Murdered: Lawyer for Russian fighter kidnapped, 'drugged, wired to a bomb' in Ukraine
Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Evgeny Erofeev were detained last May in the rebel-controlled Lugansk Region in Eastern Ukraine. Kiev said they were agents for Russian military intelligence and charged them with a number of crimes, including waging an aggressive war against the country and terrorism, as it considers all rebels terrorists. Both the rebels and Moscow insist that the two Russian citizens were volunteers who joined the Ukrainian civil war after resigning from the Russian military.
Aleksandrov was defended at the ongoing trial by lawyer Yury Grabovsky. He went missing on March 6 in Kiev and found dead on Friday. Investigators say he was kidnapped and later killed.
The lawyer’s body was found buried in an abandoned orchard near the town of Zhashkov about 100 km south of the Ukrainian capital, Ukraine’s chief military prosecutor, Anatoly Matios, told the media. Grabovsky’s grave was found after investigators followed a lead from one of his suspected killers.
The investigators say that Grabovsky was kidnapped in Kiev, transported to Odessa, a port city in southern Ukraine, and later to Zhashkov. The abductors said they used an ankle bracelet rigged with explosives to keep their victim compliant.
“If he tried to report his whereabouts or escape the criminals threatened to set off the explosive device and that he would be torn apart on the spot,” the prosecutor said.
The investigators also believe that the lawyer had been kept drugged by his abductors, which Grabovsky’s post mortem may prove.
The lawyer was last seen alive in Kiev. He missed an appointed court session on March 9. Later somebody posted a status on his Facebook page claiming that he had left Ukraine out of fear for his life, but would return soon. Investigators later confirmed that Grabovsky’s phone, which was used to post the update, never left Ukraine.
Matios was somewhat vague in describing how exactly Grabovsky died, saying that he “was killed violently and finished off with a firearm,” apparently implying that he was brutally beaten before being killed.
The military prosecutor stressed that his agency should be credited for solving the crime after taking jurisdiction from the national police.
“We took the case… and investigated the crime falling under police jurisdiction,” he said. “If we didn’t, it wouldn’t have been solved.”
The Ukrainian authorities arrested two people in connection with the murder, one last week and another on Thursday. One of them had fake ID of a law enforcement officer and a fake Ukrainian passport printed on a genuine blank form, Matios said. The second person arrested told investigators where the Grabovsky’s body was buried.
Matios said several motives are being considered in the murder case, including robbery, personal conflict and a “deliberate operation” by a “secret service.” Grabovsky’s colleagues say his work as attorney for the Russian defendant is likely.
Osksana Sokolovskaya, the lawyer of the second Russian defendant Erofeev, who worked closely with Grabovsky to build their trial strategies, reported that case files disappeared from his office when he went missing. The files had evidence that the defense team would now need to collect again as the trial proceeding, she said.
The trial of Aleksandrov and Erofeev would not be postponed due to Grabovsky’s murder, Matios said.
“The next session is scheduled for April 5. It will happen regardless of any circumstances and with all means and mechanism in place to ensure the safety of the Russian citizens,” he said.
Commenting on the confirmation of Grabovsky’s death, the Russian foreign ministry blamed Kiev of failing to protect him.
“Apparently they are not going to stick to legal methods in Ukraine and tolerate anything not fitting the scheme, which the ruling circles have built on the foundation of an anti-Russian and occasionally overtly Russophobic hysterics,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry offered condolences to family and friends of the slain lawyer and said it hoped that the Ukrainian authorities would bring everyone responsible for the murder to justice.