KYIV -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on law enforcement to find those responsible for a suspected arson attack on the home of a prominent anti-corruption activist that has caused deep concern among Western countries.
Vitaliy Shabunin, who serves as the head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, showed reporters on July 23 the remains of his home in the capital, Kyiv, which burned down overnight.
"The culprits must be found and punished," Zelenskiy said in a statement, adding that such attacks "cast a shadow on the reputation of our state, on our institutions of power, and especially on our law enforcement agencies."
No one was injured in the fire, which the anti-corruption organization described as an "assassination attempt" on Shabunin.
Shabunin said his parents, who were in the house at the time, were able to escape unharmed.
A neighbor told Shabunin that he saw an explosion before the home was engulfed in flames. The activist said workers had inspected the gas meter and pipes just two weeks ago.
The police suspect arson and are investigating.
In a statement, the Anti-Corruption Action Center called on Zelenskiy to personally take control of all investigations into attacks on anti-corruption activists, saying that they did not trust the police or Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Activists, journalists, and other individuals that expose corruption often face assaults and threats.
An investigative journalist in Cherkasy in central Ukraine was killed last June, while the nation’s former central banker who had taken on oligarchs had her home burned down in September.
If the fire at Shabunin's home was the result of arson, it would not be the first time that he has been targeted. In 2018, he suffered chemical burns when attackers threw a green antiseptic in his face as he took part in a demonstration outside a prosecutor's office in Kyiv.
Shabunin said such attacks against activists continue under Zelenskiy, who won last year in a landslide on a promise to fight corruption, because the new head of state hasn’t taken any serious steps to thwart them.
“These are the consequences of his silence and inaction,” said Shabunin, referring to his destroyed home.
Shabunin has lobbied for anti-corruption legislation and the recovery of assets stolen by officials.
He said an arson attack would only make him work "even harder” to fight corruption.
The suspected arson attack caused concern among Western diplomats, who have pressured Ukraine to fight corruption and clean up its justice system.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said it was concerned about suspected attacks targeting political and civil society leaders.
“In thriving democracies, citizens must be able to voice opinions without fear for their physical security,” it wrote on Twitter.
Matti Maasikas, the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine, wrote on Twitter that he was “very disturbed” by the suspected attack on Shabunin’s home.
“I call on the authorities to investigate this case and if a deliberate act -- to bring the perpetrators to justice. Civil activists must feel safe to carry on their mission,” Maasikas wrote.