Vadym Hetman’s murder came a year before the 1999 presidential contest, when opposition politicians were starting their race against the incumbent Leonid Kuchma. The young Victor Yushchenko was floated as a potential challenger. But the politically inexperienced central bank chairman decided his time had not yet come. Former dissident-turned-national leader Vyacheslav Chornovil was the favorite of the pro-West camp. Chornovil was the charismatic leader of the Rukh movement that played a central role in securing Ukrainian independence.
Chornovil had run for president twice, in 1991 and 1994, and was preparing for the 1999 race when he met his demise on March 25 – a half-year before the elections. His car was speeding back to Kyiv along the Boryspil highway late at night when it slammed into the side of a truck that was making a sudden U-turn on a single-lane, unlit road. The driver and Chornovil were killed instantly.
Police immediately declared Chornovil’s death an accident, prior to conducting a full investigation. Meanwhile, the accident’s only survivor, Dmytro Ponamarchuk, Chornovil’s press secretary, remains convinced that it was no accident, but murder. Mykola Stepanenko, a former Interior Ministry colonel who headed a six-year investigation on behalf of Rukh, arrived at the same conclusion.
In September 1999, elections went ahead as planned. Political experts have postulated that Chornovil had a strong chance of beating Kuchma, because the incumbent had lost the electorate’s trust. With Chornovil out of the picture, Kuchma had an easy time in defeating the “red scare” of communist leader Petro Symonenko in the second round of elections.
With Chornovil’s death, the Rukh
Party splintered and lost clout.
After Yushchenko took office, the investigation into Chornovil’s death
was reopened, but has thus far not found evidence of foul play.
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