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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 1, 16 January 2001

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team


KUCHMA'S FORMER BODYGUARD INTERVIEWED BY RFE/RL. On 29 December 2000 and 9 January 2001, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service broadcast live interviews with Mykola Melnychenko, a major in the reserve of the Ukrainian Security Service and a former presidential bodyguard, who provoked an enormous political scandal in Ukraine by publicizing the tapes that allegedly prove President Leonid Kuchma's complicity in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 and 19 December 2000). On both occasions, Melnychenko contacted the Praguebased studio of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service of his own choice and spoke by telephone in the live program called "Vechirnya Svoboda" (Evening Radio Liberty). Following are excerpts of the interviews with Melnychenko translated from the transcriptions that were published in the Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" ( and at the RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service Internet site (

Question: You said a lot during your meeting with the deputies (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 December 2000). What would you like to add about the main issues?

Answer: If this information [ed. note: taped secretly by Melnychenko in Kuchma's office] had not been publicized, in six months' time one would have to give up for lost democracy [as well as] human freedoms and rights in Ukraine. There were plans in the president's entourage to destroy Ukraine's Supreme Court and other bodies that did not comply with the president's wishes and whims.

  1. As to my near future -- I am coming back to Ukraine under any circumstances. I think this will happen very soon even if I'm sure that power structures [Ukrainian: sylovi struktury] will do everything possible to prevent me from coming back alive. And I'm sure that the people of Ukraine will overcome this evil and will come out of this situation with dignity.
  2. A version appeared in some circles in Ukraine that Yevhen Marchuk is involved in all this [tape scandal]. Can you deny this?
  3. I want to tell you that Yevhen Kyrylovych [Marchuk] is one of the, or more properly, his organization is the most decent among those in Ukraine. I mean the Council of National Security and Defense.
  4. People are assessing your deed ambiguously. Some consider you a brave man, a hero, and think you can be a model for many people. Other people -- and there are a lot of them -- consider you literally a traitor not only to the president, to whom you did not swear an oath. They think you betrayed officers' honor and even that of Ukraine because you have provoked a scandal that does not contribute to Ukraine's prestige. How can you respond to those people?
  5. I am considered to be a traitor by those people who are involved in crimes. I have in mind many power ministers, governors, and the president's entourage. I "betrayed" because I know where the people's money was transferred -- billions of dollars. I betrayed the president's interests while he was laundering [money], giving instructions how to build his dachas for four million, for seven million. I betrayed [his] interests. But there are also the interests of the people who work in factories and plants that the president ordered shut down only because of his political ambitions. For instance, there is an oil refinery in Kherson, and the "Interagro" firm in Kharkiv. The president of Ukraine, for example, calls [State Tax Administration head Mykola] Azarov and says: stifle him because he works not for us but for another person. The stifling begins, jobs are destroyed, taxes not paid. So, whom did I betray?
  6. [Journalists speculate] that there are some oligarchs behind this affair who want to discredit Leonid Kuchma in order to take all the power in their hands in a way that could appear legal at first sight. The names of [oligarch and lawmaker Hryhoriy] Surkis and [parliamentary deputy speaker Viktor] Medvedchuk are mentioned [in this context]. What can you say in this regard?
  7. This is absurd. The idea that Surkis and Medvedchuk could give an instruction [to secretly tape Kuchma] is absurd. As far as I know, both Surkis and Medvedchuk are not interested in Kuchma's exit.
  8. In any case, democracy will win. The president will no longer be able to order the closure of, for instance, "Silski visti," the "Polityka i kultura" magazine, "Grani," or "Zerkalo nedeli"....And I'm convinced that those sums that were stolen -- I can show from where they were taken and to whom and for what purpose were transferred -- should return to Ukraine, at least part of them.
  9. Do you have any information about the accounts into which some Ukrainian citizens deposit their money?
  10. I won't answer this question. I can only say that I have information about many millions that were illegally taken from some firms, and that the president of Ukraine knows about that. Incidentally, [that was done] on his instruction.
  11. This is on microcassettes, on chips. And there is also information that the illegal business is being continued. I can say that Kuchma is very afraid that some facts connected with [former Premier Pavlo] Lazarenko may be revealed.
  12. There are facts. Prosecutor-General [Mykhaylo] Potebenko can tell you about them in a more detailed manner. There was a conversation between Potebenko and Kuchma. Potebenko took fright when there was a large probability that Lazarenko could be extradited to Ukraine [from the U.S.]. You can ask him [Potebenko]. [I know] the day and hour when he spoke about this. These facts are documented, as well as other facts regarding [Premier Viktor] Yushchenko, Kostenko, and the eavesdropping on Marchuk, there is everything.
  13. One time in Russian. And the second time he said "znyshchyty" [Ukrainian: to destroy].
  14. What could you respond to Mr. Bezsmertnyy [Kuchma's official representatives in the parliament] who says that he knows well the sofa under which your dictaphone was planted, [adding that] its it impossible to place or hide anything under [that sofa]?
  15. This incident [with Gongadze] ultimately exhausted my patience. I can't say the president attached great importance to Heorhiy, but he paid attention [to him] more than once. Those journalists who praise the president around the clock are automatically included in his favorites. But Kuchma, in my opinion, is not a courageous man. He fears journalists who criticize him. His favorites are given financial support. As for the newspaper "Den," which remained hostile to him during the [presidential election] campaign, he ordered more than once to halt the subscription for it. Horror! He personally fights against people. Not only against journalists, I can mention dozens of people who, following Kuchma's instruction, were fired from the army, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Prosecutor-General's Office....

