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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 19, 2000

19 December 2000, Volume 2, Number 47
FORMER BODYGUARD EXPLAINS EAVESDROPPING ON KUCHMA. The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" ( on 11 December published a transcription of the interview that Ukrainian lawmakers Serhiy Holovatyy, Oleksandr Zhyr, and Viktor Shyshkin conducted with Mykola Melnychenko, a former officer of the Security Service of Ukraine. Melnychenko claims he handed over to Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz an audio recording that allegedly proves President Leonid Kuchma's complicity in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The lawmakers, who are members of a parliamentary commission investigating Gongadze's disappearance, met with Mykola Melnychenko in an unspecified Western European country, videotaped an interview with him on 7 December, and took the tape back to Ukraine. The tape was played to lawmakers during a parliamentary session on 12 December.

Oleh Pysarenko, deputy chief of the presidential bodyguards in Ukraine's State Protection Directorate, confirmed on 1+1 Television Channel on 10 December that a man named Melnychenko worked in the presidential protection service "for three to four years" and was "an officer of a technical subunit." Pysarenko added that Melnychenko requested in early November that he be discharged from service. Following is a translation of the Ukrainian-language transcription of Melnychenko's videotaped interview that appeared in "Ukrayinska pravda."

Question: Could you please tell [us] your last name, name, and patronymic?

Answer: I am a major in the reserve of the Security Service of Ukraine, Melnychenko Mykola Ivanovych.

Q: Could you please name your last position?

A: My position was [that of] a senior security officer in the protection unit of the president of Ukraine.

Q: Your previous place of work?

A: The protection unit of the president of Ukraine.

Q: Did you have access to the places where the president of Ukraine stayed?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: On the strength of which duties and to which places [did you access]?

A: During the performance of [my] duties and to all places where the president stayed.

Q: When and under what circumstances did you make the recording that you handed over to People's Deputy Oleksandr Moroz?

A: I began to make the recording, or more precisely, the documentation of [conversations of] the president of Ukraine after I had witnessed, during the performance of my duties, President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma giving a criminal order, and only after I had learned that this order was fulfilled, I began to document subsequent events.

Q: Over what time frame were the recordings made?

A: The documentation of conversations of the president of Ukraine in his work office was made over a long time, and believe me, these materials are sufficient to prove that the president of Ukraine was acting not for the good of the people of Ukraine, nor for that of his entourage.

Q: How were the recordings made technically? What device was used to record information?

A: A digital dictaphone.

Q: Where and how was the device planted?

A: The digital dictaphone was placed directly in the office of the president of Ukraine, under a sofa. When we enter the office of the president, there is a soft nook on the left, and the dictaphone was placed under that sofa.

Q: Is this device still in the same place?

A: No, it isn't.

Q: Where is this device?

A: In a safe place.

Q: Is it in your control?

A: Yes.

Q: Could you make it available in the event of an independent expertise?

A: I am ready to hand over this device for an independent expertise, but there can be no independent expertise in Ukraine.

Q: Was the [original] audio recording retaped?

A: The materials I handed over to Deputy Moroz include only excerpts of the recordings I have. I handed over not the entire conversation between Kuchma and [Interior Minister Yuriy] Kravchenko, but only the excerpts that pertained to the Gongadze case, to his disappearance and to Kuchma's order that he be....

Q: What impelled you to make those recordings?

A: After learning who is ruling us, what orders are being given and performed, as an officer who swore allegiance to Ukraine, I could not but document and hand over [the conversations] so as to make it known to the whole population who is ruling us today. I did this in order to put an end to these criminal actions.

Q: What guided you in your actions?

A: After I had learned about the criminal order and after this criminal order had been performed, these circumstances impelled me to begin documenting these conversations.

Q: Specify the information in these recordings as well as the persons and orders to which it pertains.

A: President Leonid Kuchma gave orders to State Tax Administration head [Mykola] Azarov, Interior Minister Kravchenko, Security Service chief [Leonid] Derkach. These orders were intended to destroy the media that were not controlled by the regime and remained in opposition to Kuchma. Such as the newspapers "Silski visti," "Tovarysh," "Grani," "Vechirni visti," "Zerkalo nedeli," "Svoboda." He also gave orders to stifle the BBC and Radio Liberty. [These orders] also pertained to a number of enterprises, banks, and funds. He also gave orders to use judiciary and executive bodies in order to stifle countermeasures by those deputies who were trying to change something and fight. These are People's Deputies of Ukraine [Hennadiy] Balashov, [Serhiy] Holovatyy, [Yuriy] Kostenko, [Yuliya] Tymoshenko, [Oleksandr] Tkachenko, [Oleksandr] Moroz, [Yevhen] Marchuk, Lyudmyla Suprun, [Anatoliy] Yermak, [Serhiy] Terokhin, [Hryhoriy] Omelchenko, and other names that I cannot remember now, but he gave orders to stifle them. This is confirmed by documentation.

