Voices in the Ukrainian Wilderness

Part II

Part I

Оповідь українською

Story by Marichka Melnyk

Illustrated by Olenka Zahorodnyk


The Vyshhorod police registered a missing person’s report after Iryna’s disappearance, but they were in no hurry to actually look for her. The first search was organized by the missing woman’s friends and acquaintances, who used Iryna’s cell phone signal to determine the search should begin somewhere in their village.

On Monday, January 1, 2018, at 11 AM, dozens of concerned residents and friends gathered in Demydiv to comb the village and surrounding areas. Less than an hour later, a local resident called the police and reported he had stumbled upon a body while walking his dog. It was Iryna Nozdrovska. Her father, Serhiy Dunyak, identified the body. He was, once again, the first member of the family to arrive at the scene just like he had had done a little more than two years ago.

Iryna was found almost completely naked on the northern outskirts of the village, in the shallow Kizka River brimming with weeds but not yet frozen, because the weather in late 2017 and early 2018 was rainy and foggy, and the temperature in Kyiv oblast had not dropped below 0°C. In addition to bruises and abrasions, seventeen stab wounds were found on the woman’s body, most of them involving her face and neck. It was established her death had occurred between two and three days earlier, on the same day Iryna had disappeared. The subsequent forensic medical examination showed she had died of massive blood loss due to the severing of her carotid artery and jugular vein, trauma to her trachea, blood entering her airways, and ensuing shock. Based on the nature of the wounds, it is likely she lost consciousness immediately after the attack, remaining alive for no more than a few minutes. Other injuries found on the body were caused by an unidentified blunt object.

Statements posted on the Facebook pages of the Vyshhorod District Police Department and the Kyiv Oblast Police on January 1 declared the investigation into Iryna’s death had been taken under direct personal control of Kyiv Oblast Police Chief Dmytro Tsenov.

“If your friend or loved one suddenly disappears, my advice to you is to go to the police, and do not leave until you are questioned about all the circumstances of the disappearance, the information is entered into the Unified Registry of Pre-trial Investigations, and the search begins. Because the first hours and the first day are critical in any search,” said criminologist Hanna Mazur, commenting on her visit to the Vyshhorod police department following the murder of Kateryna and Serhiy Dunyak’s second daughter. She added, although “the search for Iryna did not begin immediately, the police were working hard” after her body was found. “It is interesting that the locals refuse to help the police,” she noted. “There may be two reasons: either they do not trust the police and are simply afraid to say anything, or they have a rather ambivalent attitude towards the deceased and are demonstrating their attitude in this way.”

News of the woman’s death spread like wildfire on social media, eliciting great sympathy and outrage among ordinary Ukrainians. On January 2, 2018, a rally was held in Kyiv near the building of the Main Department of the National Police of Ukraine for Kyiv Oblast at 15 Volodymyrska Street. Around two hundred people gathered to demand a meeting with Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko, the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov (already in the crosshairs due to a corruption scandal over the purchase of overpriced backpacks for the Anti-Terrorist Operation and the lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremeta), and a speedy search for and punishment of Iryna Nozdrovska’s killers.

Most of those present at the demonstration suspected her death was the result of a vendetta on the Rossoshansky family’s part, but the accusations they voiced were against the police and the prosecutor’s office for not lifting a finger in the two years Iryna fought for justice in her sister’s case, for covering up their employees’ criminal actions, for ignoring Iryna’s appeals concerning the constant threats of physical violence emanating from Dmytro, his friends, and relatives, and for failing to start the search for the woman immediately after her daughter had reported her disappearance.

“Either we set fair rules of the game, or we will be destroyed,” and “No investigation, no justice = total crime, no state,” read the protesters’ placards. When he came out to speak to the crowd, the head of the Kyiv Oblast Police Dmytro Tsenov declared Iryna Nozdrovska had never reported any threats to law enforcement agencies. In other words, even after the resounding failure in fulfilling perhaps its most important task, to protect the inalienable human right to life, the police failed to publicly admit their own failure, once again giving Ukrainians reason to wonder whether the police reforms introduced in 2017 had really brought about any profound systemic changes. Because hiding behind the updated facade and shiny “new police” signboard was the “good old” militsiya (troops of the centralized Interior Ministry), whose golden rule could be formulated as follows: “never betray a fellow officer if you want him to cover for you in the future.”

To try to placate the protesters, Tsenov suggested they form a citizen’s group for public oversight of the investigation. Its members demanded and obtained a promise from the police the parents and daughter of the murdered Iryna would be provided with police protection, to which victims are entitled according to the law “On Ensuring the Safety of Persons Participating in Criminal Proceedings.” Additionally, the Chief of Police of Kyiv Oblast publicly promised to resign if the investigation yielded no results within two weeks.

