Ukrainian police have accused five suspects in the savage beating of a local journalist of having links to the opposition, just as reporter Tetyana Chornovol suggested she was attacked for documenting the opulence of Ukraine’s political elite.
The conflicting accusations on Friday came days after Chornovol, 34, was chased down by a car and beaten, an incident that threatened to breathe new life into dwindling anti-government protests.
“In the course of the investigation it was established that the detained had been in close contact with members of the party UDAR,” Mykola Chynchyn, the head of the main investigations department, said in a statement posted by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.
turns to provocation and effectively tries to conceal the criminals.”]
UDAR, or Punch, is led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, the most prominent of several opposition leaders who have seized on the public outcry over the government’s rejection of closer ties with the European Union.
Chornovol, meanwhile, told pro-opposition television station Channel 5 that “a price” had been placed on her life, suggesting the attack was “revenge” for her anti-government work.
With tents and braziers against the winter cold, a core group of hundreds of protesters has been occupying Kiev’s central Independence Square for weeks.
The protests have shown signs of losing steam, with turnout at weekly mass rallies down since the height of the backlash in late November and early December, when hundreds of thousands of people packed downtown Kiev.
After the attack on Chornovol, hundreds of opposition protesters called upon the Interior Minister to resign, and another rally was planned for Sunday.
The attack came just hours after Chornovol posted pictures on her blog of a country home she said belonged to Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.
Chynchyn did not reveal a possible motive for the beating, but said the police investigation established ties between one suspect and a politician from the opposition Fatherland party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The investigation also established links between a suspect and the head of a criminal gang “with whom the Klitschko brothers had closely cooperated,” Chynchyn said.
Klitschko responded by threatening to sue for libel, noting in a statement: “Instead of conducting an objective investigation and finding who really ordered and carried out the beating… [the ministry] turns to provocation and effectively tries to conceal the criminals.”
Vitaly Yarema, a member of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, accused the Interior Ministry of trying to exploit the assault for political ends.
President Viktor Yanukovich has condemned the attack on Chornovol and urged police to find the perpetrators.