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Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared 22 years ago. Why was execution pistol needed?

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Viktar Hanchar and Anatoly Krasouski​

An opposition politician Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski disappeared on the evening of September 16, 1999. It was a Thursday. Every week, on Thursdays, they went to the same sauna at the Motovelozavod factory. Always at the same time.

Hanchar left home around 8:00 p.m. He was supposed to be back at 11:30, when he had an important conversation scheduled with someone in Moscow. At about 9:00 pm, he called his wife and asked to record the news -- there was a meeting of Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the law enforcers. They were also talking about the opposition.

About 10:45 pm, Hanchar and Krasouski went out of the sauna, got into the Jeep of the businessman and disappeared. Together with the Jeep.
 

Crisis of 1999

In summer 1999, the first term of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's presidency was about to expire. He was elected in 1994 and new elections were to take place in five years. But in 1996, after a fallout with the parliament (then it was called the Supreme Soviet), Lukashenka carried out a constitutional reform. With the adoption of the new Constitution, the President was "above" the other branches of power.

In addition, Lukashenka decided that the referendum "reset" his presidential term, and started counting five years from the adoption of the new Constitution, that is, from 1996. That is why he did not plan to hold any elections in 1999.

According to the Constitution of 1994, the next presidential election should have been held in 1999. Photo: Narodnaya Volya

The rebellious Supreme Soviet was dissolved in 1996. Instead of it, a National Assembly was formed. Some deputies of the Supreme Soviet joined it. But another part kept on insisting that the referendum was illegal, the referendum was held with many violations, the new Constitution was invalid, and the Supreme Soviet was the only legitimate parliament. In 1999 this part of deputies, considering themselves as a legitimate legislative power, tried to conduct presidential elections in Belarus.

Hanchar was then first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet (and later acting chairman) and head of the alternative CEC. The presidential election (held in May 1999) did not work out well. There were initially two candidates -- Mikhail Chyhir, ex-Prime Minister (already in jail in May) and Zyanon Paznyak (in exile). There were no polling stations; members of commissions simply went door-to-door with ballot boxes. It is clear that no one would have recognized the results of such voting.

Mikhail Chyhir / Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta

But in the summer, the issue of Lukashenka's legitimacy as president came up again. The West insisted on negotiations between the authorities and the opposition. An extraordinary session of the stubborn Supreme Soviet, chaired by Viktar Hanchar, was scheduled for September 19. The agenda featured the issue of removing Lukashenka from power. However, on September 16, three days before the session, Hanchar disappeared.

Shards of glass and headlights 

Glass and headlight splinters were found not far from the sauna, where Hanchar and Krasouski went that evening. There were also blood stains on the asphalt. The prosecutor's office launched an investigation.

"Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta" wrote that the head of the KGB press service personally called the editorial office saying "the KGB has nothing to do with the disappearance of Viktar Hanchar and is concerned about his fate." But a few months before that another vocal opponent of Lukashenka, former head of the Internal Affairs Ministry Yury Zakharanka had disappeared on his way home on the evening of May 6.

Yury Zakharenka disappeared on May 6, 1999

"Alyaksandr Rhoravich! I voted for you twice. People told me, 'This president sacked your Yury, but you vote for him all the same. But what did I think? Lukashenka is from the countryside, a simple man, so he will be a good president," Zakharanka's mother Yulia wrote that summer in a letter to Lukashenka. She asked only for one thing: "Let him go, give such an order. I beg the Lord".

And then Hanchar's mother Valiantsina wrote a similar letter to Lukashenka: "I appeal to you, Mr. Lukashenka: recall my kindness, simplicity and hospitality towards you personally. Help me to get my son back". 

First versions

The authorities immediately said that they had nothing to do with it. In an interview with Interfax, Ivan Pashkevich, deputy head of the presidential administration, suggested that Hanchar staged his disappearance because people started forgetting about him.

"To draw attention to himself, he is likely, like the former Minister of Internal Affairs Yuri Zakharenko, went abroad or to one of his friends' dachas, where he is now in good health," reasoned Ivan Pashkevich.

Journalists of the independent media already found this version questionable at the time. Hanchar had big plans for the political autumn. It was silly to disappear in such conditions.

Syamion Sharetski, head of the 13th Supreme Soviet, connected Hanchar's disappearance with the forthcoming session: "This is the same thing that happened to me. On the eve of the session, I was warned that the same thing was going to happen to me, and I had to leave the country... Lukashenka was afraid of the session and of the opposition in general. And that is why he tried to decapitate the Supreme Soviet".

Syamien Sharetski had to leave the country in summer 1999 / Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta

Stanislau Bahdankevich, UCP Chairman, claimed that Hanchar's disappearance benefited primarily the authorities: "It is obvious that the authorities are determined to disrupt the negotiations. I am convinced that the negotiations will not take place. Lukashenka is incapable of dialogue, his style is monologue."

The ambassador and the US Department of State and the OSCE leadership expressed their concern about Hanchar's fate.

Commenting on the disappearances in Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said: "I would ask the West to look for them at home before making big statements."

"Stop looking for Zakharanka and Hanchar"

In November 2000, Dzmitry Paulichenka, commander of the SWAT team, was detained. The reason would become clear a year later, in the summer of 2001.

Paulichenka's detention was initiated by Uladzimir Matskevich, head of the KGB at the time. He explained it by the fact that "in the materials of the operative investigation there is reliable information that Dzmitry Paulichenka is an organizer and a head of the criminal group that was engaged in kidnapping and physical elimination of citizens." Prosecutor Aleh Bazhelka authorized the detention.