The de-escalation trick worked: the protesters went home and never gathered again. Dmytro Tsenov finally submitted his resignation on June 3, 2019, but it was only after two intoxicated patrol policemen admitted to taking potshots at empty cans in a residential section of the town of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyi, fatally wounding a five-year-old boy, Kyrylo Tlyavov. In the aftermath, Tsenov, the former Chief of Police of Kyiv oblast, became the head of the police force in the areas of the Joint Forces Operation in eastern Ukraine (previously known as the Anti-Terrorist Operation). Many people were puzzled by his new appointment. Whether it was meant to be a reward (promotion) or punishment (exile), it looked dubious from a moral point of view.

During the first week of 2018, all the major media outlets covered Iryna Nozdrovska’s murder. There were suggestions this case marked a watershed moment in the relationship between the post-Maidan authorities and the Ukrainians who had participated in Euromaidan. Some even predicted this case would have the same consequences for then President Poroshenko as the Gongadze case did for former President Leonid Kuchma, when militsiya officers killed the journalist in 2000, and how the case of the Vradiyivka (militsiya) rapists was the beginning of the end for Victor Yanukovych, former president of Ukraine.

The furor surrounding Iryna Nozdrovska’s death was further fueled by the news of another road accident in Kyiv oblast involving a judge of the Kyiv-Svyatoshin District Court. On January 3, 2018, Dmytro Usatov drove into the oncoming lane near the turnoff to the village of Bilohorodka, causing an accident while intoxicated. The other driver, whose car the judge crashed into, was hospitalized with spinal injuries, and Usatov attempted to flee the scene in an ambulance. On March 1, 2019, Judge Oleh Bilotserkivets of the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv closed the proceedings against Usatov, because the statute of limitations for bringing him to administrative responsibility had expired. The decision to fire him was only made by the High Council of Justice in July 2021, three and a half years after the accident, and only after the persistent advocacy by the DEJURE Foundation, an NGO committed to reforming Ukraine’s justice system.

Thanks to the spilled ink of several Ukrainian journalists, who committed the sin of embellishing reality to make their stories more compelling and who republish material without basic fact-checking, Iryna Nozdrovska became a renowned lawyer and human rights activist, practically an icon, who had devoted most of her life to fighting the unjust law enforcement system. 

The “cult of personality” created around the murdered woman was not entirely accurate. Iryna never practiced law. Her first university degree was in music and she began her professional life teaching music to children. Later, she and her ex-husband ran a small business — a café. Following their divorce, she and her young daughter were struggling to make ends meet, so Iryna decided to pursue a more promising career, and studied law at the National Academy of Internal Affairs. Like many people in Ukraine, she completed her second degree via distance learning, or correspondence school. Off-site education is Soviet-era abracadabra which continues to be practiced by Ukrainian universities. For them, it’s a source of income, since people typically pay for this form of education out-of-pocket, whereas much of standard university education is paid for by the state. For the students, it is an opportunity to get their coveted diploma without quitting their jobs, and without too much effort. There are, however, exceptions, and perhaps Iryna Nozdrovska was one of them. The first job in her new career was at the Tender Chamber of Ukraine, a union of civic organizations created to organize the procurement of various goods and services using public funds. This union’s activity is now considered to have been one of most corrupt schemes in Ukraine’s history. The scheme was run by People’s Deputy Anton Yatsenko, formerly a member of Parliament from the (pro-Russian) Party of Regions, who now switched his affiliation to “independent.”

While some media outlets rushed to sacralize Iryna, others, mostly pro-Russian rags with shady reputations but large audiences, were actively looking for reasons to discredit the woman. They recalled her participation in the “Psychic Investigation” show, recycled the videos and recorded new ones in which fellow villagers complained about the family supposedly terrorizing the entire village of Demydiv. All this was done so the Ukrainian public, which was nominally post-Soviet, but still occupied by a Soviet mentality, would come to a conclusion comforting for the majority: the murdered woman was to blame for her own death. Whether or not they realized blaming the victim is akin to absolving the perpetrator remains a question to this day. But some people did come to that conclusion. For example, one person found the time to leave this comment on the deceased woman’s Facebook page: “It’s a pity… but this Iryna Nozdrovska was clearly out of her mind… From hatred and contempt… to her terrible death was just a single step… and then… hell, from which one does not return… It was God’s Boomerang in action in her life… What a shame…”

Law enforcement was under pressure from all the media coverage, including statements made by Ukrainian politicians in their race to outdo one another, and attention from the Embassy of the United States, which tweeted condolences to Iryna’s family. Initially, the investigation had four theories about what had happened: the murder was connected to the victim’s professional activities; it was related to her last place of employment; she was a victim of hooliganism; or it was an attempted rape. But all of these were quickly dismissed. Instead of investigating to uncover the truth, the police were motivated to quickly close a case attracting excessive public attention, and focused their efforts on a theory people would most likely believe (yet another symptom of Ukraine’s unhealthy culture).

