Anti-Putin Exile Gunned Down in the Streets of Ukraine

Denis Voronenkov was once part of the Moscow elite. Then he fled Russia and started to speak out against Russian security services. Now he’s dead.

MOSCOW — Ukraine has been shaken by a new Russia-related assassination. A former member of the Russian parliament, Denis Voronenkov, was shot dead in the heart of Kiev, on the corner of Shevchenko and Pushkin streets.

Voronenkov, a colonel in the Russian military, escaped to Ukraine together with his wife, Maria Maksakova, who is also a former State Duma member. A few weeks ago, Voronenkov told The Daily Beast about his plans to testify at the trial for treason, in absentia, of former Ukraine President Victor Yanukovych, who fled to exile in 2014.

[Editorial Note: Many of the allegations surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign relations with Russia center on Paul Manafort, who served as Trump campaign chairman after he worked for Yanukovych.]

Voronenkov, a Russian army colonel, told The Daily Beast in our interview that he felt himself much happier in Ukraine than in Moscow, where federal special services agents were trying to prosecute him for corruption.

When asked whether he was worried about his safety in Ukraine, Voronenkov responded with a smile that any attempt to deport or harm him and his wife “would spoil Ukraine’s international reputation.”

Voronenkov spent his days giving interviews to local and foreign publications, criticizing the Kremlin’s policy and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Voronenkov’s murder “an act of state terrorism ordered by Russia.” Poroshenko also cited what he called the obvious “handwriting of Russian special services” behind the murder.

Witnesses heard at least seven shots Thursday outside the Premiere Palace Hotel. Voronenkov’s assassin was reportedly wounded and hospitalized.

The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported that the assassin shot Voronenkov when the Russian whistleblower was heading to a meeting with another exiled ex-member of the State Duma, Sergei Ponamarev, the only Russian parliament member who did not vote for the Crimea annexation in 2014.

For weeks, Russian state news had condemned Voronenkov for betraying his country. Most people who knew the colonel, including family members, blamed the ex-official for switching sides and running to Ukraine.

Shortly after news of the murder reached Moscow, Voronenkov’s mother-in-law, a famous Russian stage and movie actress, reportedly commented the assassination: “Oh, thank God. What else to do with him?"

In the past three years of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia, news about assassinations in Ukraine has not been rare. Among the mysterious murders were the assassination of noted journalist Pavel Sheremet—blown up in his car near Kiev’s opera house—and the murder of a well-respected attorney, Yury Grabovsky. But this time Ukrainian investigators may have a much better idea who the murderer was: at 3 p.m. local time, the wounded assassin of Voronenkov was at Kiev’s hospital #17.

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Officially, Moscow immediately insisted that it had nothing to do with the murder. President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party United Russia declared that Voronenkov’s assassination was an internal issue for Ukraine.