The body of Ukrainian journalist Heorhii Gongadze has been buried in Kyiv, nearly 16 years after his killing, but family and friends say their fight for justice is not over.
Gongadze, a dogged investigative reporter who exposed high-level political corruption, was kidnapped in September 2000. His headless body was found that November in a forest outside the Ukrainian capital.
After years in a morgue, his body was buried on March 22 on the grounds of a Kyiv church. His widow, Myroslava, the head of Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service, and two daughters, Solomia and Nana, flew in from Washington to attend the ceremony.
Gongadze’s relatives “feel relieved that Heorhii’s body has been buried with the dignity every person deserves,” according to a statement from the family that was read at the funeral by a friend of Gongadze’s, journalist Yevhen Hlibovytskyy.
“Whoever contracted his murder must sooner or later be convicted by law,” the statement read. “The rule of law is the path to establish justice in society. Freedom of speech and democracy in Ukraine will be the best memory of Heorhii.”
Friends of Gongadze emphasized in interviews with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that the investigation into his killing – which is widely believed to have been a contract murder – should continue until whoever was behind it is prosecuted and punished.
Leonid Kuchma, who was president from July 1994 to January 2005, came under suspicion after the publication of a tape on which a voice that sounded like his spoke of the need to “deal with” Gongadze.
Prosecutors charged Mr. Kuchma with involvement in the case in 2011, but a court dropped the charges later that year.
In 2008, three former police officers were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after being convicted of involvement in the killing. In 2012, former top police official General Oleksiy Pukach received life in prison after being convicted of strangling Gongadze to death.
Yehor Checherynda, a journalist and former colleague of Gongadze’s, said that Mr. Kuchma had been Gongadze’s “enemy number one.”
Much of the slain journalist’s investigative work dealt with President Kuchma and his inner circle.
“[Kuchma was] the enemy of the press, the enemy of all non-liberties in Ukraine. It’s a shame, I think, that now this person represents Ukraine in some international organizations,” Mr. Checherynda said.
Many people present at the ceremony expressed hope that justice will prevail.
Viktoria Syumar, head of the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy in Ukraine’s Parliament, said that Ukraine would not change unless the country finds out everything about his murder.
“I think it’s a matter of honor for young politicians and those politicians who came to power on the wave of the Revolution of Dignity to conduct objective investigations… so society can finally see those who are guilty behind bars,” she said. Many Ukrainians refer to the pro-Western protests that pushed Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014 as the Revolution of Dignity.
Rostyslav Pavlenko, deputy head of President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, also said it is crucial to get to the bottom of the Gongadze killing. “A case like this has no expiration date, and society must know the answers,” he said, adding that “the government will do everything it takes for it to happen.”
Gongadze’s mother, Lesia Gongadze, fought for answers until her death in November 2013. She did not believe that the body in the morgue was her son’s.
Copyright 2016, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; www.rferl.org (see http://www.rferl.org/content/body-of-ukraine-reporter-to-be-buried-march-22/ 27628195.html.