But a few days later Paulichenka was released, and Matskevich and Bazhelka were dismissed. Bazhelka later reportedly told former Agriculture Minister Vasil Leonau about his conversation with Lukashenka.

"You drove me to exhaustion. I've been staying up nights, swallowing handfuls of pills. And you're digging and digging under me. Stop looking for Zakharanka and Hanchar. Do you need the opposition to carry coffins with their bodies around Minsk? Look for Dzima!" Lukashenka allegedly told the Prosecutor General at the time. Dzima is a cameraman of the Russian ORT Dzmitry Zavadski who disappeared without a trace in the summer of 2000.

Dzmitry Paulichenka was a SWAT team commander in 1999 / Svaboda newspaper

According to Lyavonau, Bazhelka told him all this in the spring of 2001. And in the summer of 2001, some materials of the criminal case about the missing politicians were released to the press. In particular, there were two reports from Colonel Aleh Alkayeu, head of the detention center, and Mikalai Lapatsik, head of the main Criminal Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
 

Execution pistol

These documents show that a month before the first disappearance, that is, in April 1999, the State Secretary of the Security Council Viktar Sheiman instructed the then head of the Interior Ministry Yury Sivakou to allow Dzmitry Paulichenka in Detention center #1 "during the execution procedure" of people sentenced to death. It was allegedly done for him to see how it happens and what is done with the body afterwards. Later - on May 6, 1999 - Sheiman instructed Sivakou to give Paulichenka the pistol with which the sentence is carried out.

Documents from the criminal case of the missing politicians hit the press in 2001 / Svaboda newspaper

Later, writes in his report the head of the Department of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, "V.V. Sheiman instructed Paulichenka to eliminate former Minister of Internal Affairs Zakharanka". Lapatsik describes who was watching and who carried out the "action of kidnapping and subsequent elimination." On May 8, the gun was returned to the detention center. And in September it was taken again. It was when Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared.  

"The burial place of the bodies of Y.N. Zakharanka, V.I. Hanchar, and A.S. Krasouski is the special plot of the last graves in the Northern cemetery," Lapatsik concludes his report.

The reports were real, this was indirectly confirmed already by the next Minister of Internal Affairs Uladzimir Navumau. "Morally dishonest people use parts of documents from the criminal case, which with a certain form of presentation can be misinterpreted," he told journalists then. It means that there were such documents in the criminal case.

The BDG newspaper managed to interview Aleh Alkayeu. In the summer of 2001, when his report appeared in the newspapers, he promptly left the country. He left his job from a safe distance. "I confirm: the report is signed by my hand, the report of the interrogation, of course, the investigator typed it, but from my words. I signed on each sheet. The documents appear to have been destroyed. But the copies were made from the original documents," he said.

Alkayeu also told journalists how he first suspected something was amiss: he saw photos of the missing politicians in the newspaper and compared the dates. "I called my gunsmith and asked him to bring me the weapons register. When I saw it, I was horrified. On April 30th, the gun was issued, on May 14th it was returned, and on May 7th Zakharanka disappeared. Then on September 16th, in the morning, the gun was given to the Adjutant of the Minister of Internal Affairs, on the 18th it was returned, and on the 16th in the evening Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared. Once could be a coincidence, but twice is very suspicious," said the former head of the remand prison #1.

Article about the missing politicians in the newspaper "Svaboda", 2001

According to Alkayeu, the pistol used for executions in pre-trial detention facilities is only intended for point-blank range, "that is, at a distance used for an ordinary pistol, ours would not work. It has low deadly force."

But why make it so complicated, said the critics of this version at the time. Why not use any other, more accessible weapon for murder? If we are talking about murder. This, in particular, was said by Sivakou, one of the figures in the scheme, as it followed from the Lapatsik report.

"If we proceed from the inferences that are now being made in the press, then, excuse me, why the hell did I need this gun? Doesn't the Interior Ministry have enough guns, including confiscated ones?" Sivakou said. But Alkayeu had an explanation for that as well.

"I can tell you one of my own versions of why the gun was taken for. It was needed to give the murder a ritual of execution. To relieve some of the burden of responsibility from the people who did it: here's a special weapon. It's not murder, it's the execution of a sentence. There may have been a conviction. A fake one. Sivakou likes all sorts of rituals," he said.

A couple of years later, Minsk city prosecutor's office suspended the criminal investigation into the disappearance of Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski.

New evidence?

Almost 20 years later - in 2019 - the above-mentioned version of the disappearance of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's opponents found new confirmation. German DW interviewed Yuri Harauski, a former SWAT team member, who admitted that he was in the group that liquidated politicians. He told in detail how they had followed, detained and killed them. The unit commander, according to Harauski, was Dzmitry Paulichenka.

He is, by the way, still in the ranks. In the past election campaign, he supported Lukashenka and, as he himself said, "did not stay aside and was involved in dispersing the protesters from the first minutes." The retired officer was seen among the officials in the fenced-off area near the Palace of Independence. In the official media, Paulichenka is the chairman of the Council of the Belarusian Association of Veterans of Special Forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs "Honor".

Dzmitry Paulichenka at a pro-government rally in October 2020 / Euroradio reader photo

Viktar Sheiman was also in service until recently. Only a couple of months ago, Lukashenko dismissed him from his post as head of the presidential administration. But immediately asked him "not to go far."

Sivakou and Navumau are retired. But they keep silent. There's not much to say though, is there.

 

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