Hennadiy Korban, the leader of Ukrainian nationalist party (UKROP) who is currently under house arrest, is being tried for allegations of kidnapping political opponents and government officials, leading a criminal gang, and taking part in corporate raids. Korban vehemently denies these charges.
Though he is widely acknowledged to be nefarious, there is a widespread sense among Ukrainians that Korban is being targeted because he is an outsider of President Poroshenko’s majority in parliament and a key proxy for oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. The troublesome Kolomoyskyi, has clashed with Poroshenko repeatedly this year over embezzlement of state assets and deployment of extra-legal paramilitary force. The case is being widely watched across Ukraine as a bellwether for the issue of selective justice, especially as the pugnacious Korban earned gratitude for his role in tamping down separatism in Eastern Ukraine.
Criminal loyalty seems to have been thrown by the way side however. In a widely read Politico interview with the journalist Oliver Carroll this week, Kolomoyskyi, the former governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, expediently distanced himself from his erstwhile ally and business partner, referring to Korban as an “independent” actor.
On Christmas Day, armed SBU agents hauled Korban out of his Dnipropetrovsk apartment where he was serving house arrest. The next day he reappeared in a Kiev court where a petition was filed by the prosecutor general’s office to change his pre-trial holding from home arrest to remand. The proceeding quickly degenerated into a farcical carnival sideshow as Korban began engaging in the timeless Ukrainian legal tradition of feigning illness to garner sympathy: the maneuver of showing up in court in a wheelchair will be familiar to connoisseurs of mafia films. The tough guy commander of thousands of men against pro-Russian separatists was carried out on a stretcher. The party later released a video of him writhing around theatrically in an ambulance.
The hearings on Sunday night also turned into pandemonium, as several dozen unknown hired thugs known as “Titushki” swarmed the court house and disrupted proceedings, leading to a scuffle with police. Ukraine Today reports that members of parliament (who hold parliamentary immunity) used fire extinguishers to attack the police. After Korban began ‘going’ into seizures, the woman who was his defense counsel also fainted. The next morning the state tried to allocate Korban another lawyer, who refused the case having only an hour to prepare for her court appointment. Ukrainian social media filled up with jokes that no one wanted to represent Korban.
On Monday, a judge carried out the prosecutor’s 60-day petition; the ruling was accompanied by chants of “Shame on you!” from Korban’s supporters. Korban has vowed to appeal the verdict.
Vladislav Davidzon is Tablet’s European culture correspondent and a Russian American writer, translator, and critic. He is the Chief Editor of The Odessa Review and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and lives in Paris.