Ukrainian Mystery Murder Highlights Intertwined Russia-Ukraine Conflict
By Athena Yenko | August 13, 2014 3:03 PM EST
A doctor examines a baby whose family has fled fighting in Slaviansk, at the Makiyivsky Coke and Chemical Plant in the town of Makiyivka in eastern Ukraine June 4, 2014. Ukrainian government forces battled separatists with artillery and automatic weapons on Wednesday as fighting raged for a second straight day in and around the eastern town of Slaviansk, forcing many frightened residents to flee. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT SOCIETY)
A mystery murder of four members of the Church of the Transfiguration in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk - the church priest's two grown sons, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko, and two deacons, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko - made the Ukraine crisis more tortuous.
On June 8, twelve masked men - suspected as pro-Russian separatists - broke in the Church and asked who among the 300 church attendees owned the four expensive cars parked outside. The four men stood. The rebels then abducted them and thrust them into their cars. Full 35 days passed and the dead bodies of these four men were found at a mass grave nearby an old war memorial.
Suspicions arise after the murder. The purpose may have been robbery or that "the men were targeted because their Protestant beliefs were at odds with the Orthodox Church, some of whose priests openly backed the rebels" or it could be that "they had secretly supported Ukrainian forces against the rebels?" an in-depth report of Christian Science Monitor considers.
According to the report from the Christian Science Monitor, suspicions are more leaning towards xenophobia.
Investigators said that the abductors would want to disguise their xenophobic attack behind "random war casualties."
"They attack such [non-Orthodox] churches and believe they came from the US, are Protestant and not Russian," Oleg Kotenko, a Ukrainian Army military liaison in Slaviansk, said.
The church goers echoed the same.
"It was a terrible xenophobia, they hated anything Ukrainian or American," Denis Bigunov, a member of the City Council, said.
"Everything that is good, everything that is beautiful, and everything that comes from God - it makes [the killers] hate. These are people with dirty souls who want to make things bad," one church member who refused to be identified told Christian Science Monitor.
Several Protestants and non-Orthodox denominations testified that separatists had accused them of either being "Satanists" or supporters of the Ukrainian Army.
"Their logic is: 'We brought the Orthodox Church, ours is right and there are no others. Your church is linked to America, our enemy, so we will destroy you,'" Peter Dudnik, a priest at the local Christian Center of the Good News Church, said.
Dudnik said that their church's bishop was also abducted and held for 24 hours and other church members were also arrested.
"I think the real reason they were killed was religious ideology, because the people who took over radically support the Orthodox Church," says Dudnik.
But a report from Human Rights Watch said that insurgents "systematically kidnapped, abducted, beat, and sometimes tortured" people whom rebels suspected are supporters of Kiev.
Mikhael Hizhnyak, the chief police investigator in Slaviansk, on the other hand, spoke of a different angle. He said that the main purpose of the abduction was simply to acquire "big money."
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