Why Do So Many Public Officials Die on Ukraine's Roads?

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Some counterpoint to the conspiracy theories

Ukraine-Car-Accident-Banner.jpgPool/Reuters

When Roman Shubin, the deputy prosecutor of Vinnytska Oblast, died on September 23 in a car crash, some people immediately suspected foul play. After all, as chief prosecutor for Ukraine's high-profile crimes unit, Shubin worked on some pretty touchy cases -- including the 2004 dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko, who was in the midst of a hard-fought presidential election campaign against current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and the gruesome killing of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000.

The trails of suspicion in both cases led high up into the ruling elite. ​​And suspicious "accidents" seem to happen fairly often in Ukraine. In 1999, opposition presidential candidate Viacheslav Chornovil -- running against President Leonid Kuchma -- died in a car crash that the Interior Ministry determined was "accidental." A new investigation was opened in 2011. In 2002, Yulia Tymoshenko -- then one of the leaders of the opposition to Kuchma -- was involved in a mysterious car accident in Kyiv that some observers have speculated may have been an assassination attempt. In 2004, Yuriy Chechyk, director of Radio Yuta in Poltava, was killed in a suspicious car crash while on his way to a meeting with representatives of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service.

In Shubin's case, there have been reports that he had been threatened in the past and that he had asked to be transferred to another position. Reporting the death, Kyiv's "Segodnya" newspaper quoted an unnamed former investigator as saying he "doubts" the car crash was accidental. "[Shubin] had enemies," the source said.

Details of Shubin's crash are sketchy, but apparently he rammed into the back of a KamAZ truck, either at "high speed" or at "very high speed," according to different reports. Some media reported that he might have had a heart attack or other medical problem prior to the collision, although there has been no evidence of that.

All of which appears to point to another, more prosaic, explanation of the tragedy. As is the case across the former Soviet Union and in many other parts of the world, Ukraine's political and other elites very often treat the country's roads as their own private racetrack. ​​Party of Regions lawmaker Vladislav Lukyanov bragged on Facebook in July that he drove from Kyiv to Odesa in 2 hours and 40 minutes, which would give him an average speed of 200 kilometers an hour.

Asked about it by journalists, Lukyanov was unapologetic: "When we went to Odesa and I was at the wheel, we selected a stretch of road where there were no obstacles or other cars and I experimented to see what speed my car could achieve. We did not create any obstacles or danger for other road users because there were none." Apparently, Lukyanov got around every corner without encountering a fully loaded KamAZ truck. He added that he learned that his Audi is capable of speeds of more than 300 kilometers per hour.

On the evening of September 23 in Kyiv, two people died -- including the director of the financial policy office of the Economic Development Ministry -- in a crash during what police suspect was an illegal street race on a highway in the capital. Serhiy Chekashkin was driving a Dodge Viper SRT10 when he died while racing someone in a Ferrari. The $160,000 American-made Viper can go from 0 to 160 kph in 8.6 seconds. According to media reports, Chekashkin also owned a Ford Mustang GT, another Mustang, a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 Hennesy, and a Nissan GT-R.

For visitors to Ukraine, the British government offers this advice on its website:

"Local driving standards are poor: street lights are weak, speed limits, traffic lights and road signs are often ignored, and drivers rarely indicate before maneuvering."


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.


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