Monday, July 23, 2012

The Story of Anatoly Onoprienko

Unwanted Overtime

Map of the Ukraine (AP)
Map of the Ukraine (AP)
Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe after Russia, and it is located in the eastern quadrant. The country has rarely stood alone and has been subjugated at one time or another by Poland, Lithuania and Russia. The population of the Ukraine is estimated to be approximately 50 million.
The territory of the Ukraine is mostly a level, treeless plain, except for the Crimean Mountains in the Crimean peninsula and the Carpathians in the west. The climate is moderate and winters are relatively mild with no severe frosts. Because of these positive climatic conditions, the Ukraine is by tradition an agricultural area. They grow wheat, maize, buckwheat and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The Ukraine is also one of the world's main centers of sugar production.
The country is also rich in natural resources, such as iron ore, coal, various metal ores, oil, gas, etc., and has a variety of industries concentrated mostly in and around big cities, such as Kiev, Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk, and Dnyeprodzerzhinsk. They produce planes and ships, cars, buses, locomotives, computer and electronic equipment, precision instruments, agricultural machines, and various other consumer goods. Odessa, Sebastopol, Nickolayev, Kherson and Kerch are the Ukraines main ports.
A massive Soviet military base once dominated the town of Yavoriv, located in Western Ukraine, but after the end of the Cold War, the base has been cut in size, and religion now dominates the area. Nobody works Sunday, much less Easter Sunday. Nobody, that is, except the police, for whom any holiday means double shifts and unwanted overtime.
Investigator Igor Khuney usually has Sundays off, however by 10:00 in the morning on April 7, 1996, he was on his beat in the military housing area as part of an added holiday detail. At the precinct house a few kilometers across town, Khuney's boss, Deputy Police Chief Sergei Kryukov, was sitting in his office, stirring his fifth cup of tea that day. He'd been at work since midnight the previous day and was trying his best to stay alert. Both men were prepared for a long evening holidays always mean more public drinking and, subsequently, more work for police Neither police officer had the faintest idea that, within a matter of hours, he would be involved in the arrest of a suspect in one the worst series of murders in modern history. Nor did the two have any idea that they would get no credit for their work.

A Killer Unmasked

Sometime around noon Officer Khuney received a strange call from a man by the name of Pyotr Onoprienko.  According to Pyotr, he had recently stumbled upon a stash of weapons hidden in his home.  He had suspected that they belonged to his live-in cousin, Anatoly Onoprienko, and ordered him to pack up and move.  Anatoly had become enraged at his cousin's accusations and told Pyotr that he better watch out, because he would take care of his cousin's family on Easter.  Obviously fearing for the safety of his family, Pyotr wanted Khuney to investigate the threat.  Pyotr told the investigator that his cousin had recently moved in with a woman and her child in the nearby town of Zhitomirskaya.  The information about the suspicious character from the Zhitomirskaya intrigued Kryukov, who had just read a police report about a 12-gauge, Russian-made Tos-34 hunting rifle the type used in a recent local killing had been reported stolen in the Zhitomirskaya area.
"It was a long shot, but I thought, here we've got an armed guy from Zhitomirskaya, and a weapon missing.  And we don't have too many people from Zhitom come here," said Kryukov.  "If I hadn't gotten the (tip) that morning, I might never have considered it.  But as it was, I had to think about it."  Concerned, Kryukov quickly called superiors in the Lviv police headquarters for advice on how to proceed.  Lviv police chief, General Bogdan Romanuk, instructed Kryukov to form a task force and conduct a search of Anatoly Onoprienko's apartment.
Within an hour, over 20 patrolmen and detectives were assembled, and the group set off for Ivana Khristitelya Street in unmarked cars.  The suspect shared an apartment there with a Yavoriv hairdresser "Anna" and her two children.  The exits to the suspect's building were blocked with unmarked cars and two men guarded the fourth and second floors.  The remaining investigators surrounded the building.  Khuney, Kryukov and patrolman Vladimir Kensalo then approached the suspect's door.

