Ukraine cops arrested over drunken shooting of 5-year-old boy

Oleksandr SAVOCHENKO
A court in Kiev ordered the officers to be held without bail pending trial (AFP Photo/Genya SAVILOV)

Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine on Tuesday arrested two policemen on suspicion of shooting dead a five-year-old boy while drunk in a case that has sparked outrage over lingering corruption and impunity in the force.

The National Bureau of Investigations said the shooting took place on Friday when the two patrol officers were drinking together in a yard in the city of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, 70 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Kiev.

While shooting at metal cans, they "hit a five-year-old boy," the investigators said in a statement.

The boy, named by local authorities as Kyrylo Tlyavov, died of head injuries in hospital on Monday despite surgeons operating twice to try to save his life.

The officers, Ivan Prikhodko and Volodymyr Petrovets, initially claimed the child had slipped and hit his head on a rock.

They were detained at the weekend and a court in Kiev on Tuesday ordered them to be held without bail pending trial.

If found guilty of murder, they could serve a life sentence.

The lawyer for Prikhodko, Andriy Chychyrkin, said his client denies committing murder with intent and will appeal against his arrest.

"Nobody wanted the boy to die," the lawyer told AFP, adding that in his view only one of the men can be guilty of the charge.

"You can't have two suspects but only one shot fired and one impact, one bullet and one death. Did two people fire the same bullet? How is that possible?"

Prosecutor Vladislav Volyan argued however that firing weapons in a place where other people were present without knowing where the bullets might fly signified intent to kill.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was sworn into office last month, promised to "do everything to fairly punish those guilty" of the boy's death.

National police chief Sergiy Knyazev said he had dismissed the chief of Kiev regional police over the incident.

"The entire ranks of the police express deep condolences over the death of Kyrylo. This is an enormous tragedy for the parents," he said.

The incident could have wider consequences, however, due to growing public frustration at the state of the police force.

Reforms in recent years aimed at making it more transparent and accountable have not resulted in significant improvement.

Dozens came to the interior ministry building on Monday night with protest signs, placing candles and plush toys near the entrance.

Activists condemned the killing as yet another case where police felt they could act with impunity. They called for dismissal of powerful interior minister Arsen Avakov.

"In a normal country, the interior minister quits after terrible incidents like this," the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a non-governmental organisation, wrote on Facebook.

Several organisations said they were planning protests across Ukraine on Tuesday evening.

Several parties in Ukraine's parliament also called for the police chief to take the floor to give an explanation to lawmakers.