Report: Ukraine Investigation "Comes up Empty" One Year After Journalist Pavel Sheremet’s Murder

A special report published Wednesday urges the Ukrainian government to step up its commitment to investigating the July 2016 murder of Pavel Sheremet, a prominent investigative reporter who was killed in Kiev by an improvised explosive device planted under his car.

"Justice Denied: Ukraine Comes up Empty in Probe of Pavel Sheremet’s Murder," by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), recounts Sheremet’s career spanning his native Belarus and Russia and Ukraine, his final days in Kiev, and the frustratingly meager progress made thus far in the nearly one-year-long investigation into his killing.

killingpaveltitlebannerPavel Sheremet (Photo: OCCRP)

Sheremet was killed by a car bomb shortly before 8:00 a.m. on July 20, 2016, while driving to work at Kiev’s Radio Vesti, where he hosted a daily news program.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, in the middle of an intersection about 500 feet south of the apartment he shared with his partner Olena Prytula, while firefighters extinguished the flames that engulfed their Subaru CrossTrek.

Prytula, also a journalist by trade, followed her instincts after hearing the explosion from inside their apartment and started shooting photos before she realized who the victim was.

Despite early promises of a speedy and thorough investigation into Sheremet’s killing from Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, zero suspects have been identified in the case to date, and zero prosecutions have been made.

The new CPJ report breaks down a summary of the investigation – which the organization says has "gone cold" – in a useful infographic based on information provided by the Ukrainian police at a press conference in Kiev on Feb. 8, 2017.

The report also analyzes the three main lines of inquiry being pursued by investigators based on the countries Sheremet primarily covered over the course of his career, and where he had extensive networks of connections – including many enemies.

Investigators believe that the motive for his killing was most likely revenge for his work as a reporter, TV anchor, political commentator and author, much of which was critical of authorities in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Sheremet was also a staunch advocate for justice in the cases of other journalists who were murdered while he was alive, and he was honored by the CPJ with the International Press Freedom Award in 1998.

Now, fellow journalists are picking up the slack of investigators by looking into his killing.

The May 2017 release of a documentary titled "Killing Pavel," a co-production by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the investigative reporting group Slidstvo.Info, produced the most recent breakthrough in the investigation.

The film identified the only person known so far to have been in the vicinity of Sheremet’s apartment before and at the time the bomb was planted on his car: former SBU agent Igor Ustimenko.

The SBU is a successor of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s branch of the KGB, and one of the agencies involved in the Sheremet investigation.

Ustimenko was interviewed only after the release of the documentary, which uncovered security footage that showed him and another person with two vehicles outside of Sheremet and Prytula’s apartment for several hours on the night before Sheremet’s killing.

The footage was not discovered as part of the official investigation, nor was Ustimenko identified as a potential witness or suspect, despite support for the effort from powerful agencies and individuals, including the FBI, the US Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine’s National Police and President Poroshenko, according to the CPJ report.

As of May 15, authorities said they had questioned Ustimenko but declined to share any specifics about what he told investigators.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov claimed at the February press conference that the murder was a "contract killing" ordered by Russia.

However, in dozens of interviews conducted by the CPJ report author Christopher Miller, investigators told him that they have nothing beyond circumstantial evidence to support that theory.

Russia has flatly denied the allegations, dismissing them as "Russophobia."

The CPJ report concludes with a wide array of recommendations both for Ukraine and the international community in the interest of honoring Sheremet’s legacy and bringing his killers to justice.