Recently, Odesa is reminiscent of one large film set where some crazy director orders actors to attack each other and it seems that there is just one reason for it – to kill. Unfortunately, this is not a movie at all. The whole city’s been shocked one more time by a recent assault on a local activist Oleh Mykhailyk, and the news itself went far beyond the region and even the country. The power brokers of the region and state, as well as international organizations, responded to the attempt of assassination. Local activists are convinced: the assault on Mykhailyk is not an isolated case, but a continuation of one chain. Opinion has gathered all up to date information about the situation. We’ll try to explain who is Oleg Mykhailyk and what’s wrong with Odesa.
What happened in Odessa?
Saturday afternoon, September 22, Oleh Mykhailyk was coming back home. According to his friends, he called his wife, warned her about the meeting and asked not to worry. Within a few minutes, somebody called her again. This time it was a neighbor, who said that her husband is laying in the yard.
Mykhailyk was shot near the house, which, ironically, is located in the very center of the city. A few dozen meters further the General Directorate of the National Police in Odessa is situated. The bullet passed through the arm and got stuck in the lungs between ribs. Law enforcers add that the wounded activist was still able to walk 32 meters on his own.
What is the current state of Oleh’s health?
In the first day after the assassination attempt, the victim’s friends and activists reported that Mykhailyk had experienced a clinical death. That’s why doctors decided not to take the bullet out, since, taking into account the patient’s condition, it was too risky. Today, according to the wife and doctors, Oleh’s condition can be characterized as stable.
Now Mykhailyk has pneumonia. According to the doctors, it is a natural consequence of a bullet wound. Oleh is undergoing treatment and even has a good appetite. Today he was allowed to move a little, but there’s still plenty of rehabilitation ahead.
At the same time, his friends ask not to visit Oleh for now, because even the most pleasant meetings and phone calls are very tedious. However, you can always write him, so Oleh himself can independently find time for reading and replying to you.
Who is Oleh Mykhailyk?
Instead of an avatar in the social network, he has a picture in support of Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners. In the section “About Me” instead of a short biography – the statement by filmmaker Debora Day: “When the positive energy reaches someone, all of us feel it.” Among his photos – shots from television broadcasts, public events, Ukrainian flags, vyshyvanka (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt) and friends.
Oleh is a civic activist, one of the leaders of the local People’s Strength Party branch. This April Mykhailyk announced his intention to run for the mayor of Odesa. It’s almost impossible to list all the actions in which Oleg had participated: he stood up for the Summer Theater preservation. In the city garden, he protested against illegal construction works and openly criticized the work of the city authorities (in particular, the mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov ) as well as the leadership of the state.
Together with other like-minded people and activists of the People’s Power Party, Mykhailyk organized the first in the city “School of Local Self-Governance” where they educated citizens, activists, public figures and politicians. The activist also worked to create a public platform “Odesa 2020”. It united several public organizations and charitable foundations to solve social problems and conduct events without the material support of local authorities. A few days before the assassination attempt, during one of his speeches, Oleh was talking about hostile takeovers, corruption, the tragedy in the camp “Victoria”, and the mismanagement of the law enforcement agencies of Odesa and the region. The latest posts from his social network account are photos from one more action against the construction works in the city.
According to the editor-in-chief of one of Odesa’s major TV channels Anna Kravtsova, she has never laughed at the political ambitions of the activist, because he “is a man of outstanding principles, honest, he seeks to self-development and he is ruthless first of all to himself – the main censor and critic”.
“Oleh was involved in many protests, but he was connected to no murky business related to takeovers, redistribution of property or spheres of influence,” – the blogger Olena Dobrovolska said on her webpage.
Thoughts, actions and search for the guilty: public activists and associates
From the very appearance of the news about the attack on Mykhailyk, representatives of the law-enforcement agency of Odesa appeared under a fire of criticism and control. For example, a public activist and former head of the Odesa branch of the “Right Sector” Serhiy Sternenko, whose life has already been under threat for three times, said that the investigation team began to work at the site of attack approximately an hour and a half after a crime was committed. Taking into account the fact that the distance from the crime scene to the police department is about 50-60 meters, according to the activist.
On the same day, Sternenko unveiled an open statement by representatives of Odesa’s civil society. It states that the situation in the city can lead to extremely negative consequences for the public and national security, and therefore requires the immediate intervention of central authorities. The signatories of the letter urged the authorities to take a series of urgent measures to prevent the destabilization of the situation in the region. Among those who joined the appeal are well-known Ukrainians, numerous political parties, public organizations, and mass media.
On the other hand, a public activist Oleksandr Vinnytskyi suggested on his webpage that the attack on Mykhailyk is the last thing that law enforcement needs. The logic of the activist is quite simple: before the assault, Oleh took part in a press conference, where he demanded the resignation of law enforcement officers, so they are under constant public pressure and it is not in their interests to increase it.