Q: Is there a documentary confirmation of his orders to eavesdrop on people's deputies?

A: Yes, there is. The president of Ukraine directly gave orders to Security Service chief Derkach to eavesdrop on all and everyone -- namely, Moroz, Medvedchuk, Tymoshenko, and others. At the very beginning, Kuchma gave the following order to Derkach, Kravchenko, and Azarov -- Do not forgive anybody who is working against us. And there was a command to stifle, to destroy.

Q: Why namely Gongadze?

A: I don't know. Kuchma telephoned [his] chief of staff [Volodymyr] Lytvyn and requested him to think what to do with Gongadze and how. Then, two or three minutes later, Lytvyn came to the president's office and they conferred there. Kuchma says: Possibly, to sue him in court? Lytvyn says: No, let Kravchenko work on him with other methods.

Q: Could you please name the aim of [your making] these recordings?

A: The aim was to stop the criminal activity of this regime, in order to let the people clean themselves of the dirt and outright lies that are voiced everyday.

Q: What means did you choose to achieve this aim?

A: The means I chose was to document conversations and look for a man who could make them public.

Q: To whom did you hand over these materials?

A: I handed them over to People's Deputy of Ukraine Moroz Oleksandr Oleksandrovych.

Q: When did you hand over these recordings?

A: In mid-November.

Q: While handing over these materials, did you discuss the way in which they were to be used or the goal for which they were to be used?

A: Yes, during [my] meeting with Moroz, I set the condition that they were to be made public without fail, in order to make the public aware of their existence and of the real actions of the president.

Q: Have you offered these materials to someone other than Moroz, and have you had any intention to offer them for publicizing to other people?

A: I hesitated for a long time about to whom I should hand over [the tape]. After I had collected these materials, I became convinced that, apart from Moroz, there was no other man whom I could trust. I did not contact anybody apart from Moroz.

Q: An opinion has been disseminated in Ukraine that these materials were initially offered to a different deputy or different political forces, but after some time that contact was allegedly broken and these materials found their way to Moroz. Did you really make an attempt to hand over these materials to someone else than Moroz?

A: There has been no such attempt.

Q: If a need arises to provide testimony in this case to a Ukrainian court, are you ready to do this?

A: Yes, I want to return to Ukraine and to give explanations, to give testimony regarding what took place and how. I do not want to remain outside Ukraine's borders -- I am Ukrainian and all I did was for the good of Ukraine and its people. Why should I hide? I want to return.

Q: Will your life or health not be threatened following your return to Ukraine? What do you think about this?

A: You see, I have a family, a child, I am looking forward to the future. When my little daughter grows up, she will say.... We do not know what will become of Ukraine if Kuchma and his entourage remain [in power]. And believe me, after having got to know him, I am no longer afraid what will happen to me. It is necessary to put an end to this, I am making this step quite knowingly.

Q: Do you have other materials, in addition to those you handed over to Moroz, which you could pass for being made public in Ukraine in order to prove what you are convinced of and what you say?

A: Yes, I have materials that I would like to hand over and those that I have handed over to you, which confirm what I have said and which cannot be refuted. They confirm everything I told you, completely.

Q: What is it going to be, in what form is it going [to appear]?

A: It will be on a digital [information] carrier. I will hand over materials concerning the Ukrainian president's conversations that testify to his criminal activity.

Q: How do you assess your actions in the light of your oath that you gave as a serviceman?

A: I gave an oath. I did not swear allegiance to Kuchma to perform his criminal orders. In this regard, my conscience is clear.

CHORNOBYL CLOSES FOR GOOD. In the early hours of 26 April 1986, technicians at the Chornobyl nuclear power station -- 135 kilometers north of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv -- were running a test of the plant's number four reactor. They disregarded safety procedures as they proceeded.

