KIEV (Reuters) - Civic activists in Ukraine called for a full criminal investigation into the death of an 18-year-old rape victim, buried on Saturday, whose case has re-ignited a national debate on corruption in the ex-Soviet republic’s justice system.
Oksana Makar died on Thursday from injuries sustained when she was gang-raped, half-strangled and set on fire in an attack by three young men on March 9 in a southern provincial town.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Mykolayiv after news leaked out that police had released two of the three suspected attackers, apparently because their parents had political connections in the region.
The two men were re-arrested and police disciplined after the intervention of President Viktor Yanukovich who sent an investigating team to the town.
Prior to her death, the three suspects had all been charged with rape and one of them additionally with attempted murder. The Segodnya newspaper website quoted a senior Interior Ministry official on Saturday as saying they would all now be charged with murder.
Makar was buried in her home village of Luch near Mikolayiv in a white coffin and wearing a white wedding dress, a Ukrainian tradition in the case of the death of a young unmarried woman.
The case has thrown a focus on the weak state of the justice system in the ex-Soviet republic where the well-connected and wealthy and their families appear able to escape prosecution for wrongdoing, by giving bribes or applying political pressure on police, prosecutors and judges.
Ukrainian media regularly report cases of children of the country’s elite, who are known as “mazhory”, escaping punishment from traffic offences, or from more serious crimes including causing fatal road accidents while at the wheel.
A regional civic activist, Yuri Krutsylov, said on Saturday after the funeral that people in the region would monitor the prosecution of the three accused closely.
“We have lawyers. We are working with them and we will personally monitor this affair,” he said.
“If it is not transparent and done correctly we are ready to come out (on to the streets) and give a reminder that we are following things,” he told 5th channel TV.
The victim’s mother, Tatyana Sirovitskaya, told Segodnya newspaper website on Friday: “My daughter has died. But she has jolted Ukraine. I hope now that just half of the bastards who do terrible and shocking things will be punished and will not be able to buy their way out.”
Local media say Makar met two of the three accused in a local bar on March 9 and after spending some time there with them, went to the apartment of the third.
The reports say she was raped and one of the suspected attackers tried to strangle her with a cord. They subsequently wrapped her in a blanket, took her to a pit on a building site and tried to set her body on fire before escaping.
She was found by a passing motorist and taken to hospital with serious burns. She had both feet and an arm amputated in surgery before she eventually died, media reports said.
Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams