Deutsche Welle has made public the interview with a Belarusian-born man who claims his being related to the kidnapping and assassination of Belarusian opposition politicians in 1999. The 41-year-old is living as an asylum-seeker in one of the European countries.
The interviewee calling himself Yuri Garavski says he was with the Belarusian SOBR (Special Rapid Response Unit) from its very beginning, and was trained to fight serious offenders involved in organized crime.
Garavski showed DW copies of documents in order to establish his personal details. The DW research team is reported to have checked his information in three countries before deciding to publish his statements.
According to him, in the spring of 1999, a ‘hand-picked group’ of SOBR soldiers abducted and killed Belarus’ former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, an ex-Chairman of the Central Election Commission, and businessman Anatol Krasouski who supported the Belarusian opposition.
If his words are anything to go by, the orders were given by Colonel Dzmitry Paulichenka (Dmitry Pavlichenko), the founder and commander of SOBR. What is more, the top officer personally shot down the three critics of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Garavski claims.
The man expressed confidence that the then Interior Minister Yury Sivakou and Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman knew what was going on behind the scenes; Garavski suggests that President Lukashenka must have been in the picture, but cannot say safely.
“There’s no written evidence, video recordings, protocols — nothing like that. It was all done verbally,” he told Deutsche Welle.
Zakharanka’s body was interred at a burial site at a cemetery in Minsk, Garavski stated; Krasouski and Hanchar were taken to the Begoml military base, executed in the forest and buried in graves that had been dug in advance.
“Nonetheless, questions about the key witness’ motivation do remain unanswered. Why is Yuri Garavski going public with this now? Why didn’t he confide in a media company or an international organization before? What exactly did he do between retiring from active service and fleeing to a Central European country where he applied for asylum? Garavski avoided answering some questions. What is certain is that he has detailed knowledge of the perpetrators,” Deutsche Welle stresses.
On May 7, 1999, in the area of Zhukouski Avenue in Minsk, Yury Zakharanka was kidnapped and taken away in a car. General Zakharanka who was 47 when he went missing tops the list of disappeared politicians in Belarus. After leaving the position of Interior Minister, Mr Zakharanka joined the opposition. He had authority with servicemen and initiated establishing of the independent Union of Officers which could have stood up against the president.
On September 16, 1999, the former vice-premier and former chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasouski, disappeared on the way to the bathhouse. Broken glass and traces of blood were found at the place of their disappearance. It is known that Hanchar prepared documents about Lukashenka violating the Constitution and the illegality of his presidency. In the 90s, the politician and his associates initiated the impeachment of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the first and still the only president of Belarus, but the process was stopped due to the pressure on the deputies and Russia’s interference.
Aleh Alkayeu, the then head of pre-trial detention centre Nr 1, filed a report on the issue of firearms on the eve of the disappearance of Hanchar, Krasouski and Zakharanka. Mr Alkayeu is sure that former Minister of Interior Yury Zakharanka was assassinated by order of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s minions, and videorecordings of the execution do exist.
In 2000, Uladzimir Navumau, who then headed the Interior Ministry, received a report from Major-General Mikalai Lapatsik, in which the latter named police colonel Dzmitry Paulichenka as the perpetrator of the kidnapping:
“The catch and further elimination of Zakharanka was carried out by a group of soldiers led by Dzmitry Paulichenka (the commander of military unit 3214). A similar operation was carried out by Paulichenka and his group on 16.09.1999 to catch and kill Hanchar and Krasouski. The planned place of burial is a special plot on Paunochnya Cemetery.”
After an investigative group, consisted of officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the KGB and prosecutor agencies, had caught the traces of kidnappers and arrested Dzmitry Paulichenka, the Prosecutor General Aleh Bazhelka and the KGB Head Uladzimir Matskevich were ousted. But soon Paulichenka was released by a personal order of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In fear of being persecuted, Alkayeu and Bazhelka had to leave Belarus.
The bodies of Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski have never been found. A number of politicians, journalists and human rights activists believe that Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski were kidnapped by “death squads”, which in the 90s killed representatives of the criminal world of Belarus.