Within minutes, fuel rods in the reactor's core experienced a sudden loss of cooling water. The meltdown had begun. At 1:23 in the morning, local time, the chain reaction in the reactor spun out of control, causing explosions and a fireball that blew off the building's roof.

A plume of radiation gradually swept north of the plant, across the rich farmlands of northern Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states into Scandinavia. Despite Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's newly proclaimed policy of "glasnost" -- or openness -- Moscow continued past practice and initially kept silent about the accident.

It was only when heightened radiation levels triggered alarms at a Swedish nuclear power plant that the Soviet leadership admitted that something was amiss. Two days after the accident, Soviet television finally announced that an accident had occurred at Chornobyl. Despite the spread of radiation, outdoor May Day parades in nearby Kyiv went ahead. A decision to evacuate people living within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant was not made until the next day

Slowly, over the next two weeks, information about the scale of the disaster began to trickle through government censors. Gorbachev did not appear on television to discuss the disaster until 15 May. All the while, the stricken Chornobyl reactor continued to spew out radiation into the atmosphere.

To slow the outflow, fire-fighting units made up of men called "liquidators" ran relays onto the plant's mangled roof, dumping shovelfuls of hot graphite into the gaping hole. After two weeks the opening was closed. Eventually, the entire reactor was sealed within a 300,000-ton concrete and metal sarcophagus.

Thirty-one people died in the immediate aftermath of the accident, of acute radiation poisoning. But over the next four years, more than 600,000 people took part in clean-up efforts inside the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the plant. Many still face long-term health consequences.

According to government figures in Kyiv, more than 4,000 people who took part in clean-up work have died to date from Chornobyl-related illnesses. Another 70,000 have been disabled. UN Secretary General Kofi Anan noted recently that according to UN specialists, 3 million children in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia require treatment as a result of radiation exposure and many of them are expected to die prematurely of thyroid and other cancers.

In addition to the medical consequences, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes. More than 150,000 people were evacuated from the immediate radiation fallout zone in Ukraine and another 130,000 people across the border in Belarus were forced to relocate.

The Chornobyl accident changed perceptions of nuclear power around the world, reinforcing public fears of atomic energy and prompting several European countries to rethink their nuclear power strategies. But Hans Friederich Meyer, spokesman for the UN's Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, says that, paradoxically, the accident also had a beneficial impact, leading to new international safety conventions.

"The Chornobyl accident was really a big event and in the field of nuclear safety, it created a new awareness and, from our point of view, from the point of view of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- in the longer run -- a real improvement in the safety culture," Meyer told RFE/RL.

Although the design of the Chornobyl plant is considered less safe than the layout of plants operating in Western Europe, many countries, including Germany, have now adopted plans to gradually phase out their reliance on nuclear power. Among the European Union's 15 member states, only France remains fully committed to the technology.

Despite their announced intentions, Meyer says Western European countries will have a difficult time weaning themselves off nuclear power, at least in the short term. For the moment there are few non-polluting alternatives that can provide alternative supplies of electricity in sufficient quantities.

"If we look to the global warming question and climate change, it is very difficult for European countries to close down a great number of their nuclear power plants. One must take into account that in many Western European countries, the share of nuclear electricity is quite high," Meyer noted. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's 15 December order to shut down Chornobyl put a symbolic end to a plant that had become a byword for catastrophe. "The world will become a safer place. People will sleep in peace," Kuchma said during a ceremony to commemorate the shutdown. But it is not the end of nuclear power, for now. What will happen to similar plants in other post-Soviet states, which continue to operate -- among them the Ignalina power station in Lithuania -- remains unresolved.

In an ironic final twist to the Chornobyl saga, technicians had to restart the plant's last operating reactor on 14 December -- it had been shut down due to a minor malfunction -- so that Kuchma could order the cessation of operations. Nuclear safety is one thing, but losing face is quite another. (Jeremy Bransten, an RFE/RL journalist based in Prague)

"I can't allow you to say that there was a proposal to make Poland have less weight in the votes than Spain. There was a technical mistake that crept into a paper -- just a typing mistake really. The paper was immediately withdrawn and of course we put the figures right.... It's unthinkable that one could have considered we'd handicap Poland vis-a-vis Spain whereas their populations are more or less the same." -- French President Jacques Chirac in the European Parliament on 12 December, responding to the question why France proposed at the EU summit in Nice that Poland be given fewer votes in the EU Council than Spain. Quoted by Reuters.