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Anatoly Onoprienko

Crime Files
Anatoly Onoprienko

Born on 25 July 1959 in Laski, in the Zhytomyr Oblast, Ukraine. Whilst still young, Onoprienko’s mother died and he was sent to an orphanage whilst his brother remained at home with their father.

Onoprienko later claimed that he still felt anger over this injustice and said that it was around this time he began hearing voices in his head, telling him about horrifically violent things. Somewhat of a drifter, Onoprienko had at one time been a seaman and had also studied forestry.


Born: 25 July 1959The Victims: Onoprienko killed 52 victims from 1989 to 1996, including: 1989 – Bratkovychi – family (two adults, five children) – with Rogozin 1989 - Galina Grishenko 24 December 1995 - Zaichenko family (two adults, two children) Late December 1995 - Lviv region - family (two adults, two children), one male witness 6 January 1996 - near the Berdyansk-Dnieprovskaya motorway - Kasai, a Navy ensign; Savitsky, a taxi driver and Kochergina, a cook 17 January 1996 - Bratkovychi - Pilat family (two adults, 3 children), two witnesses: Kondzela, 27, and Zakharko, 56 30 January 1996 - Fastova, Kievskaya Oblast region - Marusina, 28, her two young sons, Zagranichniy, 32 19 February 1996 – Olevsk, Zhytomyr Oblast - Dubchak family (two adults, two children) 27 February 1996 – Malina, Lviv Oblast – Bodnarchuk family (two adults, two children, aged 7 and 8), neighbour, Tsalk 22 March 1996 – Busk, outside Bratkovychi – Novosad family (two adults, two children)Arrested: 16 April 1996 – Anatoly Onoprienko, 37Trial: November 1998 - Zhytomyr - Judge Dmitry LipskyConvicted: 31 March 1999 – First-degree multiple murderSentenced: 31 March 1999 – death sentence by shooting, commuted to life in prisonDied: 27 August 2013 - died in prison in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, of a suspected heart attack

The Aftermath

Onoprienko decided to talk after the trial and allowed himself to be interviewed by the media, in his prison cell. Stating he had no regrets over what he had done, he explained further by saying he was under the control of conspiracies of higher powers from another world. It was their mission to destroy humanity and the fact that he possessed special hypnotic powers meant that he was able to communicate with these higher forces.Onoprienko told of feeling ‘like a robot driven for years by a dark force’, that he was commanded to do violent things by voices in his head. He argued that his trial should have been postponed until the authorities could find the source of this dark force. He also maintained there was a conspiracy against him and that he was part of some kind of experiment. He claimed to love all people, including his victims, stating that he would have killed his own son if commanded by the higher powers.In an extensive interview for the London Times, Onoprienko spoke about the first time he had killed. He had been in his early 20s and had shot a deer in the woods. The sight of the dead animal had upset him and he had felt sorry for it but that was the first and last time he felt that way about murder. Killing people became like hunting to him. He would be sitting at home feeling bored and would be struck by the idea of going out to kill.Chillingly, Onoprienko believes he should have been executed as, if he were ever to be let out of prison, he would begin killing once more. “But this time it will be worse, ten times worse. The urge is there… Seize this chance because I am being groomed to serve Satan. After what I have learned out there, I have no competitors in my field. And if I am not killed, I will escape from this jail and the first thing I’ll do is find Kuchma (the Ukrainian president) and hang him from a tree by his testicles.”Onoprienko was included in the book ‘River of Blood: Serial Killers and Their Victims’ (2004) by criminologists Amanda Howard and Martin Smith.

