A young woman's murder has highlighted citizens' lack of faith in Ukraine's justice system. Critics fear the government may cover up the true nature of the killing, drawing parallels with a violent crime four years ago.
The joyful mood ahead of weekend Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Ukraine has been marred. The body of 38-year-old lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska was found in a river outside Kyiv on January 1. A preliminary investigation shows she died from multiple stab wounds around her neck.
Following the murder, hundreds of protesters in front of the Kyiv police station demanded the case be solved quickly and that the interior minister resign. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on Twitter called the incident a "challenge for the state and society's protection of women activists."
The killing sparked outrage in part because media reports described Nozdrovska as being a human rights activist, in addition to working as a lawyer. However, the extent of her involvement in activist causes, outside the murder case of her sister, is unclear. "I did not hear of her being involved in human rights activism," Nozdrovska's lawyer, Vitaly Matselyuk, told DW.
Speculation about the murderer
Nozdrovska's sister died in 2015 after being hit by a car. The driver, the nephew of a local judge, had been driving under the influence of drugs. Matselyuk said the high-profile nature of that case forced the authorities to act. "Without the media, it may have gone nowhere," he said.
What he did not say, but what many Ukrainians think is possible, is that cronyism played a role in the trial, which ultimately handed down a seven-year jail term for the driver — a relatively harsh sentence. An appeal was rejected on December 27, 2017. Two days later, Nozdrovska disappeared. The timing of her death has fueled speculation about the murderer's ties to her sister's murderer. Nozdrovska reportedly received threats from relatives and friends of the convicted driver while working on the case.
Ukraine's justice system — from the police to prosecutors and the courts — has been dogged by accusations of corruption for decades. Opinion surveys show that only 20 percent of the population has faith in law enforcement.
The Ukrainian government has in recent years begun implementing anti-corruption reforms, but such measures are always delayed. Only after increased pressure from opposition politicians and the international community, including the European Union, did President Petro Poroshenko put forth a long awaited bill at the end of December for the establishment of an anti-corruption court.
Critics have drawn parallels between Nozdrovska's murder and another case from the summer of 2013, when two police officers and a taxi driver raped a young woman in the southern Ukrainian village of Vradiivka and then tried to kill her. The victim survived but with severe injuries. At first, only one police officer and the taxi driver were arrested. Hundreds of angry protesters stormed the district police department and demanded the arrest of the second officer, who was detained soon after. Since then, Vradiivka has become a symbol for protests against police crimes and the arbitrariness of the justice system.
A group of activists in Kyiv have now formed a group to monitor the official investigation into Nozdrovska's murder. "It is a matter of honor for all of Ukraine and a litmus test for law enforcement officers," one of the group's members, Lilia Kovalenko, wrote on Facebook.