The case of Oksana Makar
Extract from a book titled Kill the Dragon. Ukrainian Revolutions (Czarne 2016, in Press). Originally in Polish, translated by the author.
In 2012, Ukraine was shocked by a series of senseless crimes:
– The bodies of a 50-year-old judge, his wife, their 30-year-old son and daughter-in-law were found in an apartment in the centre of Kharkiv. Unidentified perpetrators took with them the victims’ heads.
– Two debt collectors from Poltava with a criminal record opened fire on random patrons in an Odessa nightclub with a Kalashnikov rifle. There were two victims.
– A young man caught stealing a battery charger and socks shot three security officers dead and seriously wounded a fourth one in one of Kyiv’s supermarkets.
– A 4-year-old girl died due to a massive head injury in Sevastopol. The perpetrators of the fatal battery were five children ages several to eleven. They were jealous of their new peer who was being taken care of by their mother.
– A naked 25-year-old girl with lacerations on her head and legs was found in Kamianka near Simferopol. The victim was battered, raped and then dogs were set on her. The dying woman begged for help all night but the village’s residents were afraid to call the police.
– A 50-year-old businessman from Zaporozhe, father of the local prosecutor, executed two young menwho refused to get off the road while he was driving his car.
However, the most famous case was the murder of Oksana Makar from Mykolaiv.
A half-burned girl was lying in the basement of a ruined hospital in Mykolaiv. She was conscious. The investigating officers soon established the following: “an 18-year-old resident of Mykolaiv oblast met two young men at a bar. They got her drunk and then lured her to the home of a third man where they sexually abused her. One of the perpetrators began strangling the victim. Then all three of them carried her to an abandoned building. There, they set her on fire in order to cover their tracks”. The video with the interrogation of Yevgeny Krasnoshchok appeared on the Internet. The 23-year-old dispassionately described in a voice devoid of emotion how he raped and strangled the girl he met by accident, first with his hands and then with a cord. Oksana Makar died from the sustained wounds. The news of the girl who was burned alive spread like wildfire.
The police arrested only one of the alleged perpetrators. The town was agog with gossip: the attackers would not be held accountable for their deed because they were sons of high-ranking officials. Children of rich and influential parents are called mazhors in Ukraine. They were above the law for years. The residents of Mykolaiv, outraged by the cruelty of the crime, took to the streets.
“Your daughter could be next!”
“They kill us on the roads and now they set us on fire!”
“These three beasts don’t have the right to walk the earth!” angry people said in front of the cameras.
The authorities got scared by the spontaneous protests. President Yanukovych gave his assurance that “the rapists and maniacs will receive a fair sentence”.
Yevgeny Krasnoshchok was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Oksana Makar. Maxim Prisyazhnyuk got 15 years and Artem Pogasyan 14. Mykola Katerynchuk, a politician and leader of the European Party of Ukraine, announced on behalf of the girl’s mother that an appeal would be lodged. “We will not rest until all three criminals receive the most severe punishment possible” he said. “Mazhors are going to be fags” a recidivist “Electritschka” promised on 1+1 television.
Thousands of people supported Oksana Makar’s mother after the tragedy. Millions of hryvnia were transferred to her account. However, the general compassion began to change into hate. I came to Mykolaiv in order to find out why this happened.
In 2003, 9-year-old Oksana Makar was brought to a boarding school in Shirokolanovka, 50 kilometres away from Mykolaiv.
