Prominent Belarus-born journalist Pavel Sheremet died in a car bomb explosion in Kyiv on July 20, Ukrainian officials said during the launch of a massive US-assisted manhunt for the killers.
"The culprits must be punished," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement. At a meeting with security chiefs Poroshenko branded the attack an attempt "to open a second front inside the country" amid a current spike in casualties in clashes between the army and separatists in East Ukraine.
However, colleagues of the 44-year-old journalist said the attack was likely to be related to his work as a journalist working for the Ukrainska Pravda online media outlet and the Vesti radio channel, where he covered such sensitive issues as corruption.
The explosion occurred at 7.45 am while Sheremet was driving in the centre of the Ukrainian capital in a car belonging to the founding editor of Ukrainska Pravda, Olena Prytula, who was not in the vehicle. The Interior Ministry said the explosion was caused by an improvised caseless explosive device equivalent to 400-600 grammes of TNT.
"Will do everything possible together with my colleagues in order to solve the crime," Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko wrote on his official Facebook page.
National police chief Khatia Dekanoidze told journalists that the investigation of Sheremet's death "is a matter of honour" for her. "Sheremet was my good friend. He was the first person to whom I gave an interview," she said at the site of the explosion. "He was a very good journalist, so for me it is a matter of honour."
For the past five years, Sheremet had lived and worked in Kyiv. His recent reporting included blog posts on corruption, and criminality in a battalion of Ukrainian volunteers fighting in the eastern Donbas region. He previously worked in Belarus and Russia as a journalist and television host. Ukrainska Pravda's chief editor Sevgil Musayeva-Borovyk told RFE/RL that Sheremet's death was related to his professional activities, without elaborating.
Sheremet first made a name for himself for his critical reporting about the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. In 1996, he was imprisoned in Belarus for illegally crossing the border with Lithuania while preparing a television story for the Russian television channel ORT. The move of the Belarusian authorities was viewed by the international media organisations as politically-motivated. He also covered the war in Chechnya in 1999-2000.
FBI to join hunt for killers
Poroshenko said during a meeting with heads of Ukraine's law enforcement agencies that he had asked international partners for help, and also discussed the involvement of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The US agency's experts already have unique methods of examining explosives in place at the US Embassy in Kyiv.
Poroshenko added that the investigation "must be fully transparent", his media office said in a statement. "The president also instructed the Foreign Ministry to get in touch with EU partners and invite their experts to join the investigation," the statement added.
An EU statement said such attacks "are unacceptable and a swift and transparent investigation must be carried out to bring those responsible for this crime to justice." The EU "stands alongside the Ukrainian authorities in upholding the freedoms of expression and of the media, and will continue to work to protect journalists in their essential, professional work," the statement added.
The US Embassy in Kyiv described the attack as "unprecedented" and welcomed "the statements by the police and prosecutor general that the circumstances surrounding his murder will be fully investigated and any perpetrators brought to justice". American diplomats are "shocked and saddened," an embassy statement said.
Despite two years of political, economic and military upheaval in Ukraine, serious attacks on journalists outside the war-torn eastern Donbas region are relatively rare. However, in April 2016, Ukrainian opposition journalist Oles Buzina was shot dead in Kyiv by unknown assailants. Buzina was known for his pro-Russian position as chief editor of Segodnya, a daily newspaper linked to oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
The most high-profile killing of a journalist occurred in 2000 when the decapitated body of former Ukrainska Pravda chief Georgiy Gongadze was discovered in a forest by Kyiv. Five years later a parliamentary commission ruled that the kidnapping of the journalist was ordered by former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who denies any involvement.
On July 19, an editor of Forbes Ukraine magazine (an unlicensed version of the US magazine) Maria Rydvan was attacked in Kyiv in an unrelated incident. The journalist was stabbed three times and was seriously wounded in the arm. The National Police branch in Kyiv told Interfax new agency that this information was being verified.
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