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Ukrainian Official Charged With Ordering Anticorruption Activist's Killing

Kherson regional council head Vladyslav Manher attends a court hearing in Kyiv on February 12.

KYIV -- A high-ranking regional official suspected of organizing the killing of Ukrainian anticorruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk last year has been arrested.

The Shevchenko district court in Kyiv at about 3 a.m. on February 15 ordered that Vladyslav Manher, head of the regional council in the southern region of Kherson, be held in pretrial detention until March 3 or pay a 2.5 million-hryvnya ($91,000) bail. He has been charged with organizing a contract murder with "special cruelty."

Manher was transferred to a detention center. His lawyers said they would appeal the ruling.

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on February 11 that Manher was a suspect in the high-profile case.

Handzyuk, a 33-year-old civic activist and adviser to the mayor of the Black Sea port city of Kherson, died in November -- three months after she was severely injured in an acid attack.

WATCH: Kateryna Handzyuk died six weeks after making an impassioned video from her hospital bed, in which she listed dozens of attacks on civic activists that police have failed to resolve.

A Ukrainian Activist's Deathbed Plea
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The killing outraged Ukraine, with activists accusing the authorities of failing to complete the investigation or identify the mastermind.

Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko said on February 11 that prosecutors had obtained enough testimony from witnesses about Manher's alleged role in Handzyuk's death, adding that the attackers had received "no less than $4,000."

According to a document posted by Lutsenko on Facebook, Manher felt "personal enmity" toward Handzyuk because of her efforts to expose "illegal deforestation" in the region.

If convicted, the 48-year-old Manher could face up to life in prison.

Manher said earlier this week in a televised interview that he had nothing to do with the deadly attack.

Five suspects, including a police officer, were detained last year on suspicion of involvement in the attack on Handzyuk.

Two of them have been placed in pretrial detention, and the others are under house arrest.

Handzyuk's death came amid a wave of attacks on Ukrainian civic activists. Human rights activists have accused law enforcement agencies of failing to thoroughly investigate the cases and even of possible complicity in some of the attacks.

The United States and the European Union have called the attacks unacceptable and urged the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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