M. was her tutor:
“In the summer of 2004, Oksana’s mother was released from prison and she took her daughter on vacation. A 50-year-old man, who claimed to be the mother’s friend, came to visit in autumn and wanted to take the girl away for the weekend. He gave Oksana a gift as he was leaving. There was lingerie in the box, the type one would expect to get from a sex shop. The girl reacted in a flash: ‘That’s for my mom’, she said. ‘XS?’ I asked. I informed the principal’s office about this; what else could I do? Oksana ran away from school in January of 2005. One month later, the police precinct in Gluchovo called; it was 600 kilometres away, northeast from Shirokolanovka. I went to get her. She cried that she had run away because of her mother and uncle Vova. He was abusing her sexually. She met him in the summer while she was selling apples at the promenade in Mykolaiv. He lured her into his home. When her mother found out about this, she decided to blackmail the man. She told Oksana to move into his home and in return the man gave her money regularly. The child didn’t even remember her first time; she was more or less 5 years old when her mother’s brother took her for the first time. I was in shock after that confession. The 11-year-old was telling me she enjoys kissing men on their genitals. And the way she was bragging about doing it orally and anally, without any shame. The principal called the police and the girl’s mother. She screamed that we were whores and thieves; she was eager for a fight. In the end, she brought a medical certificate which stated her daughter was a virgin. Soon after Oksana ran away again and she did not come back to us. The case against ‘Uncle Vova’ was closed. And suddenly, I heard about Oksana again in March of 2012. She was found in the region where my son serves in the police. Fortunately, he was not on duty at the time, otherwise he would have to drag her out of the basement. It’s a shame about the girl. On the other hand, when I think that even as an 11-year-old she had some magnetism, how she drew men to her… anyone could have been there instead of those boys. And what if my 28-year-old son had met her in a bar?”
A decaying multi-family house with an asbestos roof. A bony woman goes out with a plastic bag full of documents. We sit down on a bench under a tree. Larisa Pogasyan apologises for not inviting me inside her home. Ever since her son, Artem, was taken away, she does not have the strength to clean. She shows me her husband’s diploma from school. – He graduated from the geodetic technical school in Moscow, he worked in the Yamal Peninsula, he had Russian citizenship, he couldn’t have been Mykolaiv’s district attorney. Do you believe me?
Back then, in March, nobody wanted to believe Larisa. “Our addresses were revealed on the Internet” she remembers. “People called for mazhor families to be dealt with. We got anonymous threats.”
Perpetrators’ families became a target. Tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote that mazhor Maxim was trying to woo the girl from Luch for a year. When she turned him down, he planned a cruel revenge together with his friends.
“What friends? Artem didn’t even know those two.” Larisa nods her head. “His friend Sergiy came to the meeting at a bar with Yevgeny Krasnoshchok. My son, like a complete fool, stayed with a boy he didn’t know. He explained to me later that it didn’t matter to him who he was drinking with. He wanted to forget about his father’s death. Oksana Makar sat down next to them at ’The Little Fish’ bar. She asked them to buy her vodka. Krasnoshchok wanted to drive her away but Artem told her to stay. ’She was so happy and amusing’ he told me later. ’It was easier to forget about mourning with her around than with the grim Krasnoshchok’. She felt sick from vodka at Maxim’s; she lay down in the room. The boys were drinking in the kitchen. Yevgeny and Maxim went to her for sex. Artem didn’t hear any screams. My son was also alone with her but they only talked. He told her about his father’s death. Expert opinion confirmed his statements.”
Larisa takes another document out of her bag. “Artem’s semen was not found in her or on the bed. Krasnoshchok admitted that he was the one who raped and strangled the girl. My son was sentenced to 14 years in prison for a murder and rape he didn’t commit. He did wrong, I am not saying anything else; he should have stopped the murderer. He was afraid. Krasnoshchok wanted to eliminate him too. He helped carry out the body. He didn’t go into the basement; he doesn’t know what had happened there. He was dazed from the alcohol. People asked him afterwards why he didn’t go to the police. And who in our country would go voluntarily? I told him myself: ’Give police precincts a wide berth; you may not leave them on your own two feet’. My friend was beaten by policemen to death. The appeal didn’t do anything. Where am I supposed to look for justice?”