A murder suspect was detained on January 8, the day before Iryna’s funeral. It was Yuri Rossoshansky, Dmytro’s 63-year-old father. He managed to write a note addressed to his wife Olha, which read: 

“My wife, daughter, grandchildren, son Dima, I have loved you all my life and I would give my life for you… Better let them blame me. I did not commit this crime. The crime was committed by Nozdrovska herself, as she knew too much about people’s deputies’ election expenses since 2012. That’s why they ordered it…” 

When she found the note in her office at Kyivoblenergo, the Kyiv Oblast Energy Company where both spouses were employed, the woman shared its contents with the Fakty newspaper.

“The murder of Iryna Nozdrovska has been solved. Professionally, without any hysteria, and swiftly,” Anton Herashchenko, a people’s deputy, and secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement announced on Facebook on the evening of the same day. Herashchenko was a former adviser to Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, and one of the official voices of the same ministry. He made a point of noting, “Crimes are solved not by the people, nor by PR activists, nor by MPs. Crimes are solved by Ukrainian police officers, operatives of the Main Investigation Department, police intelligence officers, employees of information and analytical services, prosecutors. The police should be aided in their work, not hindered…”

On January 9, 2018, about two hundred people came to the Dunyaks’ house in Demydiv to bid their final farewells to the woman and express their condolences. Fearing possible violence, the police blocked off Sonyachna Street on the approach to the Rossoshansky house, just to be on the safe side. The procession of mourners who accompanied the hearse carrying a closed coffin to the village cemetery where Iryna was to be buried next to her younger sister’s grave followed a detour through Verbova Street.

“Bastards, they killed my two daughters! How can the earth endure them…” Serhiy Dunyak exclaimed in despair, overcome with grief, stopping for a few moments at the spot where a blue-painted car tire lay on the side of the road a meter and a half from the roadway. Inside, a bouquet of plastic flowers bloomed in red, yellow, and lilac colors.

On the very same day as the funeral, Deputy Head of the National Police Vyacheslav Abroskin posted on Facebook the suspect in Iryna’s murder was unrepentant, but the evidence against him was “impeccable.” The official reported the same information to President Poroshenko and to the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, assuring them there was “very compelling and very serious evidence against the arrested man.”

“A swift reaction, and effective actions to find and detain the suspect [in a crime] are a sign of the [good] quality of the National Police’s work, and I congratulate you on that,” Petro Poroshenko said during his meeting with the police.

According to the confession police obtained from Yuri Rossoshansky after his arrest, he accidentally ran into Iryna at a bus stop on Verbova Street in Demydiv, just as she exited the bus. He had been wandering around, looking for his in-law Viktor Manchenko (father to his son’s wife), together with whom he had been drinking. The woman rushed at him, shouting “Murderer!” and the man took out a knife he supposedly found in his pocket by accident. He stabbed her two or three times; he couldn’t remember exactly. Afterwards he threw her over his shoulder, carried her to the river, and dumped her body under the bridge. He took the clothes home and burned them in the stove in the summer kitchen.

“If this Nozdrovska hadn’t been making such a ruckus, everyone would still be alive, everything would have been normal… Dima would have gone free…” Yuriy Rossoshansky said in a recorded conversation with investigators later played in court. Excerpts from this conversation were broadcast by Sudovy Reporter, or Court Reporter, one of the few media outlets in Ukraine specializing in court journalism, and in fact, the only media outlet to systematically cover the case of Iryna Nozdrovska over the years. “The vlada [the people in power], the unjust courts, the prosecutors… they are to blame for everything! The Court of Appeals, the Obukhiv Court, both are crappy courts. All these lies, dirt, crooked witnesses, libel…” The suspect’s voice was a reflection of an ingrained infantilism many Ukrainians harbor, which encourages them to shift blame onto anyone except themselves for everything from vandalized foyers of their buildings to murder. Even when you are the one caught with the can of spray paint (or a knife) in your hand, it is always somebody else’s fault, from the ZhEK (a public agency responsible for communal housing maintenance personified by its acronym) to the president.

Based on the evidence gathered by police, the Vyshhorod District Court denied Yuriy Rossoshansky bail and remanded him in custody. The investigation was transferred to the Oblast Police and then to another court’s jurisdiction because the family members did not trust either the local Vyshhorod investigators nor the court. Given everything this family had been through, it was not surprising.

In 2015, a new legal norm appeared in Ukrainian legislation, stating “the level of public trust in police is the main criterion for assessing the effectiveness of police departments and units.” Until then, only internal statistics, the numbers of registered and solved crimes, were used to evaluate the effectiveness of law enforcement. The reason these indicators are often used today is understandable, because they show the police in a favorable light. An assessment of the effectiveness of police work through the eyes of ordinary citizens would spoil the pretty picture.