The 9 January interview
(There was a link between the studios of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in Prague and Kyiv during Melnychenko's interview. The Kyiv studio hosted lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy and independent journalist Iryna Pohorelova during the program. The program was moderated by Oleksa Boyarko in Prague.)

Boyarko: Mr. Melnychenko, 10 days ago you touched upon last spring's plan in the Ukrainian president's office "to destroy Viktor Yushchenko," according to Leonid Kuchma's words you quoted. This passage has stirred particular interest in the Ukrainian media, and not only in the media. What else can you say about how the premier's lot was discussed in the presidential office?

Melnychenko: There were different names, one of the most... Azarov. The head of Ukraine's Tax Administration.

Boyarko: Mr. Melnychenko, the first tape, which was made public by Oleksandr Moroz, mentions Radio Liberty. The point is that the situation around Radio Liberty is rather strange. Over a long time, we have been noticing the activity of special services around Radio Liberty. It is not connected only with the fact that you, Mr. Melnychenko, contacted us, it started earlier. Special services seek direct contacts with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service employees. As people say, [the secret service] "sounded out" Service Director Roman Kupchynskyy in the first place. A special service representative came to Prague for a "heart-to-heart" talk and openly said that the service is rather disliked by the presidential administration and personally the president. And he warned [Kupchynskyy] that unless the tone of our programs changes, "softens," those at the top will make every effort to drive Radio Liberty out of Ukraine's broadcasting sphere... Mr. Melnychenko, you have touched upon this issue, [haven't you]?

Melnychenko: The president phones the committee responsible for frequencies and says: "Who is responsible for frequencies in your [committee]? This committee... Tell me, how much do the BBC and Radio Liberty pay for using our frequencies compared to world [prices]? Prepare me an official memo. We need to bring pressure on them [expletives], don't we?" These were President Kuchma's words.

Pohorelova: ...[Some believe] that following your [29 December] interview with Radio Liberty, or even before it, you were found by representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine and they set some conditions for you, and you complied with them. But later you changed your mind and had the interview with Radio Liberty, and therefore a criminal case was opened against you [for slander]. Can you explain your reasons [for publicizing the tapes] in a detailed way? There is a comment in "Zerkalo nedeli" that you left [Ukraine] because of family circumstances...your child's illness. And that [this disease] is allegedly the reason for your step that you made against the state for money. ...Everybody in Ukraine wants to know who is behind you...

Melnychenko: I understood your question. My choice was prompted by my conscience. There are no political forces or oligarchs behind me. Why was a criminal case opened after the interview with Radio Liberty? I have not had any particular contacts with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), but I have information that many people have been sent and large sums allocated to find and prevent me from entering Ukraine. Following that interview where I said "yes, I'm coming back to Ukraine," and some time frames were determined, a criminal case was opened to prevent me from coming and becoming a witness.

Boyarko: Mr. Holovatyy, do you support Mykola Melnychenko's intention to come back to Ukraine in the near future? Will this [return] produce any results, and is it realistic?

