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Latest attack on police watchdog seen as attempt to exterminate group

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Dec. 22, 2013, 3:18 p.m. | Kyiv — by Mark Rachkevych

About 11 p.m. on Dec. 21, Road Control activist Volodymyr Maralov was shot and wounded and his car set on fire, according to the watchdog organization that monitors the work of traffic police.
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Mark Rachkevych

Mark has been a reporter for the Kyiv Post since 2006, but joined full-time in 2009. A native Chicagoan where he was the co-founder of the now defunct Glasshouse Magazine, Mark currently is an editor of business news and still contributes stories on an ongoing basis. He is a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, a graduate of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, and fluent in the Ukrainian and Russian languages.

Road Control, a civic watchdog that exposes corruption among the nation's road police, is under attack. One member of the group was shot and wounded late on Dec. 21 after being attacked by two assailants. It was only the latest incident in what the group says is part of an orchestrated effort to eliminate the organization. 

Volodymyr Maralov, a member of Road Control, was shot with a Makarov pistol at approximately 11 p.m. on Dec. 21 on Shevchenko Square in Kyiv. The bullet lodged six centimeters inside his body. It was successfully removed in an operation and he was released from a hospital on Dec. 22.

After Maralov was shot, the assailants burned his car, the group’s website says.

Kyiv police spokesperson Olha Bilyk said the incident is being investigated for hooliganism and property damage, adding that “every possible motive is being considered, even one that relates to the group’s professional activity” of monitoring and investigating alleged traffic police violations.

Three young men inside a vehicle blocked Maralov’s car after which two emerged and pulled him 20 meters onto the street, the group’s website says. They demanded he tell them the whereabouts of a colleague who in November received political asylum in the U.S. They also asked him where another colleague, who currently is in police custody, stores a memory stick and equipment that allegedly has evidence of traffic police infractions.

During the scuffle, Maralov shot one of the assailants with a traumatic pistol that contained rubber bullets. However, they disarmed Maralov, interrogated and shot him before setting his vehicle on fire, according to Yehor Vorobyov, the group’s press officer.

Earlier this month, Road Control journalist Andriy Dzyndzya and his lawyer Viktor Smaliy were remanded in custody for two months on questionable charges, said Halya Coynash, a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

Dzyndzya is accused of stealing keys to a front-end loader that was used on Dec. 1 by activists with no clear group or party affiliation to confront riot police in front of the Presidential Administration on Bankova Street. His lawyer, Smaliy, is accused of attacking a judge.

Road Control spokesperson Vorobyov told the Kyiv Post the accusations are groundless and they are innocent.

When Dzyndzya was arrested on Dec. 8, the group’s founder Rostislav Shaposhnikov fled to Poland fearing his arrest.

“These actions (against Road Control members) are directly related to our police monitoring activity,” said Vorobyov accusing the police of being behind the incidents.  “These are not random events.”

Police have denied the group’s allegations.

Road control activists, from left, Alexei Honcharuk, Andriy Dzyndzya and Volodymyr Maralov. Maralov was shot and wounded on Dec. 21 and his car set on fire. Dzyndzya has been held on what many think are dubious charges. Other activists involved in the group, which exposes road police corruption, have been attacked.

Then on Dec. 16, two men severely beat Svitlana Malytska – another journalist affiliated with the group – inside an elevator of the residential building where she lives.

U.S. authorities in November granted Road Control journalist Andriy Zhukovyen political asylum finding that the Ukrainian Interior Ministry organized deliberate actions against the group for political motives. While in the U.S. in February, Zhukovyen learned that “questionable” charges had been brought against him in Ukraine and did not return, opting instead to apply for asylum.

Vorobyov told the Kyiv Post that group founder Shapashnikov plans to remain in Poland for fear of prosecution. He is under the care of the Polish Union of Journalists.

Constant thorn on side of police

Road Control has long annoyed law enforcement bodies.  Founded more than five years ago, Vorobyov said the group started to be pressured once it started investigating alleged illegal business activity by the traffic police related to car lots to where vehicles are impounded.

According to the Helsinki human rights group, over the last two years its journalists have faced attacks and dodgy criminal proceedings.

“The events over the last two weeks look worryingly like an all-out offensive against the civic organization by those whose confidence in their own impunity makes them a danger to the public,” reads a Helsinki group statement.

In March 2012, according to Vorobyov, Shaposhnikov was driven to a forest by four assailants and threatened with his life. He was brutally beaten and was often choked during the attack.

Kyiv Post editor Mark Rachkevych can be reached at m.rachkevych@kyivpost.com.

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