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.