Exiled Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov, 45, was assassinated in front of Kyiv’s Premier Palace Hotel on March 23, the police said, in a gruesome shootout on a busy street corner in the center in Kyiv at approximately 11:30 a.m. President Petro Poroshenko denounced the killing as an “act of state terrorism” by Russia against a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Voronenkov, a former member of Russian Communist Party, emigrated to Ukraine from Russia in 2016 and received Ukrainian citizenship in December. He was highly critical of the Russian authorities, who launched a fraud investigation against him after his criticism.
In January, Voronenkov testified against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, deposed by the EuroMaidan Revolution in 2013-2014, in Kyiv.
Voronenkov was shot twice in the head after he left the Premier Palace Hotel on the corner of Taras Shevchenko Boulevard and Pushkinska Street.
The alleged attacker also wounded Voronenkov’s state-appointed bodyguard, who fired shots at the assailant. Both the attacker and the bodyguard were taken to hospital, the police said., where Voronenkov’s assailant died later of his gunshot wounds. Various eyewitnesses said they had heard from six to 12 gunshots. A gun was found lying next to Voronenkov’s head.
The alleged attacker was lying on the ground a few meters away from Voronenkov, face down and appearing lifeless. He was wearing a gray sweatsuit and gloves.
The investigation’s main theory is that the assassination was ordered from Russia, Larysa Sargan, a spokeswoman for Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, told Channel 112.
Lutsenko said Voronenkov was killed on the spot after being hit by four bullets: two to his face and also to his neck and stomach. The killer suffered fatal wounds in the head and chest, according to doctors.
Voronenkov’s bodyguard was shot near the heart but he is conscious and is currently helping investigators, Lutsenko said. This bodyguard was assigned to Voronenkov by Ukraine’s security services.
A former member of the Russian parliament, Denis Voronenkov, was shot dead in the heart of Kyiv, on the corner of Shevchenko and Pushkin streets, on March 23. Voronenkov fled to Ukraine in 2016.
Around 20 empty bullet casings were found at the scene of the shooting.
Artem Shevchenko, a police spokesman, said the killer most likely had accomplices. When he was attacked, Voronenkov was heading up away from Khreshchatyk Street along Tarasa Shevchenka Boulevard, while the attacker was waiting for him at the crossroads of the boulevard with Pushkinska Street.
Lutsenko said the killer had arrived at the scene in a Daewoo automobile. “We are currently checking its movements,” he said.
Voronenkov was going to a meeting with another exiled Russian lawmaker, Ilya Ponomarev, when he was attacked. “He was heading to a meeting with me. I have no words,” Ponomarev tweeted shortly after news of Voronenkov’s killing broke. Later Ponomarev said at a press conference that Voronenkov was planning to investigate cases of corruption and money laundering in Russian law enforcement bodies.
“Denis was a valuable gain for Ukraine. He really knew a lot about the most vulnerable element of Putin’s authority – their financial flows,” he added.
Voronenkov leaves a wife and three children. The youngest child is less than a year old.
Poroshenko in a statement about the murder pointed the finger of blame at Russia’s special services.
“The despicable murder of Denis Voronenkov in the center of Kyiv is an act of state terrorism by Russia, (a country) he was forced to leave for political reasons. Russia’s special services were involved in it,” Poroshenko’s statement reads. “Voronenkov was one of the main witnesses of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the role of (ex-Ukrainian President Viktor) Yanukovych in bringing troops to Ukraine.” Poroshenko’s claim was backed by Lutsenko, who called the murder “a typical public execution by the Kremlin.”
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called such statements absurd. “We think that any speculation about so-called ‘Russian fingerprints’ are absurd. We hope that the murderer and those behind him will be found,” Peskov told the Russian media.
Testimony against Yanukovych, charges in Russia
Voronenkov and his wife, Maria Maksakova, who is also a former Russian lawmaker, left Russia for Ukraine in October after Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against him concerning his alleged involvement in an illegal property seizure in Moscow in 2015.
Voronenkov said that in January he testified in the case against Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president from 2010 to 2014, who is under investigation by the Ukrainian authorities for high treason and encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine in 2014. Yanukovych is also suspected of multibillion-dollar embezzlement and mass murder.
In February, Russian authorities launched an investigation into large-scale fraud against Voronenkov. The charges followed the publication of an interview with Voronenkov in the Ukrainian media outlet Censor.net.ua, in which he was highly critical of Russian authorities. In the interview, he said that Russia was in the grip of a “pseudo-patriotic frenzy” similar to Nazi Germany, and claimed that it was a “mistake” for Russia to annex the Crimean peninsula.
Safety concerns, warnings
In an interview with the Gordon.ua news site in February, Voronenkov said that some people were calling for his assassination on Russian television.
“On Russian television channels everyone is shouting: Voronenkov should be exchanged for Roman Sushchenko (a Ukrainian political prisoner held in Russia) and, if this fails, he should be killed like (Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan) Bandera,” he said. “People in Russia have gone crazy, they’re not sane.”
Voronenkov and his wife, Maria Maksakova, were also highly critical of Putin in interviews with journalists, including a February interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Christopher Miller headlined: “Seen As Turncoats By Moscow, Exiled Duma Pair Blasts Moscow From Kyiv.”
In that interview, Voronenkov said that he is not interested in entering Ukrainian politics and is not currently working. Even though feeling relatively safe, Voronenkov said that he feared for his and his family’s safety. In the same interview, his wife said that she and Voronenkov left Moscow with no clear agenda except to escape pressure from the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Even though Voronenkov is registered as having voted in favor of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in an interview with Radio Free Europe, he denied that he cast his vote himself.
In 2014, Voronenkov co-authored a bill in the State Duma that banned the foreign ownership of Russian media.
Last year, his name surfaced in the so-called Panama Papers leak as a shareholder in a British Virgin Islands company.
Lutsenko said Voronenkov was supposed to give testimony later in the day to military prosecutors on a case on Yanukovych’s alleged state treason.
Voronenkov’s wife, who arrived at the scene shortly after her husband’s murder, is now being treated for shock.
Lutsenko said the Kyiv City Prosecutors’ Office is currently investigating Voronenkov’s case.
Prosecutors currently are working on two main theories about the killing, which are “the killing of a witness in Yanukovych’s case, and a killing related to a case of smuggling, which was carried out by Russia’s FSB security service.”