Holovatyy: I would not like Melnychenko to come back to Ukraine right now, because there is a system in Ukraine for destroying people who tell the truth. Melnychenko belongs to those who made public the truth about Kuchma, [Interior Minister Yuriy] Kravchenko, [SBU chief Leonid] Derkach, and other criminals, about [Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo] Potebenko, who is a collaborator in crimes in Ukraine. Therefore, after Melnychenko appears in Ukraine, they will put him into a solitary confinement cell, break his limbs, put out his eyes, or skin him, as they skinned the body they found near Tarashcha [ed. note: according to genetic tests, Gongadze's body with a probability of 99.6 percent]...

Boyarko: We tried to contact politicians in the Verkhovna Rada who are [Kuchma's] supporters. ...Our correspondent Mayya Nahornyak spoke with Kateryna Vashchuk, a representative of the pro-presidential caucus "Revival of Regions."

[Ed. note: In a statement sent to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Taras Chornovil confirmed that he discussed the above-mentioned issues with Kuchma in the latter's office.]

Melnychenko: Yes, I have. I can also prove that this [case] was fabricated to make Yushchenko do what Kuchma needs. This is a peculiar sort of blackmail and pressure on Yushchenko. There are recordings [documenting] how that was being handled, worked out, and why that was done...

Boyarko: Excuse me, Mr. Melnychenko, but don't you have Kuchma's conversations with Putin?

"I can't live any longer in this country, my patience has been exhausted." -- Ukrainian lawmaker and former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy, announcing his intention to emigrate from Ukraine. Quoted by Interfax on 11 January.

"We are nearing a period of repression, and as soon as Leonid Kuchma extricates himself from this story [the tape scandal], life will become nasty for all of us." -- Ukrainian journalist Tetyana Korobova, who writes for the opposition newspaper "Grani." Quoted by Interfax on 11 January.

"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources, including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

...AS 'ZERO OPTION' DEBATE CONTINUES. Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 16 January that by relinquishing any further claim on the assets of the former USSR, as the IMF has urged it to do, Georgia would gain the possibility of having its energy debts to Russia written off, according to Caucasus Press. Moscow has offered the so-called "zero option," whereby Georgia abandons its claims on Soviet assets in return for the restructuring of its debts to Russia. Arsenishvili called on the Georgian parliament to ratify the "zero option." Meanwhile, on 12 January, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze denied that Ukraine, which like Georgia has not yet relinquished its claim on a share of Soviet assets, had asked the Georgian leadership not to ratify the "zero option." Parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili had said on 11 January that the Ukrainian embassy in Tbilisi had made such a request to the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). LF

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER INDICTED FOR GAS SMUGGLING, TAX EVASION. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 15 January formally charged Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko for smuggling Russian gas out of Ukraine with the use of forged documents and for evading taxes. The charges relate to the period in 1996-97 when Tymoshenko headed the Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine. Prosecutors placed travel restrictions on Tymoshenko, preventing her from leaving Kyiv without permission. They linked Tymoshenko's case with that of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who is accused of large-scale theft and moneylaundering. "This is a political reprisal," Tymoshenko commented on the charges, adding that they are "a part of the plans of those clans who want to limit my actions aimed at establishing order in Ukraine," Interfax reported. She said she has sued Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko because "he is breaking the law and practically destroying people by decree." JM

UKRAINIAN PICKETERS WANT GERMAN CHANCELLOR TO CANCEL MEETING WITH KUCHMA. Some 60 people on 15 January picketed the German embassy in Kyiv demanding that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cancel his meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during the latter's trip to Germany scheduled for later this week, Interfax reported. "We appeal to you [Schroeder] -- cancel Kuchma's trip, show that there is no place in Europe for leaders who could not deny horrible accusations of their complicity in murders, terror, and attempts to restore totalitarianism," the civic committee Ukraine Without Kuchma said in a statement handed over to the embassy's charge d'affaires. JM

UKRAINE'S SECURITY SERVICE DENIES PRESSURE ON RFE/RL JOURNALISTS. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has denied that their employees are pressuring Radio Liberty journalists in order to influence the RFE/RL coverage of developments in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 15 January. The SBU's denial seems to be in response to RFE/RL President Thomas Dine's recent statement on the SBU's activities vis-a-vis RFE/RL. "In recent days, people claiming to be Ukrainian intelligence officers have approached members of our Ukrainian Service and threatened reprisals against them and those who rebroadcast our programming in Ukraine if the service does not modify its coverage of Ukrainian political developments," Dine said. JM