Myroslava Gongadze, the widow of slain journalist Georgiy Gongadze, said that ex-Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and other top officials have reason to be nervous about the arrest of Oleksiy Pukach, a key suspect in the 2000 murder.

"Kuchma has reason to be afraid. The head of his administration, [now Verkhovna Rada Speaker] Volodymyr Lytvyn, has reason to be afraid. Many ranks within the Interior Ministry have to be afraid. Because this was a serious, great camapign,"said Gongadze, a Voice of America journalist in Washington, D.C. "Georgiy's murder was just one of the crimes committed by President Kuchma's regime. And if Pukach really tells everything he knows, I think we can expect great revelations."

Kuchma, Lytvyn and other former high-level officials of the previous administration were implicated on audiotapes recorded by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. On those tapes, Kuchma, Lytvyn and late Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko discussed silencing Gongadze. The journalist’s exposes about high-level corruption for the Ukrainska Pravda website he founded had reportedly irritated Kuchma and those around him. All three, including Kravchenko – who died of two gunshot wounds to the head in 2005 – have denied any involvement.

Myroslava Gongadze, 37, who is also the mother of the couple’s twin 12-year-old daughters, Solomiya and Nana, has long believed that evidence implicating the people who ordered her husband’s murder has never properly been investigated.

She said that she had almost given up on the arrest of Pukach, who was indicted in absentia for allegedly strangling Georgiy Gongadze. Pukach had been on the run since 2004, but his fugitive status ended with his arrest in Zhytomyr Oblast, announced by the State Security Service on July 22. Police also said he confessed to involvement in the murder and implicated others.

Last year, three former police officers were convicted in the murder and sentenced to prison terms of 12-13 years. But nobody thinks the convictions of Mykola Protasov, Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych represent justice. If the trio did participate in the actual killing and beheading of Gongadze, they are widely seen as fall guys, lower-level police officers who followed orders.

Myroslava Gongadze is certain that the order to kill her husband didn’t come from Pukach. But he may be the key link in solving the mystery of who did. “To name those who ordered the murder is one thing, but to gather evidence and charge them is another matter,” she said. “I want to stress that Pukach is only a link in the chain of murderers. The question is open about who ordered it and if there would be enough political will to bring charges against them.”

“I had almost lost hope that he would ever be caught,” she said. “Whether it’s connected to a political campaign, I am not sure. But in the course of eight years, Georgiy’s murder became a political case. A lot of political forces and leaders fight for it, whether they are interested in its outcome or not. That’s why the timing is not that important to me. What’s important is that the case is still open and that there will be more revelations.”

Pukach’s arrest appears to have revived an official investigation that long ago – to the discredit of the nation’s political leaders and law enforcement agencies – degenerated into farce, misleading statements, stalling, denials and outright lies.

And the Gongadze case, as heinous as it was, was only one of the many high-level, unsolved crimes allegedly exposed by the Melnychenko tapes. The Melnychenko tapes are purportedly 700 hours of recordings that – if authentic and true – show that Kuchma ran the nation of 46 million people as a criminal enterprise in which murder, massive theft, punitive tax inspections, election fraud and intimidation were routine.

There has been a lot of speculation that President Victor Yushchenko cut a private deal with Kuchma not to investigate the case fully. “I suspect that the new Ukrainian authorities decided to stop the investigation in Georgiy’s murder at the level of the perpetrators,” Myroslava Gongadze told the Kyiv Post in a February interview. “Despite President Yushchenko’s previous and recent statements, I don’t see that he has the real will to investigate this and other crimes of the Kuchma regime.

She also, in the Kyiv Post interview, said solving her husband’s murder is a litmus test for the nation’s passage into democracy. “I think, in many aspects, the future of Ukraine depends on the results of this case,” she said.

And she left little doubt about who she blames. “According to Melnychenko’s tapes, which are, in my opinion, authentic, discussing the matter with Lytvyn and Kravchenko, Kuchma suggested that ‘this Georgian’ (Gongadze) be ‘given to Chechens’ for ransom or taken somewhere.

“I will take care of him, Leonid,” Kravchenko responded, according to the tapes. “I will do it. He will be sorry.”

As for Kuchma, Myroslava Gongadze said then: “I see Kuchma as a former government official who should be under trial in the courtroom. He is a source of many problems in Ukraine. He allowed the corruption and abuse of power to blossom in Ukraine. He developed the system that gave full immunity to his close circle. Those who were not supporting such practices or spoke against it were prosecuted, harassed or even killed. However, it was not sufficient for him to be feared. In addition, he wanted to be loved by people. For the sake of this love, he was ready to wipe out his political rivals and journalists. He was never happy with what he had. Kuchma reminds me the old greedy wife from [Alexander] Pushkin’s ‘The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish.’ At the end of the story, the old wife remained with a broken washboard. The tragedy here is that all 46 million Ukrainians have been left with the broken washboard.”
By Yuliya Popova, Kyiv Post Staff Writer

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