Yury Grabovsky, a defense lawyer representing Russian citizen Alexander Alexandrov, had been missing for several weeks before authorities dug up his body on a farm 138 kilometers from Kiev early Friday.
A lawyer representing two alleged Russian terrorists in the Ukraine has been found dead, prompting fears he was killed to stop the facts of the case from being made public.
Yury Grabovsky, a defense lawyer representing Russian citizen Alexander Alexandrov, had been missing for several weeks before authorities dug up his body on a farm 138 kilometers from Kiev early Friday. He was last seen on March 5, and police opened a case on his disappearance on March 10.
The grisly discovery of his remains came after Ukrainian authorities announced they intended to use Mr Grabovsky’s client in a prisoner exchange with Russia to get Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko back on Ukrainian soil.
At a briefing in Kiev on Friday, Ukraine’s top military prosecutor Anatoly Matios said Grabovsky “was killed in a violent way and finished off with a firearm” as part of what prosecutors believe was a “specially planned operation.”
Two Ukrainian men have been detained in connection with the crime, though their identities have not yet been disclosed. One is said to have had fake credentials for Ukraine’s Security Service.
Mr Matios stopped short of listing motives for the crime but said Russia “would stop at nothing” to have the trial against the two Russian citizens, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, delayed. A verdict against the two men would serve as proof of Russia’s military involvement in eastern Ukraine, he said, which could in turn pave the way for charges of war crimes.
Mr Alexandrov and Mr Yerofeyev were captured by Ukrainian soldiers during a gun battle in the Luhansk region in May 2015. Both men initially identified themselves as Russian servicemen, and their detention was thought to be the strongest evidence yet that the Kremlin deployed troops to eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin reacted swiftly to the news of Mr Grabovsky’s murder on Friday and pinned all blame on Ukrainian authorities. A statement published by Russia’s Foreign Ministry slammed Ukrainian authorities for failing to protect Mr Grabovsky, saying the murder “indicates the intensification in Ukraine of anti-democratic, totalitarian tendencies which in no way comply with the European norms of morality and law which Kyiv likes to discuss.”
Mark Feygin, a defense lawyer for Ms Savchenko, wondered whether Grabovsky’s murder was meant to send a message to all other lawyers involved in highly politicized cases between Russia and Ukraine.
“How many lawyers need to be killed in order to stop this story once and for all and exchange Savchenko for Yerofeyev and Alexandrov?” Mr Feygin asked on Twitter.
Amnesty International on Saturday called the murder a “chilling blow to justice” and urged Ukrainian authorities to ensure the safety of other lawyers in the case. The Ukrainian National Bar Association issued a similar statement, expressing alarm over what Mr Grabovsky’s murder means for other lawyers in the country.
Oksana Sokolovskaya, a defense lawyer representing Mr Yerofeyev, had petitioned prosecutors to provide her and her family with state protection after Mr Grabovsky disappeared on March 5. But military prosecutors objected to the petition and declined on March 21, claiming there was no cause for concern, she said.
Mr Grabovsky has not been the only participant in the case to come under attack.
Anna Beres, the wife of Ukrainian soldier Kirill Beres, who helped to capture Mr Alexandrov and Mr Yerofeyev, said several men wearing the uniforms of utility workers had burst into her apartment before putting a bag over her head and tying up her son on March 14.
They then proceeded to ransack the place and interrogate her about her husband’s testimony in the trial, before ordering her to tell her husband he had “a month to think about it” and fleeing, she told Ukrainian media at the time.
Military prosecutor Igor Nimchenko later confirmed the incident, saying authorities had information about witnesses and participants in the trial being targeted, though it was unclear by whom.