Feb 12, 2021


The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported, “Kyiv’s Court of Appeal has upheld the ongoing detention of Ukrainian musician and military volunteer, Andriy Antonenko (‘Riffmaster’) 15 months after his arrest on suspicion of the 2016 killing in Kyiv of Belarusian journalist and former prisoner of conscience Pavel Sheremet. 


Two of the other four people publicly named as suspects during the 12 December 2019 press conference triumphantly addressed by Ukraine’s President, Prosecutor General and Interior Minister have never been charged over the killing, although it was purportedly the arrest of Vladislav and Inna Hryshchenko in connection with another crime that led the investigators first to Antonenko, and then to paediatric surgeon Yulia Kuzmenko and military nurse Yana Duhar. 


Kuzmenko was also remanded in custody, however was released under house arrest in August 2020.  While this was undoubtedly a welcome development, it does raise the question of why Antonenko remains in detention.  After fairly radical changes to the indictment  six months after the press conference, there seems no particular reason for Antonenko to have been singled out. 


There are certainly cases where a suspect’s position, connections or wealth give rise to fears that s/he could wield such influence.  This does not seem to be the case here, nor is it clear how a very prominent musician could go into hiding when he would almost certainly be forced to give up his passport and wear an electronic bracelet. In this case, a number of MPs from different political parties had offered to stand as guarantors for him.


Numerous other problems with this case have been discussed here earlier, not least the ongoing impact from the initial ‘trial by press briefing’ at which Ukraine’s leaders violated the defendants’ right to a fair trial by treating the case as solved.  Since then Riaboshapka has admitted that there was not enough evidence to take the case to court and Zelenskyy has effectively threatened that the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s job will be on the line if the trial collapses.  


Former Kremlin hostage Oleg Sentsov is not alone in believing that this is behind the reluctance of Ukrainian judges to release (Kuzmenko and) Antonenko.  Other concerns include the effective lack of any motive, once the prosecution was forced to remove its ‘white supremacy’ nonsense which it had copy-pasted from an indictment in a quite different case.


The Ukrainian investigators had opted for claims of rather obscure motivation in which individuals, ‘acting from a range of personal motives, decided to cause a high-profile event in society in order to then provoke numerous protests.’  

Who Pavel Sheremet was, and whom he had riled, including the regimes of both Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is thus rendered essentially irrelevant.  According to this version, any prominent figure will do.  The version also fails to explain why those anonymous individuals who are supposed to have commissioned the crime should have thought it would ‘provoke numerous protests’ and why a successful musician, paediatric surgeon and nurse would have agreed to take part.”