Anatoly Onoprienko mugshot
Anatoly Onoprienko mugshot
Kryukov had no idea whether Anna and her two children were home.  Unbeknown to investigators, they were at church, and Anatoly Onoprienko, whom the children now called "Dad", was expecting them home any minute.  When Kryukov rang the doorbell, Onoprienko assumed that it was Anna and opened the door without hesitation.  To his surprise, he was quickly subdued and handcuffed.  As Kryukov looked around the suspect's apartment, he noticed an Akai stereo in the living room.  The stereo caught his eye because a Novosad family, recently murdered in nearby Busk on March 22, 1996, had a similar stereo, which was reported missing by family members shortly after their murder.  "I had a list, which I always carried around, of certain items that had been reported missing, their makes and serial numbers," said Kryukov.  "And the Akai matched the Busk crime scene."
When police asked Onoprienko for his identification, he led them to a closet.  As an investigator opened the closet door, Onoprienko dove for a pistol he had previously hidden inside.  Regardless of his efforts, he was quickly subdued and unable to get to it in time.  The pistol, as it would turn out, was the second piece of evidence it had been stolen from a murder scene in Odessa.  Realizing the seriousness of the situation, investigators escorted Onoprienko back to police headquarters and began a comprehensive search of the premises.  By the end of the day, 122 items, belonging to numerous unsolved murder victims were recovered from the scene, including a sawed-off Tos-34 rifle.
As the search at Ivana Khristitelya Street was winding down, Anna came home.  "She understood that something serious had happened, and asked me what was going on," Kryukov said.  "There was nothing to do. I took her aside and said, 'Do you remember those killings in Bratkovichi?' and she broke down crying.


Although they had a mountain of material evidence, Kryukov needed a confession. Nonetheless, Onoprienko immediately made it clear that he was not interested in talking. When Kryukov confronted him with the facts, Onoprienko showed little reaction and just smiled. I'll talk to a general, but not to you, he said.�
Yavoriv's lead investigator, Bogdan Teslya, had not been involved in the arrest or initial search. At the time of the operation, he had been at home relaxing with his family. Shortly after the search at Onoprienko's apartment was finished, at approximately 9:00 at night, he got a phone call from Kryukov asking him to come in and handle the interrogation. Teslya was considered by Khuney and other investigators to be the best interrogator in the area, because of his personality and ability to speak calmly with suspects.
At police headquarters, Onoprienko had waived his right to an attorney and continued to remain silent. Despite his announcement that he would speak to no one below the rank of general, Teslya considered it imperative to try to get as much information as he could. I was terrified that it would go wrong, he said. In this kind of case, you never know what will happen. He might hang himself in his cell by the next morning, and then you'd never be able to really close the case. We needed to get him to speak. Beginning at 10 p.m., Teslya sat alone in an interrogation room with Onoprienko while they waited for an Interior Ministry general to arrive from Lviv, and tried to get him to talk about himself.
Onoprienko was silent at first, but in the second half hour of questioning began to talk about his life, telling Teslya that he had been born in the town of Laski in the Zhitomirskaya Oblast. He told Teslya his mother had died when he was very young and that his father had put him into a Russian orphanage. Onoprienko talked at length about this, saying he was still angry that his father gave him away, but kept his older brother. Onoprienko said that he felt that his father and brother could easily have taken care of him, Teslya said. He was moved and upset to talk about it. Following this line of questioning, Teslya then asked Onoprienko whether he ever felt resentment toward families. Onoprienko hesitated briefly and then shook his head before restating that he would not talk to anyone below the rank of general.
At that point, I tried something new, Teslya said. I said to him, 'We'll get you your general. We'll get 10 generals if you want. But how am I going to look if I bring them in here and you've got nothing to tell them? Because maybe there's nothing to tell. How will I look then? And that's when he said it. He said, Don't worry. There's definitely something to tell.

