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Monday, November 23, 1998 Published at 17:17 GMT

The lives changed by Onoprienko

Anatoly Onoprienko confessed to serial killings

By James Commarasamy in Ukraine

As Alexander Yevashenko watches the televised one-man show, his face goes through a range of emotions. The project which he filmed just over two years ago still provokes a mixture of pride, frustration and guilty amusement.

He feels close to its star, even at times, obsessed with him. Ah, Tolik, he mutters at the slightly built man staring out from the screen. You really are something special. He's not wrong.

Ukraine's biggest ever manhunt

The film is not a drama, but the video record of the police interrogation of Anatoly Onoprienko - "Tolik" to his friends - a 39-year-old drifter who confessed to killing 52 people across Ukraine.

When he was arrested in the Spring of 1996, after Ukraine's biggest ever manhunt, Alexander Yevashenko was one of the investigators who interviewed him.

Since then, Onoprienko has been sitting in his prison cell taking advantage of a macabre quirk of Ukrainian law.

Incredibly, trials cannot begin until the defendant has read all the evidence against him, at his leisure, and in this case there is plenty to get through; 99 volumes of gruesome photos, showing dismembered bodies, burnt cars and houses and random objects such as shoes and radios which Onoprienko stole from his victims.

Funding the trial

There has been another reason for the delay; money. Under that same legal code, the court has to pay the travel and hotel bills of the four hundred witnesses it wants to call. In cash strapped Ukraine, it seems, justice is not a high priority.

It was not until the head judge in the trial made a televised appeal that the Ukrainian government agreed to allocate the necessary funds.

As you watch Onoprienko on the screen in his faded denim jacket, it is hard to believe this is a man nicknamed "The Terminator," a title he earned because of the brutality of his killings.

He shot whole families at point blank range, sparing no-one, not even sleeping babies. Villages were terrorised with the desperate authorities at one stage sending in troops to protect them.

Sinister forces

As for his motive, there has been speculation that his early years spent in an orphanage instilled a hatred of families. However, his interrogation sheds little light on the workings of his mind.

He speaks slowly and calmly about dark forces standing behind him, urging him to kill.

He is not mad, says Alexander, waving his remote control at the screen, he knew exactly what he was doing. Listen to this; and we listen, as one of the world's worst ever serial killers gives an example of these sinister forces. It turns out to be a well-known American magician.

I am not sure what this proves but Alexander looks up triumphantly, willing me to share the truth he has found in this strange pronouncement.

Family of victim

And if Onoprienko's story is sad and bizarre in itself, it is long drawn out conclusion has served to deepen the tragedy, especially for people like Anatoly Grishenko whose wife, Galina, was one of the first victims.

I went to visit him in his gloomy, poorly heated house in the centre of Ukraine which he shares with his teenage son. A broken man, he is been worn down by the months, now years, of waiting for the trial to begin.

He can still remember his relief when Onoprienko was arrested, but only just.

It has long been replaced by a feeling of disillusionment. He cannot believe that the man who shot and burnt his wife has been calmly pouring over the results of his violence while he has had to sit and suffer.

Lives changed forever

How many of us have suffered at his evil hands, he wondered, it is going to be a lot of money. It would have been better if they had just strangled him in his prison cell.

Throughout our interview, his son hid in the darkened kitchen. He does not like meeting people, Anatoly explained, not since his mother was killed.

And as we said our goodbyes, he emerged, a lanky, blond boy with a long, sad face, one of the hundreds whose lives have been changed forever by Onoprienko.

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