The Trial

The Onoprienko trial was delayed by the fact that, according to Ukrainian law, the defendant is obliged to read all the evidence against them before the trial may begin. In Onoprienko’s case, there were over 99 volumes of photographic evidence of his crimes, which he perused at leisure, in no rush to go to trial.Another factor delaying trial was the fact that Ukrainian law also requires the court to pay all travel and accommodation costs for the witnesses it calls. In the Onoprienko case, there were four hundred witnesses and the court could simply not afford these costs. Following a televised appeal, the Ukrainian government agreed to allocate funds for this purpose.Onoprienko’s lawyer, Ruslan Moshkovsky, initially pleaded the insanity defence but this was over-ruled when Onoprienko was examined by psychiatrists and it was announced on 23 November 1998 that he had been deemed fit to stand trial.Moshkovsky then asked that Onoprienko’s childhood spent in an orphanage be taken into account as extenuating circumstances. However, the prosecutor, Yury Ignatenko, argued that this was inadmissible, as Onoprienko had already been deemed fit to stand trial and that his violent nature was his motive for murder.The four-month trial eventually began, two years after the arrest, in November 1998 in the City of Zhytomyr, presided over by Judge Dmitro Lypsky.Onoprienko appeared in court in an iron cage like an animal. His killings had affected a great many people and the Ukrainian nation was outraged. The irate crowds spat at him, taunted him and shouted that he should suffer a slow and agonising death. It seemed as if Onoprienko’s crimes were about to start a riot. Police were needed to calm the crowds and ensure the courtroom was safe for the trial to continue.In stark contrast to the mayhem and vehemence he incited in onlookers, Onoprienko remained silent in court. When asked if he would like to make a statement, he merely shrugged and replied quietly, “No, nothing”.Serhiy Rogozin, 36, appeared in court as Onoprienko’s co-defendant, accused of being an accomplice in the first nine murders. He proclaimed his innocence but was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison.In their closing statements, prosecutor Ignatenko called for the death sentence whilst Moshkovsky called for a softening of the punishment due to Onoprienko’s deprived childhood.Following three hours of deliberation, on 31 March 1999, Judge Lypsky called the court back to session to read out the details of the murders as well as his verdict. Onoprienko was found guilty of murder and, according to Ukrainian criminal code, sentenced to death by shooting. He admitted guilt to all 52 charges of murder, including 10 children, but claimed he felt no remorse for what he had done.In a strange twist of fate, due to the Ukraine’s intention of joining the Council of Europe, a moratorium had been put in place to abolish capital punishment. Politicians and the public argued however that the Onoprienko case should be seen as an exception and that he should be shot. This was not to be and Onoprienko’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

The Arrest

Kryukov turned to police chief, General Bogdan Romanuk, at the Lviv police headquarters on 7 April 1996, for advice. General Romanuk, ordered Kryukov to form a task force immediately and search Onoprienko’s apartment. On 16 April 1996, Kryukov and his task force of more than 20 detectives and patrolmen drove in unmarked police cars to Onoprienko’s residence. They surrounded the building in Ivana Khristitelya Street and blocked the entrances.

Police knocked on the door and an unwitting Onoprienko opened it, thinking it was his girlfriend and her children returning from church. Police handcuffed him and began a search of the apartment. In the living room, they found a stereo of the same make as one reported missing from the home of the family murdered on 22 March 1996 in Busk. It was later confirmed through a serial number match, to be the very one stolen from the murdered family’s home.

The task force also discovered a pistol in Onoprienko’s possession that was later matched to a murder scene in Odessa. Onoprienko was arrested and taken into custody whilst investigators conducted a more thorough search of the apartment. They found in excess of 120 items linked to various unsolved murder cases, including a 12-gauge shotgun. In addition, Onoprienko’s girlfriend was found wearing a ring that he had stolen from one of his victims.

Onoprienko waived his right to an attorney and was initially disinterested in talking to the police, saying he would only speak to a General. Kryukov was forced to call in lead investigator, Bogdan Teslya, to interrogate Onoprienko.

Whilst in custody, Onoprienko confessed first to stealing the 12-guage shotgun found at the time of his arrest, then to using it in a murder in 1989. He then said he had used it in eight murders between 1989 and 1995. He also told investigators of his friend and accomplice, Serhiy Rogozin. Onoprienko denied the other charges but admitted to a six-year killing spree, involving 52 victims. He explained to police that he was told to commit these murders, by voices he heard in his head.

The Crimes

Onoprienko’s first murder was a couple he encountered standing next to their Lada car on a motorway. On an urge, he stopped his car, reversed to where they were parked and shot them in cold blood. He later claimed that from that moment onwards, killing seemed merely like a game from outer space, he gained no pleasure from it and found corpses ugly.

In 1989, Onoprienko began killing with his friend, Serhiy Rogozin, whom he had met at a local gymnasium. Their first crime was when they broke into a home in Bratkovychi to steal valuables. The owners caught them and their response was to kill the family, of two adults and five children, to avoid having any witnesses to their crime.

Onoprienko claimed to have parted ways with Rogozin a few months later but he continued killing. Finding a family of five, including an 11-year-old boy, who were asleep in their car, Onoprienko shot them at point-blank range. Not knowing what to do with their bodies, sat with them in the car for two hours before burning them.