“If you think a little about who indeed it can be, then I personally see two real options. 1. Someone from the middle of a heterogeneous and clan system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine wants to put “his man” in the Odesa region. 2. Some criminal bosses don’t like the current state of affairs and they want to change faces in the local police for more ‘comfortable’,” assumed Oleksandr Vinnytskyi.
However, the webpage of the party, the member of which is the victim, emphasizes that the attempt of Oleh’s assassination was committed because of the criminal authorities’ fear in front of the progressive changes. As well it happened due to the public actions against the mayor that exposed his corrupt and criminal activity and the advocacy of cultural and architectural heritage of Odessa, alongside the fight against criminal construction works.
“The attempt of Oleh Mykhailyk’s assassination is also an act of intimidation of conscious Odesa citizens and Ukrainians. It is also a revenge to Oleh and his associates for the active advocacy of community interests and human rights activities. A shot in Oleh is a shot in all of us! They want to kill not only one of the best, they want to kill our faith in overcoming the corrupt gangster authorities in Odesa, to destroy hopes for change, hope that united people can still influence the situation in the city and the country, even in the absence of a rights protection system, and the roadblocks put up by the criminal mayor of Odesa Trukhanov and his gang,” says the statement.
However, it’s also possible that, along with the city authorities, the law enforcement agencies themselves may be involved in the assassination attempt. This was stated in a conversation with journalists by the head of the Odesa regional branch of the People’s Strength Party Ihor Bychkov.
“Oleh always said that Trukhanov is the head of a criminal group that plunders our city, and Dmytro Holovin – head of the National Police in Odesa region, together with regional prosecutor Oleh Zhuchenko cover up Odesa authorities for their illegal activities,” says Bychkov.
The idea that assault on Oleh is just a continuation of assassination attempts’ chain which targets other activists in Odesa is very popular among many network users. However, a journalist and public activist Olena Balaba is convinced that there is no pattern in it because each individual case carries a bunch of nuances and facts. “The last attempt to assassinate Oleh Mykhailyk is special because it seems that they’ve stopped intimidating. They are going to kill,” the activist is convinced.
Thoughts and actions: law enforcement agencies
Regardless of whether the local police are accused of involvement in the assassination attempt, all actions of the law-enforcers are under strict public control. According to the police chief of Odesa region Dmytro Holovin, currently, there are five scenarios in the case of Mykhilyk’s assassination attempt.
“The first version is related to his civic activities. The second one concerns “Zolotyi Bereg”. The third is related to the issue of the car market “Uspih”. The fourth is personal motives. And the fifth states that attempt was made by unidentified persons with hooligan motives,” the comment states.
Holovin also spoke about the speed of the law-enforcers’ actions. “Those people who say that investigation team had arrived in an hour and a half, although they have a legal education, do not understand what is an investigation team, and what is the work of operatives. The operatives were on the spot in seven minutes, moreover, the patrol car was the first at the place,” said the police chief of the Odesa region. By the way, the reference to “those who have a legal education”, obviously, is a direct answer to the post by Serhiy Sternenko.
The Attorney General Yuriy Lutsenko also reacted to the events in Odesa. According to him, after a meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, it was decided to send to Odessa a reinforced team of law enforcement officers from Kyiv.
However, the first deputy head of the national police Vyacheslav Abroskin has emphasized that reinforced investigation team for the case of Mykhailyk’s assassination attempt was created the first hours after the attack. Due to its actions, law enforcement officers managed to gather evidence base that allows them to say that the crime’s been solved. However, Abroskin gives no details.
However, it becomes clear that the assassination attempt of Oleg Mikhailyk is a ground-zero that made the leadership of law-enforcement system to finally look at the south of the country. First Deputy Interior Minister Serhii Yarovyi said that MIA strengthens the presence of their units in the Odesa region because the region requires systematic work to ensure the public order.
“There should be systematic work. Both operational services and the criminal unit, pay more attention to preventive measures. When there is a certain situation, we collect the best of our forces, we charge and show good results and solve cases. Analysis and prediction of a situation that may arise. It’s here, where I see significant miscalculations, so I want to organize work in this direction “, – Yarovyi said.
The shortening of the headlines’ text and the gradual disappearance of the words “action” and “search for the guilty ones” are the author’s cutoff, where it’s (not)necessary to look for a relevance.
The authorities turned out to be the most concise while commenting on the case of Odesa activist’s assassination attempt. As an example, here we have a letter by the head of the Odesa regional state administration Maxym Stepanov. He thanked the doctors for their work and noted that he personally demands a prompt disclosure of the case and the punishment of the perpetrators. Most of all the head of the RSA is worried about fighting the consequences but not the reasons. It seems that law enforcement agencies should prevent the crimes rather than seek for the guilty ones. However, Stepanov decided not to mention the series of the attacks on activists in Odesa.