Confessions of Madness

Shortly after 11 p.m., Teslya left the room and went into the corridor, where General Romanuk was waiting. After a brief recess, the two men and Romanuk's assistant, Maryan Pleyukh, entered the room, and Onoprienko began his confession.�
He first admitted that he had stolen the shotgun, and then admitted that he had used it in a recent murder. Onoprienko confessed to investigators that he killed for the first time in 1989. He had met a friend, Sergei Rogozin, at a local gym where the two worked out. The two hit it off and began spending much of their time together and their friendship eventually turned into a partnership of crime. They began robbing homes as a way to supplement their meager incomes.�
However, one night while robbing a secluded home outside of town, the owners discovered the two intruders. Armed with weapons they carried for self-defense, the two felt that killing the family was necessary in assuring their freedom. Hence, in covering up their tracks, they murdered the entire family two adults and eight children. Onoprienko informed investigators that he broke all ties with Sergei a few months later and shot and killed five people, including an 11-year-old boy, who were sleeping in a car. He then burned their bodies. I was approaching the car only to rob it, he said. I was a completely different person then. Had I known there had been five people, I would have left. He said he had derived no pleasure from the act of the killing. Corpses are ugly, he said. They stink and send out bad vibes. After I killed the family in the car, I sat in the car with their bodies for two hours not knowing what to do with them. The smell was unbearable.
Following the murders, Onoprienko kept to himself for several years and moved in with a distant cousin, before he killed again on December 24, 1995. That night, he broke into the secluded home of the Zaichenko family, located in Garmarnia, a village in central Ukraine. He murdered the forestry teacher, along with his wife and two young sons, with a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun. He then escaped with the couples wedding rings, a small golden cross on a chain, earrings, and a bundle of worn clothes. Before leaving the scene of the crime, he set the home ablaze. I just shot them. It's not that it gave me pleasure, but I felt this urge, he said. From then on, it was almost like some game from outer space. �

Onoprienko, hands up, in jail (AP/Wide World)
Onoprienko, hands up, in jail (AP/Wide World)
Onoprienko informed investigators that he had a vision from god, was commanded to murder, and just nine days later killed a family of four, before burning the house down. All the victims were shot with his gun. He claimed that while fleeing the scene, he was spotted by a man on the road and decided to kill him as well, so as not to leave any living witnesses that could later identify him or place him at the scene. Less than a month later, on January 6, 1996 Onoprienko told investigators, that he killed four more people in three separate incidents. He was hanging out near the Berdyansk-Dnieprovskaya highway and decided to stop cars and kill the drivers. Onoprienko stated that he murdered four travelers that day - a Navy ensign named Kasai, a taxi driver named Savitsky, and a kolkhoz cook named Kochergina. To me it was like hunting. Hunting people down, he explained. I would be sitting, bored, with nothing to do. And then suddenly this idea would get into my head. I would do everything to get it out of my mind, but I couldn't. It was stronger than me. So I would get in the car or catch a train and go out to kill.

Commanded to Kill

Anatoly Onoprienko waited just 11 days after the highway murders before killing again. On January 17, 1996, he drove to Bratkovichi and broke into a home owned by the Pilat family. I look at it very simply, he told investigators. As an animal. I watched all this as an animal would stare at a sheep. He shot five in all, including a six-year-old boy. Following the murder, just before daybreak, he set the house ablaze prior to leaving. While making his get away, he was spotted by two witnesses, a 27-year-old female railroad worker named Kondzela, and a 56-year-old man named Zakharko. He wasted little time and shot them both in cold blood.
Less than two weeks later, on January 30, 1996, in the Fastova, Kievskaya Oblast region, Onoprienko shot and killed a 28-year-old nurse named Marusina, along with her two young sons and a 32-year-old male visitor named Zagranichniy. He told investigators that he could not stop himself and was obsessed with killing.
A month after the Fastova murders, on February 19, 1996, Onoprienko traveled to Olevsk, Zhitomirskaya Oblast, and broke into the home of the Dubchak family. He shot the father and son, and mauled the mother and daughter to death with a hammer before leaving. He stated that the young girl had witnessed him murder her parents and was praying when he walked into her room. Seconds before I smashed her head, I ordered her to show me where they kept their money, he said. She looked at me with an angry, defiant stare and said, No, I won't. That strength was incredible. But I felt nothing.
On February 27, 1996, Onoprienko said that he drove to Malina, in the Lvivskaya Oblast region and broke into the Bodnarchuk family home. He shot the husband and wife to death and then murdered their two daughters, aged seven and eight. Rather than shooting the young children, he hacked them both to death with an axe. One hour later, a neighboring businessman named Tsalk was wandering around outside and Onoprienko decided to kill him as well. He shot the man and then hacked up his corpse with the same axe he had used to murder the children. Oh, you know, I killed them because I loved them so much, those children, those men and women, I had to kill them, the inner voice spoke inside my mind and heart and pushed me so hard!�
Onoprienko claimed that his last murder occurred on March 22, 1996, when he traveled to the small village of Busk, just outside of Bratkovichi, and murdered the Novosad family, four in all. He shot them to death and set their home ablaze in order to destroy any evidence. I'm not a maniac, he said. If I were, I would have thrown myself onto you and killed you right here. No, it's not that simple. I have been taken over by a higher force, something telepathic or cosmic, which drove me. I am like a rabbit in a laboratory. A part of an experiment to prove that man is capable of murdering and learning to live with his crimes. To show that I can cope, that I can stand anything, forget everything.
Investigators questioned Onoprienko until 6 a.m., as he confessed to committing over 50 murders during his 3-month rampage. They spent most of their time taking down details about each killing. There was little talk of motive, although Onoprienko stated several times that he wanted to be studied as a phenomenon of nature and that a higher being had commanded him to kill.