The undying habit of relying exclusively on statistical data comes from the Soviet militsiya tradition, where numbers were important, but people and their needs and concerns were not. How could you really expect anything else, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs formally had dual subordination, to the governments of both the Union and the Republic, but in fact, strictly followed Moscow’s orders, keeping the entire country in prison both literally and figuratively? The issue of trust never existed, and it was never expected to exist, because trust can only develop in a relationship between equals and cannot exist in one between an omnipotent jailer and a powerless prisoner.

In 2017, the same year Iryna Nozdrovska disappeared and was murdered, there were 94 homicides registered in Kyiv oblast. According to the oblast police report, 82 of them were solved (87.2 percent). That same year, 1,551 murders were reported across Ukraine, and 1,387 of them were solved (89.4 percent). While the statistics show the police being extremely successful, a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) in 2017 revealed only 23 percent of Ukrainians trusted the National Police.

The indictment in the case of Iryna Nozdrovska was submitted to the court seven and a half months later. Yuri Rossoshansky was charged under Article 115 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, “premeditated murder committed with particular cruelty,” which carries a minimum prison sentence of 10–15 years to the maximum of life imprisonment. The trial on the merits of the case began in November 2018. At the request of Iryna’s parents and her daughter Anastasia, the proceedings were held at the Shevchenko District Court in Kyiv. At the request of the defendant’s lawyer, the case was heard by a jury consisting of two professional judges and three ordinary citizens who were randomly selected from a pool of names to serve as jurors (to become a juror in Ukraine, one must be between the ages of 30–65, reside in the court’s jurisdiction, and have applied to be a juror). The trial was presided over by Pavlo Slobodianiuk, a judge who is best remembered for rendering a guilty verdict and handing down suspended sentences to five Ukrainians who used a sledgehammer to smash the nose and left arm of the Vladimir Lenin monument on Bessarabska Square in Kyiv on June 30, 2009. During the Revolution of Dignity of 2013–2014, he was one of the so-called “Maidan judges” who decided to punish the AutoMaidan protesters for driving en masse to Mezhyhirya, the suburb where Viktor Yanukovych’s residence was located.

While the case of Iryna’s murder was being heard, the Obukhiv District Court began new hearings in the case of her younger sister Svitlana’s death. Those proceedings began on February 5, 2018. This time, Dmytro Rossoshansky pleaded guilty. He apologized to the family members of the victim and said he had fully compensated the victim’s husband for the damages he had caused. But the judge was not convinced by his admission of guilt. The guilty verdict delivered nine months later on October 24, 2018, stated the behavior of the accused during the trial did not indicate his sincere remorse, and the statement made by the late Svitlana’s husband, Maksym Sapatinsky, merely indicated the victim had no monetary claims. But the judge also ruled the aggravating circumstances the Dunyak family was claiming were not proven (possibly because they no longer had the deceased Iryna’s help). The court regarded the statements made by family members and witnesses as subjective assessments of the situation — as assumptions, not facts — so the new decision regarding Dmytro Rossoshansky’s fate was no different from the previous verdict: 7 years in prison and suspension of his driver’s license for 3 years. His application for amnesty was denied.


The trial in the case of Iryna Nozdrovska’s murder spanned four years. The high-profile attention and publicity initially accompanying the case eventually subsided. In-depth special reports and loudly promoted broadcasts in the media came to be replaced by three or four sentence references found in the general news feed.

The fading of media and public interest was, in fact, natural. But it was very difficult for the family of the deceased to understand, and to accept this reality, particularly because of their fear that without the support of the media, evil had a very good chance of going unpunished.

To remind everyone this story was not over, the mother of the two murdered sisters, Kateryna Dunyak, repeatedly resorted to desperate measures. On October 10, 2019, she interrupted a press marathon with Volodymyr Zelenskyy to ask him to hear her plight.

“I will meet with you on Tuesday on Bankova Street,” the president assured her in the presence of several witnesses. But he did not fulfill his public promise to meet her at the Office of the President.

In June 2020, she showed up to Shevchenko District Court, where clashes between law enforcement and protesters in the case of Serhiy Sternenko were taking place (and where I noticed her). A few months later, in September, she picketed the Presidential Office. “I’m going on a hunger strike. The authorities neither see, nor hear a mother’s grief,” read the poster hung above Kateryna Dunyak’s head on the flagpole she was leaning against. But no one was moved by the grieving old lady perched alone on the cold stone curb with a black scarf wrapped around her neck and sitting on a checkered blanket.

On January 17, 2022, Kateryna Dunyak came to the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv, where Petro Poroshenko’s bail hearing was taking place in the case of illegal coal supplies from the temporarily occupied territories. Her goal was to ask the former president, who once boasted about his successful police reforms and the speedy arrest in her eldest daughter’s murder, to answer a single question: “Where is my child’s killer?”

