Ukrainian anti-graft group says razing of activist's house was assassination bid

Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Vitaliy Shabunin stands next to his house, damaged by fire, in the village of Hnidyn in Kyiv Region, Ukraine July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko reuters_tickers
This content was published on July 23, 2020 - 20:02

By Matthias Williams

KYIV (Reuters) - The family home of a prominent Ukrainian anti-corruption activist burned down in what his organisation on Thursday called an assassination bid, demanding that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy investigate the incident personally.

Vitaliy Shabunin's house was hit by an explosion that triggered a fire, the non-governmental Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) said in a statement. Shabunin, co-founder of the group, was not at home, while his parents managed to escape the night-time blaze.

The fire prompted concern from Western diplomats who have pressed Ukraine to tackle entrenched corruption and clean up its justice system.

Police opened a case of suspected intentional destruction or damage to property.

But AntAC, a frequent critic of government officials and prominent businessmen, demanded that Zelenskiy take "personal control the cases of attacks on activists including (this) assassination attempt."

Zelenskiy's spokeswoman declined immediate comment.

AntAC called the fire "part of a campaign aimed at intimidating ANTAC, its team members and stopping our activities," including physical assault, fabricated criminal cases and smear campaigns.

There have been high-profile attacks on anti-corruption activists in Ukraine.

Shabunin said he suffered chemical burns in 2018 when an assailant threw green liquid in his face while he was demonstrating outside a prosecutor's office.

In the same year, activist Kateryna Handziuk died after attackers poured sulphuric acid over her.

"Very disturbed by the news that (Shabunin's) house ...burned down," tweeted European Union ambassador Matti Maasikas. "...Civil activists must feel safe to carry on their mission."

British ambassador Melinda Simmons said in a tweet it was "important to investigate properly this and any attack on anti-corruption activists and those responsible held to account."

(editing by John Stonestreet)

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