Ukrainian officials said they believed either Russian secret services or pro-Kremlin Chechen badbadins were behind an attack on a Chechen man accused of plotting to kill Vladimir Putin.
The Chechen man, Adam Osmayev, who leads a battalion of Chechens fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the east of the country, was wounded in the attack, near Kiev, on Monday, and his wife, Amina Okuyeva, who also fought in the battalion, was killed.
Osmayev and Okuyeva were returning by car to their house outside Kiev, when unknown badailants opened fire on their car, apparently from a Kalashnikov rifle. Okuyeva was killed by two bullets to the head, while Osmayev was wounded but survived.
“I drove as far as I could until the car stopped, the engine was also hit. I tried to give her first aid, but she was shot in the head,” Osmayev told Ukrainian television from his hospital bed.
Oleksandr Turchynov, head of Ukraine’s security council, wrote on Facebook: “Russia, which continues its aggression in eastern Ukraine, has carried out terror right in the heart of the country.”
The attack on Monday was the second attempt to kill the couple this year. In June, a Chechen hitman posing as a journalist from French newspaper Le Monde attempted to open fire on Osmayev but was shot and wounded by Okuyeva.
Osmayev, the son of a successful Chechen businessman, was educated at a boarding school in the Cotswolds, in England, and studied economics at the University of Buckingham. He was arrested in Odessa, Ukraine, in 2012, on charges of planning the badbadination of Vladimir Putin. He denied the charges, claiming he was set up, and he was released from prison in the aftermath of the Maidan revolution in 2014.
When the conflict with pro-Russia separatists broke out in east Ukraine, Okuyeva and Osmayev joined a pro-Ukraine battalion mainly made up of Chechens. The battalion’s commander, Isa Munayev, was killed in February 2015, and Osmayev took over as commander.
Okuyeva was a public face of the battalion, often posing in stylised photographs with a sniper rifle. She was an uncompromising critic of Russia and the regime of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya. Many of Kadyrov’s critics have been killed, in Moscow as well as further afield.
A group of Chechen fighters who fought alongside pro-Russian forces in east Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 said they had gone there with the express purpose of killing Munayev, whom they deemed a traitor. Osmayev and Okuyeva, as the highest-profile Chechens backing Ukraine after Munayev’s death, knew that they were also targets.
Okuyeva was the latest high-profile target killed in the Ukrainian capital, which has been rocked by contract killings on numerous occasions in the past 18 months.
Last summer, the investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed in central Kiev by a bomb placed in his car. Ihor Mosiychuk, a nationalist MP, was wounded by a bomb that killed his bodyguard last week.
In March a Russian MP, Denis Voronenkov, who had fled to Ukraine and denounced the Kremlin was shot dead in broad daylight in central Kiev. Voronenkov had asked Ukrainian authorities for armed protection in the run-up to the hit, saying he had received threats.
In all these cases Ukrainian authorities have been quick to blame Russia, though in the case of Sheremet investigative journalists alleged that Ukrainian security agents could have been monitoring the scene before the hit.
A Ukrainian official, Anton Gerashchenko, said on Tuesday that Okuyeva’s funeral would take place according to Islamic traditions. “Amina was close to death many times, and asked her family to avoid a big, public, funeral,” he wrote on Facebook.