The recent murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in Chernihiv has stunned the U.S. agency's employees and volunteers in Ukraine.
Victor Verloo, a Belgian-American who resided in Sacramento, California, was found dead in his Chernihiv apartment on Sept. 14 after an apparent robbery attempt.
An extensive manhunt was underway in Chernihiv as police scoured for evidence of Verloo's killer. According to news reports, police detained two women in connection with the murder and said they were looking for a 33-year-old man with a record of extortion and robbery whom they believed to be the killer.
Ukrainian Police Spokesman Viktor Kryvyrotko told Reuters that police knew the identity of the man and said that 'we hope to detain him in the near future.'
U.S. Ambassador Steven Pifer promised that the American Embassy would work closely with Ukrainian authorities to find Verloo's killers.
'I am saddened by this senseless death,' Pifer said in a statement. 'The U.S. Embassy is working with Ukrainian authorities to bring justice in this case.'
News of Verloo's death was not made public until Friday, Sept. 18. The Chernihiv branch of the Interior Ministry would not reveal further details of the investigation.
Jaroslav Dutkewych, the Peace Corps' country director for Ukraine, left the country on Friday to accompany Verloo's remains to the United States. On Saturday, the Peace Corps held a private memorial service for Verloo in Kyiv, and saddened volunteers sent condolences to his family with photographs and memorabilia from his term of service.
'Victor brought with him a wealth of experience to the Peace Corps,' Mark Gearan, the Peace Corps' top official, said in a statement. 'He approached his role as volunteer with enthusiasm and a desire to bring real expertise to the people in Ukraine. Our thoughts and prayer go out to his family, and we pledge to do all we can to help authorities bring his killers to justice.'
Born in Belgium, 64-year-old Verloo volunteered for the Peace Corps after a career with the California Department of Transportation's aeronautics division. He held a master's degree in business administration from California State University and was a veteran of the Royal Belgian Air Force. He was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer in February 1998.
In a separate statement, Dutkewych said Verloo was popular with Peace Corps staff, fellow volunteers and with Ukrainians who knew him in Chernihiv, where he served as a business development adviser.
'His goal was to assist in improving the quality of life of the Ukrainian people and to leave a lasting and favorable impression of Americans,' Dutkewych said. 'Ukrainians with whom he worked will remember him as exemplifying the finest spirit of Peace Corps service.'
At Peace Corps' office in Kyiv on Friday, the mood was somber as volunteers expressed shock and disbelief at Verloo's death. A portrait of Verloo, framed with flowers, greeted visitors at the reception desk.
Jodi Simek, a volunteer who underwent language training together with Verloo, remembered him as a quiet and polite man. 'It's shocking that it would be him,' Simek said. 'He would never be one to cause conflict.'
Simek recalled that Verloo liked to show family snapshots to other volunteers. 'He always spoke so highly of his family and children,' she said. 'And, for volunteers, he was very much a team player.'
Several Peace Corps workers told the Post they were undeterred by fears of violence. 'As far as personal safety goes, I think less about it here than I do at home,' said Tim O'Brien, a volunteer based in Poltava Oblast. 'But, unfortunately, tragedy can happen anywhere.'
'Part of the shock is a reminder of how much we can stand out in our community,' O'Brien added. 'Chernihiv and Poltava are cities of comparable size … I think volunteers there will be more watchful in the future.'
However, he said he personally had never felt threatened during his three year stay in Ukraine.
Frank Yanichek, associate director of the Peace Corps in Ukraine, told the Post said safety of volunteers is 'our primary concern.' He said most fatalities that occur during Peace Corps service are the result of automobile accidents, not violent crime.
Over 170 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in Ukraine, the largest mission in any country. Prior to Verloo's murder, there had been no fatal incidents involving Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine. According to Yanichek, this is the third violent death of a Peace Corps volunteer in the world this year.
Verloo is survived by two children, Steven Verloo of Tualatin, Oregon, and Monique Verloo of Rome, Italy; his mother, Anna Maria Marien of Mortsel, Belgium; his former wife, Nona Verloo of Fair Oaks, California; and two grandchildren.