Anton Gerashchenko apologises (A precedent?)

It has to be said that the blog is not much of a fan of Anton Gerashchenko.

It is not a personal dislike toward him, for there is always a need to separate message from messenger.  The dislike of Mr Gerashchenko comes from not always being able to easily identify just whose message he is delivering.

Sometimes it is that of the Ministry of Interior.  Others that specifically of the National Police or the National Guard, or other elements within the Ministry of Interior despite each having press officers.  There are also instances where it appears he is the messenger for those within the dubious (vested interests) orbit of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.  Yet others when he is clearly delivering a message directly from Arsen Avakov without attributing it to him – the messages Mr Avakov does not want to deliver himself.  On rare occasions Mr Gerashchenko also delivers his own, sometimes knee-jerk and less well thought through, personal opinions.

Therein is the blog’s problem with Mr Gerashchenko – it is not always clear for whom he speaks and why, and what he does say is sometimes less than accurate.  Those mistakes/miss-speaks and the occasionally deliberate obfuscation seemingly never have an apology attached when discovered/called out.

However, it appears a precedent has now been set with regard to apologies.

It relates to the heinous crime in which Kherson social activist Katerina Gandzjuk was doused with sulfuric acid and suffered horrendous burns covering 35% of her body.  A truly unconscionable and despicable act.

The police initially classified the incident as one of “holliganism”.

The incident rightly caused outrage among the Ukrainian constituency – particularly that of Kherson, as a reader would expect.  Pressure was on for the police and prosecutors to find and remand those directly responsible very swiftly indeed.

Intense pressure was also put upon the police to re-categorise the incident as attempted murder – which they eventually did due to public ire.

Fairly quickly Mykola Novikov was arrested.  An arrest it appears not based upon evidence but rather the political need for a swift resolution.  (A reader may suspect more than a degree of political pressure being applied to the Kherson police and prosecutors to get a result in quick order.)

Mr Novikov was placed on remand and publicly proclaimed the offender by Anton Gareshchenko (and others), despite Mr Novikov claiming he wasn’t even in Kherson at the time of the attack.

It thus followed that police and prosecutors ignored his alibi claim and Mr Novikov sat for 2 weeks on remand in prison – that was until the Ukrainian public began to corroborate his alibi with witnesses from outside Kherson travelling there to give statements proclaiming they saw him at the time of the attack on holiday at their location.

After just over 2 weeks he was released and the case against him closed.

In the meantime 2 others have been arrested for this crime.

Thus in this mishandled investigation, public pressure is therefore responsible for upgrading the original offence classification and also for the release of Mr Novikov who was seemingly otherwise about to be railroaded for a crime he clearly did not commit.  Indeed the acid attack victim, Ms Gandzjuk has publicly expressed her sympathies for Mr Novikov and his ordeal at the hands of the police and prosecutors.  Indeed there is little to indicate just why Mr Novikov was deemed the suspect at all.

Whatever the case, this is an investigative disaster within a high profile case at a time when elections are on the horizon.  Time will tell whether the two individuals who remain in custody are no less innocent – albeit as they were arrested quite some time after Mr Novikov, it is perhaps more likely to be as a result of a better investigation leading to their doors – another reason to suspect political pressure was applied to the police soon after the incident at the expense of investigation quality and to the detriment of Mr Novikov.

Now it has to be said that external pressure, be it from the Ukrainian constituency, civil society, or international partners on the authorities has led to obviously wrong-headed decisions being changed since 2014 – ergo this pressure (and the release of an innocent man) and its effects are not entirely new phenomenon.

However, all those policy, bureaucracy, and investigative “mistakes” subsequently corrected by public pressure have not come with an apology – until now.  Anton Gerashchenko has publicly apologised for the “mistakes” of the police and Prosecutor’s Office (despite he having no weight or authority with the Prosecutor’s Office to speak on its behalf) and also apologising for himself amid the text as well.

It is of course encouraging that those people who saw Mr Novikov on holiday traveled to Kherson to give statements in his defence.  They should be applauded – as no doubt following such arbitrary decisions by police and prosecutors (in all probability to relieve political pressure upon themselves) based upon a poor investigation, there will have been no desire on behalf of the authorities to take witness statements supporting an alibi.

It remains to be seen whether any disciplinary actions will be taken against those within the police and Prosecutors Office for the attempted railroading of Mr Novikov.  It also remains to be seen whether regional police commanders will grow some balls and refuse to crumble before political pressure.

All in all, an unnecessarily messy investigation that does little to inspire confidence in the State or its institutions, but which does bring hope regarding the attitude of Ukrainian society and the environment in which it is prepared to live within.