Citizen O

The day after the initial interview with Onoprienko, Teslya went to Lviv, where Onoprienko had been moved, and began a 5-day series of one-on-one interviews with his suspect. Teslya called Onoprienko the most perplexing person I've ever interviewed. The suspect told Teslya he was commanded by God to kill, and that he had been chosen as a superior specimen. He claimed he could wield strong hypnotic powers, control animals through telepathy and stop his heart with his mind. I told him that I thought his hypnotic powers were interesting, and asked him, for my benefit, if he could try them on me, Teslya said. But he said that it only worked with weak people, and I wasn't a weak enough person.
Onoprienko revealed that he had previously spent time in a Kiev hospital for schizophrenia, a lead that Teslya, as an Lviv investigator, was not allowed to pursue. The statement was interesting because immediately following the arrest, Kiev Interior Ministry investigator Alexander Tevashchenko said that Onoprienko - then identified as "Citizen O" - was an outpatient whose therapists knew he was a killer. Teslya later stated that he knew nothing about that side of the case, and the Kiev investigators have yet to release any further information regarding it since the initial statement.
On Friday, April 19, 1996, the investigation was taken out of Teslya's hands and turned over to federal Interior Ministry investigators. When his week of questioning the suspect was over, Teslya said he had concluded Onoprienko was genuinely insane and had acted alone. There have been many rumors that he was part of a gang, but my feeling is that his discussions of his motives, and of his special powers, were not fabricated. I can be wrong, but that's what I think, he said. Plus, just thinking rationally, I don't think anyone but a single killer could have pulled off so many murders. In a gang, someone talks, another drinks, a third whispers something to a girlfriend, and it's all overbut as I say, I can be wrong.
Even though psychiatrists declared Anatoly Onoprienko mentally fit to stand trial, the proceedings did not begin until November of 1998. Incredibly, trials in the Ukraine cannot begin until the defendant has read all the evidence against him, at his leisure, and in the case of Anatoly Onoprienko there was plenty to get through - 99 volumes of gruesome photos, showing dismembered bodies, cars, houses and random objects Onoprienko stole from his victims. Another reason for the delay was money. It was not until the head judge in the trial made a televised appeal that the Ukrainian government agreed to allocate the necessary funds for a lengthy trial.
On November 23, 1998, a Ukrainian court ruled that 39-year-old Anatoly Onoprienko was mentally competent and could be held responsible for his crimes. The regional court in Zhytomyr said that Onoprienko, Does not suffer any psychiatric diseases, is conscious of and is in control of the actions he commits, and does not require any extra psychiatric examination.

