KYIV, June 5 – Ukraine’s powerful interior minister, Arsen Avakov, on Wednesday defied protesters and refused to step down following the death of a 5-year old boy caused apparently by drunken police shooing.
"I will not write the letter of resignation," Avakov said after a Cabinet meeting Interfax-Ukraine reported.
The case that has sparked the latest calls for Avakov's exit involves two traffic police officers who are alleged to have drunkenly shot 5-year-old Kyrylo Tliavov while firing their weapons at empty cans in a yard outside Kyiv last week. Investigators say a bullet from one of the officers' guns struck Tliavov in the head.
Police officials are also being accused of attempting to cover up the officers' actions by initially reporting that an accidental fall caused the boy's head wound, RFE/RL reported.
In a June 4 ruling, a Kyiv court ordered two months of pretrial detention for officers Volodymyr Petrovets and Ivan Prykhodko. They face premeditated murder charges after investigators upgraded the case from hooliganism and inflicting bodily harm.
Amid continuous coverage of the public outrage over the police actions, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy took time out from his first foreign visit, in Brussels, to weigh in. In an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on June 5, Zelenskiy said, "I am sure that there will be political responsibility and criminal liability" for Tliavov's death.
Zelenskiy had written on Facebook on June 4 that he would do everything possible to ensure that guilty parties are punished. "No softening. No attempt to hide this matter. This tragedy should become a lesson," he said.
Avakov outlasted calls for his resignation over allegations of corruption involving his son and the handling of high-profile murder cases such as those of activists Kateryna Handziuk and Iryna Nozdrovska.
More than 22,500 people have signed a petition on the presidential website demanding that Avakov be suspended from duty immediately. Petitions addressed to the president should be considered if they gather at least 25,000 signatures within 90 days.
Underscoring the breadth of the public anger, the demonstrators included several members of far-right groups that are thought to be indebted to Avakov and his ministry for support or leniency following violent attacks on minorities. They lit flares and joined chants of "Throw him out!"
Similar protests took place at regional police offices in at least 10 other cities across Ukraine.
Some of the political responsibility has already fallen on Dmytro Tsenov, head of the Kyiv regional police force where the incident occurred. Tsenov resigned on June 4, telling reporters that he would seek a transfer to the eastern Donbas region where Ukraine is fighting a bloody war against Russia-backed separatists.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered in at least 10 cities -- including Chernivtsi, Vinnytsia, Mykolayiv, Rivne, and Kherson -- and demanded Avakov's resignation. They laid photos of a smiling Tliavov and teddy bears at the entrances to police offices and lit candles in his memory. (rfe/ez)