“I know you. But I’m not going to talk to you,” Kateryna Dunyak claims Poroshenko told her before his bodyguards pushed the old woman away.

The lion’s share of the above-mentioned four-year trial was spent analyzing the “very compelling,” “very serious,” and, most importantly, “impeccable” evidence collected by police during the pre-trial investigation. The presentation of the evidence was accompanied by such twists and turns it was impossible to imagine, let alone predict, how and when this process would end. When the long-anticipated conclusion appeared on the horizon, the court was forced to take a pause due to Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine. The hearings resumed more than three months after the last court session, which had taken place on February 23, 2022.

The now grey (almost white) haired Kateryna Dunyak, who had grown thin from the burden of living through the last few years and the misfortunes she had endured, came to practically every court hearing holding two photographs, each with black ribbons tied to their lower right corners; the portraits of two young and smiling blonde women, her late daughters.

Standing by her side was Anastasia, her granddaughter. She still looks sad but has matured. During the time of the investigation and subsequent trial, Anastasia managed to complete her studies at a Kyiv university and earn a master’s degree in law. The now twenty-three-year-old has worked as a civil servant at the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine since February 2022.

Serhiy Dunyak was also present most of the time, side by side with his wife and granddaughter; he had also turned grey, circumstances having taken their toll on the short and stocky man who had developed a bald spot on the back of his bespectacled head. He held a poster that read: “Dear judges, judge as you would judge your own child’s killer.” It is unclear whether the man realized he was calling for more than justice — he was calling for revenge, because no judge is capable, a priori, of making an objective and impartial decision concerning their own child’s offender. Still, hearing after hearing, Iryna Nozdrovska’s father consistently held the poster in his hands, up until the time his health problems took a turn for the worse in late 2021.

A few days before the Russian invasion, Serhiy was hospitalized in a district hospital for the second time in the last few months. On the morning of February 24, 2022, his wife Kateryna went to Vyshhorod to visit him in hospital, and given the situation, decided to stay there. The next day, there was neither the possibility, nor a reason to return home to Demydiv: the bridge over the Irpin River had been blown up, and columns of Russian occupation forces were seen on the outskirts of the village. For a week and a half, the medical institution provided shelter for both seniors within its walls; the Dunyaks later moved to their granddaughter’s apartment in Kyiv. Anastasia had fled the war to Lviv on the first day of the Russian attack to be with her boyfriend, returning to the capital two months later.

“We were lucky,” Anastasia Nozdrovska repeated several times during our conversation. It took me more than two years after first meeting her grandmother at the protest to decide to stop following the story from afar, through the eyes of others, and contact the victims’ family members directly. “On our street [Sonyachna Street in Demydiv], everything is fine,” the girl even smiled for a moment, seemingly relieved. “They said there was a lot of violence in the centre of the village. People were forced out of their homes, everything was looted: money, gold, everything was stolen… On our street… they were mostly passing through from one side of the village to the other. They were sort of patrolling, but they left things alone, thank God… except that… the village was flooded, so it [the water] got into the basements a bit, that’s all. But in general, considering all the grief people suffered, our place is fine,” she told me.

The Dunyaks stayed in Kyiv until Demydiv was liberated in early April 2022, and returned to the village as soon as the Russians were driven out. Kateryna went back to work where she continues to help take care of patients and keep the wards clean in one of the capital’s hospitals. Anastasia said her grandmother would not be able to live without work. It is mentally difficult for her to be alone in the once-crowded and now-empty “mitten,” and at work she can at least be among people. Grandpa Serhiy is still seriously ill, she told me.

“We are praying he will live a little longer,” Anastasia added cautiously.

Perhaps the only positive news, a saving grace for the Dunyak family, arrived when visits with their grandson, their late younger daughter Svitlana’s son, resumed. Eleven-year-old Matviy now lives with his paternal grandmother. In the late spring and early summer of 2022, the former in-laws began talking to one another again, and now the boy is permitted to visit his grandparents in Demydiv and his cousin in Kyiv. The family is happy, although it is difficult to say whether this is a temporary truce or a final reconciliation.

It is just as difficult to find out who is really to blame for Iryna Nozdrovska’s death and whether the killer acted alone.

Contrary to the official version of the crime publicly voiced by investigators, Iryna’s parents and daughter are convinced Yuri Rossoshansky did not act alone and, perhaps, not even on his own initiative; they believe someone helped him commit the murder, and then to conceal it. However, neither the investigators nor the prosecutors bothered taking their opinion into account, and nobody else cared to pursue it alongside the Dunyaks and their granddaughter. According to Anastasia Nozdrovska, during the pre-trial investigation, when it was theoretically possible to re-classify the case, the lawyers who represented the family’s interests did not file a single motion on their behalf. As a result, only Yuri Rossoshansky sat on the bench of the accused behind a glass barrier.