Caged Justice

Deemed competent to face the charges against him, Onoprienkos trial opened in the city of Zhytomyr, 90 miles west of Kiev on February 12, 1999. As the proceedings began, Onoprienko, like Andrei Chikatilo, Russia's infamous Rostov Ripper, sat in court in an iron cage, and was spat upon and raged at by the public. Hundreds of people huddled together in the unheated courtroom were angered, Let us tear him apart, shouted a woman from the back of the court room just before the hearing started, adding, He does not deserve to be shot. He needs to die a slow and agonizing death. Afraid that the crowd might take the law into their own hands, police searched bags and made everyone pass through an airport-style metal detector before continuing. Many of those attending the hearing said they were afraid that the killer would be sentenced to only 15 years in prison - the maximum sentence possible under Ukrainian law, except for capital punishment.
While in court, Onoprienko had very little to say. Asked if he would like to make a statement he shrugged his shoulders and replied, No, nothing. Informed of his legal rights he growled, This is your law. When asked to state his nationality, he said, None. When Judge Dmitry Lipsky said this was impossible, Onoprienko rolled his eyes and replied, Well, according to law enforcement officers, I'm Ukrainian.
The defendant claimed he felt like a robot driven for years by a dark force and argued that he should not be tried until authorities could determine the source. You are not able to take me as I am, he shouted at Judge Dmytro Lypsky. You do not see all the good I am going to do, and you will never understand me, he said. This is a great force that controls this hall as well. You will never understand this. Maybe only your grandchildren will understand.
Onoprienko's lawyer, Ruslan Moshkovsky, who said he did not contest his client's guilt, blamed ineptitude of investigators for the extent of his rampage and asked that his childhood in the orphanage be viewed as an extenuating circumstance. Nonetheless, Prosecutor Yury Ignatenko countered that examinations of Onoprienko's mental health during the investigation had overturned an independent diagnosis of schizophrenia made before his arrest, and a further test ordered by the court confirmed his current mental health. The prosecutor said Onoprienko's motives lay in his own violent nature. In every society there have been and are people who due to their innate natures can kill, and there are those who will never do that, he added. People demand how come he killed so many people. But why not, if conditions make it possible?... Onoprienko led a double life, and that is the main thing.
Onoprienko told the court that he had been driven by a devil, higher powers and mysterious voices. He assured the court he was guilty of all charges against him, however insisted that he felt no remorse. I would kill today in spite of anything, Anatoly told the court. Today I am a beast of Satan.
Following 100 volumes of shocking evidence and the defendants own admissions, closing arguments began in April of 1999. Prosecutor Yury Ignatenko wasted little time in demanding the death sentence, In view of the extreme danger posed by (Anatoly) Onoprienko as a person, I consider that the punishment for him must also be extreme -- in the form of the death sentence, Yury Ignatenko told the court in his concluding speech.
Onoprienko's lawyer Ruslan Moshkovsky, once again tried to play on the sympathy of the court as he began his own closing arguments, My defendant was from the age of four deprived of motherly love, and the absence of care which is necessary for the formation of a real man," Moshkovsky said. I appeal to the soften the punishment.
With the trial now over, court was adjourned to await the judges ultimate verdict.


After just 3 hours of deliberation, Judge Dmytro Lypsky called the court back into session. Onoprienko stood head bent, staring at the floor of his metal cage as the sentence was read. In line with Ukraines criminal code, Onoprienko is sentenced to the death penalty by shooting, Judge Lypsky announced to the court.
In his final statement to the court, Onoprienko exclaimed, I've robbed and killed, but I'm a robot, I don't feel anything, I've been close to death so many times that it's even interesting for me now to venture into the afterworld, to see what is there, after this death.��

Onoprienko on videotape in jail (AP/Wide World)
Onoprienko on videotape in jail (AP/Wide World)
Thank goodness that's over, said a secretary leaving the hearing.
The death sentence ruling put the Ukraine in an awkward position. Under its obligations as a Council of Europe member, they had committed to abolishing capital punishment. Nonetheless, both the public and the politicians argued that the Onoprienko case was an exception.�
Following his sentencing, Onoprienko, the media dubbed Terminator, gave a lengthy interview to a London Times reporter. During their meeting, Onoprienko reminisced about the murders he had committed.
I started preparing for prison life a long time ago -- I fasted, did yoga, I am not afraid of death, he said. Death for me is nothing. Naturally, I would prefer the death penalty. I have absolutely no interest in relations with people. I have betrayed them.
The first time I killed, I shot down a deer in the woods. I was in my early twenties and I recall feeling very upset when I saw it dead. I couldn't explain why I had done it, and I felt sorry for it. I never had that feeling again.

Leonid Kuchma, Ukranian president
Leonid Kuchma, Ukranian president
If I am ever let out, I will start killing again, but this time it will be worse, ten times worse. The urge is there. Seize this chance because I am being groomed to serve Satan. After what I have learnt out there, I have no competitors in my field. And if I am not killed I will escape from this jail and the first thing I'll do is find Kuchma (the Ukrainian president) and hang him from a tree by his testicles.
Onoprienko's accomplice in the first set of murders, 36-year-old Serhiy Rogozin, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. �Anatoly Onoprienko currently resides on death row as authorities are still looking into a string of additional murders that took place between 1989 and 1995. Since there is a gap in Onoprienko's life during that time that he will not discuss and which cannot be accounted for, he remains a suspect in them.

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