The president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko was also preoccupied with the state of the activist’s health. According to our colleagues, he is currently on a visit to the United States, so he called the chief physician of the City Clinical Hospital No. 1 and asked about the health and condition of Mykhailyk. He thanked the doctor for the work he’d done for the wounded. He discussed the situation with the head of the state and with the prosecutor general and the Minister of Internal Affairs. Instead, the mayor of Odesa Gennadiy Trukhanov gave no response.
Assault on Mykhailyk: expert opinion
Law enforcement agencies report on their dynamic activity, the government selectively asks about the state of the activist and it seems that they’re using a cliché, as if they’re sending a protest note, it demands a quick investigation. In the meantime activists are going to meetings and rallies, they’re building their own versions. “Who ordered Oleh Mykhailyk?” – a new question that is the hottest for Odessa and the whole country for the last few days.
In a comment to one of the Ukrainian TV channels, political expert and activist Dmytro Kupyra expressed his point that mayor of Odesa Gennadiy Trukhanov, who supposedly controls the entire city’s administration, knew about the assault.
“All the power in Odesa belongs to the mayor, who is a citizen of Russia Trukhanov . Oleh Mykhailyk worked hard on protecting the green zone of Odesa, the historical heritage of the city. He was fighting against the illegal alienation of land. He constantly pointed out that all these illegal actions take place with the support and ‘blessing’ from Trukhanov. On the day of the attack, Oleh took part in the campaign against the illegal construction works at the Langeron Beach. He emphasized that it is the law enforcements alongside the city authorities, who defend illegal construction works,” Kupyra said.
The expert also reflects on the law-enforcement system: in his view, customers of resonant crimes are rarely drawn to responsibility, which in its turn provokes more and more crimes.
“The law enforcement system is tamed. We see irresponsible work on activists’ protection. It is very difficult to bring to responsibility customers of resonant crimes. In particular, of assaults on public activists. It provokes the next crimes. In the case of Oleh Mykhailyk, it’s obvious that the aim was not to intimidate him, namely to kill him. The systemic nature of such attacks can be a threat to national security,” the expert believes.
A similar view was expressed on the webpage of Olexiy Minakov. He called Odesa a “state within a state” that lives by its own rules and bandit laws.
“The city is a hostage to mafia clans, which solve all the problems by force – someone is physically intimidated, someone is immediately eliminated. Representatives of civil society are kept under pressure and fear. A shot at activist Mykhailyk is just one of the numerous episodes that happened in recent times. And there will be more on the eve of elections.
Perhaps they will carry out “educational activities” with Trukhanov, they say to him: “don’t rock the city,” but it won’t change anything. The control of Trukhanov over a million-person city is vital for the country’s authorities on the brink of elections. So the mayor enjoys his strategic position. <…> In any sound democratic society with working law enforcement institutions, Trukhanov would have been in jail, and not in the chair of the mayor for a long time,” said a political expert.
The MP and former journalist Mustafa Nayyem also criticized the actions of city authorities. In his post, he stressed that we are starting to lose Odesa because the shot at Oleg Mykhailyk is not an accident, but a tendency.
“I think the situation in Odesa and the region should become an issue for discussion in the parliament and at the NSDCU meeting. In 2014, the region only with the help of a miracle hadn’t become another stronghold of separatism; and after four years ‘polite guys’ from the local authorities, just in front of our eyes, protect the city from everything that can oppose and act. Without any systemic solution and nationwide discussion of the issue – at the next parliamentary and local elections, we will lose the city forever; but not because it’s not ours, but because ours will either go away or be silenced” wrote Nayyem.
The MP Svitlana Zalishchuk has supported her colleague. “We must clearly understand the problem. What’s happening now in Odesa is not just the elimination of the activists by local authorities. This is the drift of local power brokers toward potential OPR. On what basis is the southern part of the country supposed to support the EU and NATO, if Odesa is headed by a man with Russian passport and long ties to the Russian criminal world?
Every assault on a pro-Ukrainian activist in Odesa is a shot, like the one Oleh got, or Vitaliy (it seems that she’s talking about an activist Vitaliy Ustymenko – author’s note), it’s the shot in Ukrainian Odesa,” the ex-journalist said.
This is far from all the thoughts and opinions that could have been put together. However, we’ve tried to form a single, picture of the events and to demonstrate what and how it is seen by all participants of this event, from activists to authorities. Including the one that is still silent. What’s left for us? To wish Oleg fast recovering and to hold our fingers on the pulse of events. For as long the news is in the media space, it will continue being talked over.
During the preparation of material it became known that on Tuesday, September 25, the police detained three suspects in an attempt of Mykhailyk’s assassination. One of them is a disabled person of the group one. They were found by the police that tracked them by mobile signals from the crime spot. The suspects were called for interrogation where they were detained.
By Dmytro Zhuravel