approximately 43 euros), levied by Police Major I. because Mrs Zukhra Fedorchenko had been involved in drug trafficking for a short time. According to information received by ERRC on March 6, 2002, from the editor of Kremin', there are police officers in Kremenchug who force many Roma to get involved in drug trafficking so that the officers can demand a regular bribe. According to Mr Fedorchenko, Police Major I. 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 she had no money to pay the bribe. Police Major I. 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 I. had visited their home several times during the month before the arson attack, threatening vengeance because the family did not pay him bribes.

According to Kremin' of November 2, 2001, Area 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. Prisyazh-nyuk, stated at an October 29, 2001 press conference that one of the alleged arsonists is 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 I. was reportedly temporarily suspended from his duties. As of March 10, 2002, no charges had been brought against Police Major I. in connection with the case. As of March 18, 2002, the two unknown men with Police Major I. at the time of the incident 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 published, since the attack Police Major I. had 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 Prosecutor's Office and the police have covered up police involvement in the crime. Additional information on Roma in Ukraine can be found on the ERRC Internet website at: www.errc.org

(ERRC, Kremin')

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