A very unusual situation emerged from the courtroom of the Shevchenko District Court of Kyiv. Instead of two adversarial parties, as it should have been, there were three: the prosecution, the defense, and separately, the victims’ family. A few months into the trial, the family changed their legal representatives. And while prosecutors defended the investigation’s version of events, the other participants in the trial asked questions that seriously undermined the case, albeit with different motives.

Seventeen stab wounds were found on Iryna’s body, although Yuri claimed during the reenactment of the crime, he had only stabbed her two or three times. Why the discrepancy? The psychiatric examination did not find the man to be in an altered state at the time, which could have explained a lapse in his memory.

Forensics established the woman had died from significant blood loss. Why, then, was there not a single drop of blood found at the supposed scene of the murder, the bus stop on Verbova Street? How was it possible to have no witnesses to the crime? After all, the murder had taken place during rush hour, as people were returning home from work, and there was a store nearby receiving a shipment of goods at the time.

The distance from the place where the crime was supposedly committed to the place where the killer had dumped the victim’s body was over a kilometer-and-a-half. Could an elderly man carry a fifty-kilogram corpse on his shoulders through a field riddled with trenches? Did someone help him get rid of the body? Why during the reenactment of the crime was Yuri not asked to walk the distance with a burden of similar weight on his shoulders?

The defendant testified he had thrown Iryna’s body under the bridge. But it was found 200 meters downriver from the bridge. The river is shallow and almost entirely overgrown with weeds, so it is unreasonable for the body to have been carried that distance by the current. So how did the body wind up there? Investigators found tire tracks nearby. Perhaps the body was brought there by car?

On the day she disappeared, Iryna was wearing a sheepskin coat and leather boots. Could they really be burnt in a stove without a trace? Where did the killer dump the rest of her belongings, such as her purse, which has never been found?

During the second search of the Rossoshansky’s yard and house, a bloodstain was found on one of the interior walls which, according to the forensic examination, belonged to the victim. But during the first search, which was recorded on video, no bloodstain is visible on the wall. How is that possible?

In addition to all this, the only direct evidence irrefutably linking the killer to the victim were traces of the defendant’s DNA under the nails of Iryna Nozdrovska’s right hand. But this piece of evidence was not considered by the court, because investigators violated evidentiary procedures: they had taken the samples without a prosecutor’s order. Was it their first day on the job and they were unaware of the protocol? Or were they deliberately ignoring protocol, providing the defendant with a better chance of being acquitted?

Over the course of four years, many more similar questions were raised, to which the prosecutor, for unknown reasons, had no clear answers. According to Yuri Rossoshansky’s lawyer, all this proved his client was innocent. The victim’s family believed the defendant had accomplices for whom he was covering up. But the two sides could agree on one thing: the investigation was conducted in bad faith or was even fabricated.

While searching for the truth in the case of their elder daughter’s murder, the Dunyaks were also stunned by an unexpected development in the case of their younger daughter’s death.

On July 8, 2019, the Kyiv Court of Appeals upheld the verdict of seven years imprisonment for Dmytro Rossoshansky, which had already been passed twice by the Obukhiv District. The same appeals court however, reduced his actual sentence. The judges relied on the infamous Savchenko Law, according to which, one day of pre-trial detention is equal to two days in prison.

The Law of Ukraine “On Amendments to the Criminal Code of Ukraine on Improving the Procedure for the Court to Include the Term of Pre-trial Detention in Sentencing,” known as the Savchenko Law, was passed by the Verkhovna Rada, the Parliament of Ukraine in November 2015. But the parliament repealed it in May 2017, because too many people convicted of serious and particularly eggregious crimes had been released. Among them, for example, was former member of parliament Viktor Lozinsky who, in the summer of 2009, while intoxicated, proceeded to beat, shoot in the leg, and then chase down an elderly resident of the village of Hrushky in the Kirovohrad oblast in his car and ran him over. The man died as a result, and his killer remained a fugitive from justice for nine months before being caught.

The perpetrator in Svitlana Sapatinska’s death had been serving his sentence in the Kaharlyk Penal Colony No. 115. A little more than four months into his time there, the Kaharlyk District Court ruled to grant him amnesty. The Prosecutor’s Office appealed the decision to the Kyiv Court of Appeals, but failed. Dmytro Rossoshansky was released from prison in January 2020. He had spent a total of 3 years and 5 months behind bars.