His general formula for crime would be to select an isolated house, to break in and steal what valuables he could and then to murder the entire family, as well as any witnesses he encountered. His methods were violent; he blew doors off homes, gunned down adults, using a 12-gauge shotgun at point-blank range, raped women and battered children with metal objects. After taking money, jewellery, stereo equipment and other items of value, he would set the house alight to destroy any evidence.

On 24th December 1995 he broke into the home of the Zaichenko family in Garmarnia, central Ukarine. Using his sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun, Onoprienko killed the forestry teacher, his wife and two young sons before leaving with stolen jewellery and clothing and setting the house alight.

A few days later, Onoprienko shot and killed a family of four in the Lviv region, before burning down their house. A man spotted him as he fled the scene, so Onoprienko shot and killed him.

Less than a month later, on 6th January 1996, he killed three more people, in three separate incidents. Onoprienko stopped his car near the Berdyansk-Dnieprovskaya motorway. He hailed down other cars, as if he needed assistance, and when they drew up, he shot the occupants. They were Kasai, a Navy ensign; Savitsky, a taxi driver and Kochergina, a cook.

On the 17th January 1996 Onoprienko drove to Bratkovychi and broke into the Pilat family home. He shot five people, including a six-year-old boy, before setting the house alight. He was seen by two witnesses, Kondzela, 27, a female railroad worker, and Zakharko, 56, whom he shot and killed.

In the Fastova, Kievskaya Oblast region, on 30th January 1996 Onoprienko shot and killed Marusina, a 28-year-old nurse, her two young sons and a 32-year-old male visitor, Zagranichniy.

On 19th February 1996 Onoprienko broke into the Dubchak family home in Olevsk, Zhytomyr Oblast. He shot the father and son and beat the mother and daughter to death with a hammer.

He drove to Malina, Lviv Oblast, where he broke into the home of the Bodnarchuk family on 27th February 1996. He shot the husband and wife, killed the daughters, aged 7 and 8, with an axe and shot a neighbour, named Tsalk.

Onoprienko travelled to Busk, outside Bratkovychi, on 22nd March 1996, where he killed the Novosad family of four and set their house alight to destroy the bodies. Onoprienko claimed this was his last murder.

It was during this relentless massacre of families in Bratkovichi and Busk villages over a three-month period that Onoprienko was dubbed ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Citizen O’. Some sources say he killed 43 people in 6 months, whilst others put the figure at more than 50 in 3 months. Whatever the actual total, it was certain that Onoprienko was a serial killer who was out of control.

“To me killing people is like ripping open a duvet. Men, women, old people, children, they are all the same. I have never felt sorry for those I killed. No love, no hatred, just blind indifference. I don’t see them as individuals, but just as masses.”

In March 1996 the Ukrainian police launched nationwide manhunt for the killer, involving 2,000 police and more than 3,000 troops, concentrating specifically on where the murders had occurred in the western Ukraine.

In an unfortunate turn of events during the police investigation, an innocent man, Yury Mozola, 26, was taken in for questioning as a suspect in several of the murders. Over a period of three days, he was held in custody, burned, beaten and given electric shocks in order to force a confession. Refusing to confess to something he did not do, Mozola died during the torture. The six members of the Ukrainian Secret Service, along with the representative of the Public Prosecutors Office, who tortured Mazola and were responsible for his death, were later sentenced to short prison terms.

It was around this time that Onoprienko had asked one of his cousins, Pyotr Onoprienko, if he could stay with him for a while. Pyotr had agreed but became concerned when he found Onoprienko’s store of weapons in the house. Pyotr confronted him and Onoprienko became extremely angry and threatening towards Pyotr and his family. A worried Pyotr asked him to leave and Onoprienko moved in with his hairdresser girlfriend, Anna, and her two children.

Still worried by Onoprienko’s threats, Pyotr Onoprienko approached the police to tell them of the weapon stash he had found. He spoke to deputy police chief Sergei Kryukov and informed him that Onoprienko was living with his girlfriend in the nearby town of Zhytomyr. Kryukov became interested when he learned that a 12-gauge hunting rifle, one of the weapons recently used in a local murder, was the same type of rifle reported stolen in the Zhytomyr area. This could be a thread to link Onoprienko to at least some of the local murders.