“The case is famous all around the country, the court case is under close scrutiny of journalists, politicians, foreign guests, heavy sentences and what did the court do? They couldn’t even answer the key question: how did Oksana Makar sustain such gruesome burns? The necessary expert opinion wasn’t even commissioned!” Anton Dolhov, a lawyer, said angrily. “And that was the main point of the prosecution: the perpetrators carried the victim into an abandoned building and with cold blood set her on fire. They were sentenced for murder with exceptional cruelty. According to the investigators, they threw a burning pillow-case on naked Makar on purpose. But a piece of cloth couldn’t burn for several hours with cold temperatures which could damage bones. The fireman who was called in as a witness said he didn’t know where the fire had come from. In my opinion, it could have been like this: Krasnoshchok put the presumably dead girl’s body on the floor. He set the bed linen with traces of sperm on fire and tossed it aside. It was bad luck that fragments of roofing which fell were lying there and caught fire from the linen. Unconscious Makar was lying in the cold. Without regaining consciousness, she crawled to the source of heat which is attested to by the distribution of the burns on her back and feet (she was lying with legs tucked under her). And that’s a completely different crime: causing death and not murder with exceptional cruelty. I was Maxim Prisyazhnyuk’s lawyer. He was a passive 24-year-old devoid of initiative. People like him go inertly with the flow. No aims, no perspectives. Is a person like that capable of murder with exceptional cruelty? In my opinion – no. Artem Pogasyan as well. His sentence is a farce: expert opinion clearly states he did not have an intercourse with Makar. If the rape hadn’t happened, the motive for the murder disappears (Krasnoshchok was strangling the victim out of fear that she would report him to the police). The court wasn’t interested in arriving at the truth. The court had to put out its own fire to calm down furious people and superiors in Kyiv. Prosecutors and judges have positions for which they are paid in American currency and they are prepared to do anything in order to keep them. The mob passed the sentence in this case.”
International Women’s Day
While Oksana Makar was sitting down next to two strangers at “The Little Fish” bar, several blocks away 19-year-old Sasha Popova left home with a friend in order to celebrate International Women’s Day.
While Oksana was being strangled with a cord, a stranger was kicking Sasha’s head, stood on her neck with a heavy boot, took off her trousers and underpants, and left her like that on the street. The wife of the attacker who was with him did not try to intervene.
Alla Gudz, a 40-year-old with a tired look in her eyes, is Sasha’s mother. She said “A strange girl in a bar asked my daughter to go and get her handbag. She was having a drink with her lover but his wife caught them while they were leaving. The two were arguing on the street near the park. Sasha approached the couple. She can’t remember what happened later. A police patrol found her in the bushes. She was in a coma for three months. Skull fractured in two places, punctured lungs, one leg pulled out of its socket. She was a beautiful girl, she worked at a supermarket, and now she is learning how to walk again; she can barely speak. And her head hurts constantly. The doctors say she will never be able to work again. It was a young boy, 22 years old; he beat his wife regularly and also hit his mistress. He lived nearby; we knew him by sight.”
“‘Burned alive’ was a magical phrase capable of moving millions and, even though there were many famous crimes in 2012, Oksana was without doubt number one. Our video of a burned effigy in front of the district prosecutor’s office was shown by every TV station. It was a bull’s-eye” Andrij, a journalist from Mykolaiv, said happily.
Two fictionalised novels were written about the tragedy of Oksana Makar; a movie was also planned. The celebrated case drew guests from other parts of Europe. Reiko Opitz, a German who pretended to be a philanthropist, turned out to be a fraud implicated in the embezzlement of money collected to save the burned girl.
Olena Kabashna from the Ukrainian Helsinki group said “The case of Oksana Makar was subject to manipulation from the very beginning. It is true that the rich are above the law and the Ukrainian people have suffered their impunity for far too long. But when they finally took to the streets, it turned out that the perpetrators are not mazhors. Untrue information was repeated in the media consciously. The residents of Mykolaiv took it up eagerly. It was easier for the people to hate the criminal ‘them’, the spoiled children of influential parents, than realise what had happened was a result of the whole society’s illness. The senseless cruelty of Yevgeny Krasnoshchok being beaten in childhood, the passive submission to the crime of the remaining two perpetrators, the pathology of Oksana’s mother who profited from prostituting her daughter and later profited from her death (until today, she has not settled the money devoted to saving the burned girl), the media’s thirst for news, politicians with mercenary interests and their PR done thanks to the corpses, and finally alcoholism (both the victims and the perpetrators were blind drunk); this is our everyday life. Collective aggression, anger and frustration have been accumulating in Ukraine for years and from time to time they erupt into cruel crimes. Because we do not mean anything in our country; because the authorities do what they want to us; because the only law is the law of the jungle. It is horrifying to think where it will all end” said the human rights organisation representative.
It was July of 2013; in less than a year, the war in Donbas begun.
Katarzyna Kwiatkowska-Moskalewicz is a Polish journalist specialising in the post-Soviet space. She recently published a book titled Kill the dragon. Ukrainian revolutions (Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2016).