The “heroes” who granted amnesty to the homicidal driver deserve to be named at the very least. However, it is currently impossible to find out who they are, because, with the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, access to the Unified State Registry of Court Decisions was initially completely closed and is currently severely restricted. Thousands of court decisions have simply disappeared, including most of the materials related to the cases of the two murdered sisters. The reason given for the deletion of the information is the potential threat to the lives and well-being of judges and participants in the trial, but human rights organizations are convinced this is nothing more than a manifestation of a general trend of the Ukrainian authorities’ growing lack of transparency and retreat from democratic values.

Immediately after Dmytro’s amnesty, his father, Yuri Rossoshansky, recanted his previous statements, and told the jury his confession to the murder of Iryna Nozdrovska was coerced. In exchange for his confession, the deputy head of the National Police of Ukraine Vyacheslav Abroskin promised the man to release his son, and Andriy Nebytov, who was then the deputy head of the Kyiv Oblast police, promised him a less severe classification for the crime using Article 116 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, “premeditated murder committed in a state of great emotional distress” which carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison. And if the defendant had refused, his son’s life would have been in danger.

“I have prevented the death of my son in prison,” Yuri Rossoshansky declared at one of the court hearings.

After this development, the Shevchenko District Court decided to examine the records documenting the covert investigative operations in this case not usually subject to disclosure.

“I’ll prepare the documents for a psychiatric and psychological examination. We’ll have them determine your emotional state,” said the female voice on the audio file played in court. The voice belonged to Lidiya Luchynska, who headed the pre-trial investigation team into the murder of Iryna Nozdrovska.

“At the Pavlov hospital?” the suspect asked her.

“No, we’ll go to Glevakha,” the investigator replied.

“They’re going to drive me that far in handcuffs?” asked Yuri Rossoshansky, discouraged.

“It’s not far, it’s an in-patient hospital. Let’s hope that Glevakha will confirm the necessary state of mind. And everything will be fine…” Lidia Luchynska assured the suspect.

“Article 116? Just like I was told by…” the man hesitated, searching for a name.

“Abroskin,” the investigator filled in the blank. “Both Vasilyevich [Vyacheslav Abroskin] and Andriy Anatolyevich [Andriy Nebytov] said it’s 100 percent [Article] 116 for you…”

Although this dialogue only partially confirmed the accused’s words, the court considered it sufficient grounds to question the police officers. Lidia Luchynska, who was involved in the conversation, and Andrii Nebytov, who was mentioned in it, and who replaced Dmytro Tsenov as head of the Main Department of the National Police in Kyiv oblast in the summer of 2019, were summoned to the court. For some reason, however, Vyacheslav Abroskin, who had become the rector of the Odesa State University of Internal Affairs in October 2019, was not summoned (Abroskin was dismissed from the position in October 2021 for “systematically failing to fulfill his duties without good reason”).

Both Luchynska and Nebytov brazenly ignored the court’s “invitation,” sending excuses about their busy schedules. While they were looking for “windows” in their busy schedules to come in for questioning, Yuri Rossoshansky recanted his allegations of blackmail by police officers. He now claimed he had no complaints against anyone, so there was no need to listen to testimony from the police. He then added he had no plans of committing suicide in his prison cell, and announced a vow of silence until the trial was over.

But the victim’s family insisted on further examination of the police under oath. They were heartbroken by the words they had heard Andriy Nebytov utter in another audio recording, where he tells the suspect “nobody considers you a criminal” and offers him advice, such as “your lawyers should go and talk to the people who think that they [the Dunyak family] have ruined the entire village,” and asserted Anastasia Nozdrovska “really hated” her mother, got rich off her death, and “now has everything settled in her life… she’s playing this role for now, and will leave town when this is over.”

As soon as Iryna’s daughter announced Andriy Nebytov was being summoned  to another hearing, she was subjected to a barrage of criticism. His subordinates flooded the comments section of Anastasia’s Facebook page accusing her of staging a publicity stunt. “This person’s mother is turning in her grave because of what her daughter is doing…” wrote Lyudmyla Pershin, a consultant to the Chief of Police of Kyiv oblast. “All for lies and money… The stench has spread all over the country, because one person ran out of money, so she found a topic to hype and garner pity for herself.”

The same evening, she received the following direct message from an empty Facebook account belonging to “Taras Nemtsov”:

“Listen here, you crybaby, shut your mouth and don’t stick your nose where you’re not wanted. Why are you raising a fuss? Don’t you have enough problems? Don’t you know why your mother was killed? Or do you want to end up like she did? We can arrange that. Take my advice — don’t leave your house when it’s dark outside.”

On July 12, 2021, Anastasia Nozdrovska reported the threats to the Vyshhorod Police Department. Recalling how the police had denied (after the fact) similar complaints had been lodged by her mother, she published a photo of the statement she had submitted, just to be on the safe side. The girl’s subsequent requests submitted numerous times over many months to provide her with proof her complaint was entered into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations did not receive a response. So, together with her lawyer, she went to court, and only then did the police open a case. But it is unclear whether an investigation is being conducted.

