Ukraine president demands swift probe after activist's house set ablaze

Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Vitaliy Shabunin stands next to his house, damaged by fire, in the village of Hnidyn
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Matthias Williams
·2 min read
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By Matthias Williams

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday called on law enforcement to find and punish those responsible for an arson attack on the family home of a prominent anticorruption activist known for criticising top officials and businessmen.

Vitaliy Shabunin's house was hit by an explosion that triggered a fire in what his organisation called an assassination attempt and part of a sustained intimidation campaign to stop its activities.

"The culprits must be found and punished," Zelenskiy said in a statement. "And we - the society - still have to learn to be tolerant of those who have their own position on controversial issues."

Shabunin was not at home, while his parents managed to escape the blaze which occurred early on Thursday. Footage from the scene showed the house badly damaged from the fire and debris from the roof strewn across the rooms below.

"I was lucky, my family was lucky ... Our neighbour, who works at night, heard an explosion, a loud bang at 2.30 a.m. (2330 GMT), it was hard for her to understand what it was," he said, speaking to reporters outside the house.

The nongovernmental Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), cofounded by Shabunin, had demanded Zelenskiy take personal control over the cases of attacks on activists including the "assassination attempt" on Shabunin.

The fire prompted concern from Western diplomats who have pressed Ukraine to tackle entrenched corruption and clean up its justice system.

Police opened a case of suspected intentional destruction or damage to property.

But AntAC called the fire "part of a campaign aimed at intimidating ANTAC, its team members and stopping our activities," including physical assault, fabricated criminal cases and smear campaigns.

There have been high-profile attacks on anticorruption activists in Ukraine.

Shabunin said he suffered chemical burns in 2018 when an assailant threw green liquid in his face while he was demonstrating outside a prosecutor's office.

In the same year, activist Kateryna Handziuk died after attackers poured sulphuric acid over her.

"Very disturbed by the news that (Shabunin's) house ... burned down," tweeted European Union ambassador Matti Maasikas. "...Civil activists must feel safe to carry on their mission."

(Reporting by Matthias Williams in Kyiv; Editing by John Stonestreet and Matthew Lewis)