MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent journalist was killed in a car bombing in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, on Wednesday, sending shockwaves through the Ukrainian journalist community that was shaped by the gruesome killing 16 years ago of the founder of the publication he worked for.
The country's top online news website, Ukrainska Pravda, said its journalist Pavel Sheremet, 44, died in an explosion early on Wednesday as he got into his car to drive to work to anchor a talk show on a local radio station.
It said the car was owned by its founding editor Olena Prytula, who was Sheremet's romantic partner. Images from the scene showed the charred car stranded in the middle of a cobbled street. The Ukrainian president has ordered protection for Prytula, the interior ministry said.
Zoryan Shkiryak, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said in a Facebook post that an improvised explosive device was planted underneath the car. Shkiryak said the device was either a delayed-action bomb or was remotely operated. It's believed to have contained up to the equivalent of 600 grams of TNT.
Interior Minister Khatiya Dekanoidze said in televised comments at the scene of the crime that she will personally supervise the investigation.
"We are looking at all theories," the visibly shaken minister said, adding that solving the murder is "very important, a matter of honor" for the Kiev police.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday met with Dekanoidze, the prosecutor general and the chief of the Ukrainian Security Agency and urged them to conduct a speedy investigation.
"This is a matter of honor for us: do everything we can in order to solve this crime as soon as possible," he said. "I think this was done with only one goal in mind — to destabilize the situation in the country, possibly ahead of some other events."
Russia's Novaya Gazeta quoted several friends and family of Sheremet and Prytula as saying that they had complained about being followed.
Ukraine's media community was deeply affected by the brutal slaying of Ukrainska Pravda founder Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. Thirteen years later, an Interior Ministry official was convicted for the killing but the probe never formally determined who ordered it. Rights groups accused Ukraine's then-president of involvement in the murder based on tape recordings made by the president's bodyguard.
The Belarusian-born Sheremet irked officials in Belarus and Russia before he moved to Ukraine, where he said there were fewer hurdles to independent reporting.
In 1997, Belarus convicted Sheremet of illegally crossing its border and sentenced him to three years in prison for his investigation on the porous border between Belarus and Lithuania. He served three months in prison before he was released. Sheremet faced threats and harassment in Belarus and was badly beaten in 2004 while covering an election. Several years later he moved to Russia to work in television.
Already a Russian citizen by then, Sheremet in 2010 was stripped of Belarusian citizenship.
In a media landscape sanitized by the authoritarian Belarusian government, Sheremet — while living abroad — founded Belaruspartisan.org which went on to become one of the country's leading independent news websites. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 after what he said was pressure from his Russian television bosses over the reporting of ongoing opposition protests in Kiev.
Outpourings of grief came Wednesday morning from politicians and journalists in all three countries.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny wrote in his blog on Wednesday that he dined with Sheremet when he was visiting Moscow for a march in memory of slain politician Boris Nemtsov, a friend they had in common.
"Governments knew that (Sheremet) could see through them and hated him for that: Sheremet was thrown into jail in Belarus, harassed and fired in Russia, and followed in Ukraine," Navalny said. "Pavel was a smart and courageous man, a brilliant journalist and a good person. This is the way we will remember him."
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that the Kremlin was "deeply concerned" about the journalist's killing and urged a speedy investigation.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in a statement condemned the killing and called on Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Sheremet is survived by a son and a daughter who live in Minsk, where Sheremet will be buried.
This story has been corrected to show that there was a conviction in Gongadze's killing but the case was not fully solved.