When the head of the Main Directorate of the National Police in Kyiv Oblast finally got around to fulfilling his duty as a witness, he admitted he’d had one conversation with Yuri Rossoshansky, but denied he had promised to change the qualification of the crime. Predictably, Andriy Nebytov testified he knew nothing about the falsification of evidence.

Lidiya Luchynska, who appeared to testify only after a ruling to bring her in by force was announced, argued the police had done enough to allow a jury to rule in the case.

Yuri Rossoshansky was the last person to be questioned at the trial.

“I am not guilty,” he said, from behind the glass barrier, in response to a direct question from the judge. And then, for the second time, after virtually a year of silence, he announced he had merely played along in the role of the murderer according to the scenario dictated to him by the police. By Vyacheslav Abroskin, to be precise.

On August 3, 2022, the jury announced its verdict in the murder of Iryna Nozdrovska.

“…Guided by Articles 370–371, 374, 376, 377 of the CPC of Ukraine, the court has decided… please rise,” said the man in long black robes and white jabot — Judge Pavlo Slobodianiuk. He rose from his chair, setting an example for everyone in the room to follow, before continuing. Nobody from the defendant’s family was there. They had not been at any of the previous hearings at all. “Yuri Viktorovych Rossoshansky is found guilty of committing a crime under paragraph 4 of part 2 of Article 115 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, for which he is sentenced to 15 years in prison. He will remain remanded in custody pending this verdict’s coming into force.”

The jury was motivated to make its decision by the fact the defendant had a long-standing conflict with the victim and had disclosed some details of the crime he could never have known had he not committed it, including the murder weapon. The conversations recorded during the pre-trial investigation showed no signs of persuasion or psychological pressure on the suspect. Assertions made by the victim’s family, that Yuri Rossoshansky had accomplices, or was carrying out a contract killing, were not confirmed by the evidence collected by the police before the case was brought to trial. The decision also noted the accused committed the murder while intoxicated and did not show any regret or remorse; on the contrary, he had deliberately tried to mislead the court.

“Is this a fair punishment? As for Rossoshansky, yes, but objectively, the court should have sent the case for retrial, and found and punished all the killers, such as Andriy Nebytov, for example, who is currently the head of the National Police of Kyiv Oblast,” Iryna Nozdrovska’s daughter Anastasia reacted to the verdict on social media.

A month is allocated to appeal the decision, and during that time, the Kyiv Court of Appeals received four submissions: from the prosecutor, the defendant’s lawyer, from Yuri Rossoshansky personally, and from Anastasia Nozdrovska.

“It’s just for show,” Anastasia said, explaining she needs to jump through all the hoops in Ukraine to be able to sue in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). She has no illusions about the Ukrainian justice system. “He who has the money creates the truth. How long will it take for this system to change? I don’t know. But it’s not working at all right now,” Anastasia shrugged her shoulders helplessly.

Instead of progressing, we are backtracking step by step, and case by case, to the times before one of the oldest villages in Ukraine, Demydiv, existed. We are returning to a time of chaos, when life on the lands of Kyiv was organized according to the principles of lex talionis, the law of retaliation, to a dark era before the adoption of the first legal code for life on Ukrainian lands, the Ruska Pravda, or the Laws of Rus’.

Like the Salic Laws, the Langobardic Laws, and other barbarian rules, the Laws of Rus’ were a collection of laws compiled by Yaroslav the Wise, together with his successors the Yaroslavichs and Volodymyr Monomakh. They were a civilizational milestone in the development of Kyivan Rus’, replacing blood feuds with monetary fines and thus laying the foundation for a state system of justice and legislative regulation of criminal cases in the lands that centuries later became the territory of independent Ukraine. 

During the same time, Moscow, which persistently claims Kyivan heritage and is still gathering “native Russian lands” under its imperial boot, was nothing more than a forested swamp on the banks of a river of the same name. Indeed, the Laws of Rus’ adopted almost a millennium ago, is that which differentiates Ukraine from the Russkiy Mir today. 

However, the double tragedy experienced by Kateryna and Serhiy Dunyak, an ordinary family from Kyiv oblast stuck in the quagmire known as Ukraine’s justice system for eight years, clearly demonstrates our “internal occupation” is no less of a threat to our statehood than an occupation by an external power. Perhaps the greatest threat is mob rule may eventually come to replace written laws which are not enforced, neither of which is a guarantee for fairness and justice. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and eventually, a family for a family.

Other stories written by Marichka Melnyk

Other stories illustrated by Olenka Zahorodnyk


Voices in the Ukrainian Wilderness

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Zones of Alienation… and Rebirth

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The Adventures of Russian Propagandists

They may have changed their tune, but for 20 years the same artificially created opinion leaders laid the foundation for Russia’s war against Ukraine today…