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Ukraine: Grenade Blasts Still Resonate In Election

  • Askold Krushelnycky



A grenade attack early this month against a candidate in the Ukrainian presidential elections has been used as ammunition in the propaganda war waged by rivals for the country's top job. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky examines the political fallout from the explosion.

Kyiv, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The most serious instance of violence during the Ukrainian presidential elections happened at the beginning of this month when two hand grenades exploded at a rally for ultra-leftist candidate Natalya Vitrenko.

The explosions in the eastern Ukrainian city of Krivy Rih injured Vitrenko slightly and wounded around 30 supporters of her Progressive Socialist Party.

Within minutes two men were detained by police. It soon emerged that one of them, Vladimir Ivanchenko, was the brother of Serhiy Ivanchenko, a local campaigner for another presidential candidate, the leader of the Socialist Party, Oleksandr Moroz.

Moroz says that since then people working for the re-election of incumbent president Leonid Kuchma have tried to imply that Moroz himself was linked to the grenade attack. Moroz says they have done so in an effort to hurt his chances in the presidential race.

Moroz and Vitrenko have consistently been shown by opinion polls to be Kuchma's main rivals for the presidency. If none of the 15 candidates for the presidency gain more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections, the two with the most votes go to a run-off in mid-November. Most observers believe Moroz is the candidate that Kuchma most fears in a run-off election for president.

Serhiy Ivanchenko disappeared after his brother's detention and a search of his home allegedly revealed an arsenal of weapons. Police speculate that he may have gone to Russia. His brother and the other arrested man had Russian passports and had apparently entered Ukraine from Russia shortly before the grenade attack.

In the days after the incident much was made by government officials close to Kuchma and by the state television channel, which closely follows the Kuchma line, about the connection between Moroz and the Ivanchenko brothers. A video film of Moroz surrounded by supporters including Serhiy Ivanchenko surfaced in the hands of the Ukrainian security services, the SBU, and was televised.

Newspapers and leaflets, whose publishers have not been identified, have circulated saying Moroz was the only person to benefit from the attack.

Moroz told RFE/RL in a recent interview in Kyiv that he believes Kuchma and the SBU were behind the attempts to discredit him and accuses them of involvement in the grenade attack.

"This was not an attack on Vitrenko, this was an attack against democracy in Ukraine. The same people are responsible for all these provocations: the faked newspapers, the fake leaflets and the bloody attack in Kryvi Rih. All of this has been organized by structures belonging to the same camp. I have no doubt about this."

Moroz also commented on statements by the SBU that it had prevented attempts by supporters of Moroz who were allegedly going to Kyiv as the vanguard of a violent attempt to seize power.

"Everywhere rumors were circulated that Moroz was planning action to take power by some sort of extremist means and was going to occupy by armed force the presidential administration building. All these escapades, unfortunately, were organized, controlled and perpetrated by the security services. And for all of these events today's security services minister and the head of the SBU will have to answer. We will not drop this matter."

On Monday two members of the Russian parliament arrived to try to visit the men held in the attack against Vitrenko. Aleksei Mitrofonov of the Liberal Democratic Party said he and the other Duma member were concerned the alleged link to Russians could spoil bilateral relations. He said they had come to Ukraine to investigate the matter.

At a press conference Mitrofonov also showed a copy of a letter that was purportedly written by Vladimir Ivanchenko after his detention. The letter says that Ivanchenko and his accomplice were paid by a named person who works with Vitrenko to be in a stipulated place and to run away after they heard an explosion. In the letter, Ivanchenko writes that he and his accomplice were told that they would be arrested but released three days after the attack.

Mitrofonov said he received the letter by fax on October 20 but would not reveal who sent it. He said the SBU had not been able to say if Ivanchenko was really the letter's author and that handwriting tests were being carried out. Ivanchenko's mother, also at the press conference, told reporters the handwriting looked like her son's.

Mitrofonov said he did not know why it was a problem to check the letter's authenticity since its alleged author was in prison.

"The first thing I want to say is that our task in coming here was to meet the suspects. We asked for a meeting. We asked for it from the command of the security services of Ukraine. But unfortunately in talks with the first deputy of the security services of Ukraine, Yuriy Vladimirovich Zelyansky, we were told that was not possible."

Moroz says he believes it is possible Serhiy Ivanchnko could yet be produced by the authorities in a further attempt to discredit him.

"It is a lie that he was the organizer of the provocation, I've got enough information to say that this is really a lie. It is known that our security services did not contact their Russian colleagues to detain him and that he traveled around half of Ukraine without being detained. All of this points to the fact that it was a provocation aimed at me and against democracy."

The SBU has denied it is working to aid Kuchma's re-election. A top SBU official, General Vasyl Horbatiuk, has told reporters it had received information people linked to Moroz and his allies in a coalition called the Kaniv Four had conspired to break laws. He said a Russian citizen working for the Kaniv Four coalition, which broke up this week, had been barred from entering Ukraine by the SBU.

Horbatiuk dismissed suggestions Vitrenko had organized the grenade incident. He said: "How can a person organize an attack against themselves without knowing what the consequences will be?"

Kuchma this week denied he or his staff had been involved in dirty tricks. He said he was "leading an honest campaign." He added that "a dirtier campaign than the one unleashed against [him] has never happened in any other country in the world."

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