If you have made another person on this earth smile,
your life has been worthwhile.
-Sr. Mary Christelle Macaluso 
Help to Save Zhenya

Update 2013 - For many years An Orphan Smiles has been following the case of Zhenya who was an orphan who was wrongly accused of murder.  After a harrowing ordeal in prison, he was finally released in November 2009.   For several years after his release, there were many court hearings.  We are happy to report that it appears the case is history and Zhenya has been able to move on with his life.  He is working and supporting himself.   While in prison and after, many AOS supporters helped Zhenya with medical bills, lawyer fees, clothes and food.  

For over five years, An Orphan Smiles has been advocating for Zhenya who has been falsely accused of murder mainly because of his orphan status. 

While Zhenya was in prison, the defense team had won three cases against the state on torture charges, despite the fact that the state would not allow an independent doctor or dentist examine Zhenya while he was in prison

Forensic evidence (in Zhenya's favor) had been stalled, delayed, and obfuscated several times. Hearing after hearing had been delayed. The attorneys continued the fight against the system to prove Zhenya's innocence, despite the IMMENSE difficulties and obstacles put up by the prosecutors and police.

The risks to Zhenya in jail were also life threatening - tuberculosis was rife and many of the infected inmates resort to eating rats to get the necessary protein in their diets to survive.

Thank you to the donors who have helped to pay for ongoing legal fees. And a special thanks to Travis (age 12) who donated his Christmas money to buy Zhenya some goodies for a parcel in prison for Christmas and New Year, and donated his pocket money to help Zhenya.


Update - 15 April 2011

A year and half after Zhenya was released from prison the case still continues.   An Orphan Smiles received a bit of favorable news last week.  There was another court hearing for Zhenya.  Oleg, Zhenya's attorney, found a witness that presented credible testimony against the murdered man's wife, suggesting she was involved in the murder.  The judged was shocked and seemed convinced that Zhenya had nothing to do with it

Latest Update from Ukraine - 21 May 2010 - Back to Court

We have received a new report from our in-country supporter Bogdan on the latest development in Zhenya's case:

Today was the first hearing on Zhenya's case. Bad news: the prosecutors have changed Zhenya's charges from killing a person while defending himself (maximum 2 years of prison) to an assault that caused a person's death (minimum 7 years maximum 9 years of prison). We are back at the place where we started 3 years ago...What a nightmare...

The good news is that the judge who is hearing the case seems to be much more professional and fair than the previous judge. But then again, this judge works in the same court house and in the same system...Both of our attorneys were at the court hearing today - Oleg Veremeenko (the young and fearless attorney who specializes on human rights cases - INCREDIBLE person) and Vladimir Grechanovsky (an older and very well-known attorney who consults for us on the case and makes judges and prosecutors take us seriously). Those guys are really great. They make Zhenya feel really confident.

The next hearing will be on June 25th, at 9 a.m.

Latest Update from Ukraine - 26 March 2010

Even though Zhenya is out of jail, sadly, his health has suffered tremendously because of his experience. As it turned out he was infected with Hepatitis C while he was in prison. There are also cases where prison officials have infected prisoners with HIV intentionally. Zhenya is scheduled for medical testing in the upcoming week.

Needless to say, this is a big shock to Zhenya and his family (his sister and younger brothers). Bogdan told him he shouldn't worry about the cost of the medical care and that we all will support him as long as he needs help.

Latest Update from Ukraine - 10 November 2009 - Zhenya is OUT OF JAIL!!

Our attorney Oleg picked Zhenya up at prison at 6:00PM today and brought him to the local police station to sign some papers. Zhenya's two sisters and Bogdan were already waiting there. Zhenya was in shock - when the guard told him to come with him. Zhenya thought they were going to beat him again. He didn't dream he would be released.

The charges have not been dropped yet, so technically Zhenia is still a suspect, but the fact that he was released means a lot. This happened after our attorney Oleg arranged a special inquiry into the police by several Parliament members. That was the last drop - after all the media coverage, press conferences, protests from Ukrainian and international human rights groups etc. The police department is finally backing off and is desperately trying to find a way to avoid punishment. Bogdan wants to pass along Zhenya's thanks to everyone who have been supporting him during these years. Without your support Zhenya would have been in prison for 6 more years and would have been labled as a murderer for the rest of his life. Our battle is not over yet, but we are VERY close to victory.

There are many important things that are worth fighting for, and many good projects worthy of support, but there are hardly things more important than JUSTICE and FREEDOM. THANK YOU!

Latest Update from Ukraine - 2 October 2009

Zhenya's attorney Oleg just returned from the training at the European Court for Human Rights in Stratsbourg, France. He was talking to people there and they gave him a lot of helpful information on how to help get Zhenya out of jail. In the coming month Oleg will be preparing a complaint to the European Court on Human Rights on Zhenya's being kept in jail for an unreasonable amount of time. We have the money for bail now (thank you to EVERYONE who contributed) but the judge won't hear our petition until November now. The judge and the police know that if Zhenya is out the press will want to talk to him. They do NOT want Zhenya talking to the press, so Oleg and I realize our chances are slim.

In the meantime, the senior judge called Oleg yesterday and told him THEY LOST the file on Zhenya's tortures!!! Can you beleive this?!! This case is separate from the murder trial and is heard by a different judge (the 4th now!). There were written testimonies of 20 different witnesses there, tons of other evidence...All gone now...Welcome to the Ukrainian justice system. And you know the price for this? They will fire some clerk from the judge's office. That's all. No one else will be held responsible. The good news is that this incident will also be another evidence for the complaint to the European Court. Oleg is also going to make a big fuss about it in the press.

Today Bogdan will go shopping for Zhenya's package. His sister takes packages to him once a month. They try to pack a lot of food and clothes in there. There are 44 people in his cell and they all share. Zhenya's 2 younger brothers Denis (9) and Vitalik (7) are now living at Kiev Orphanage 12.

Latest Update from Ukraine - 12 August 2009

Oleg, Zhenya’s attorney, wants to submit a petition to the judge in September to release Zhenya on bail. The police have 30 days to do another investigation and turn the case over to court. At the very first court hearing Oleg wants to submit this petition.

The defense needs a minimum of 20.000 grivna ($2,500) for the bail. Oleg will open a special bank account for this purpose. He sent out requests for help to many people and organizations, so he is actively trying to help Zhenya himself. So far 3000 grivna ($380) has been collected.

Zhenya and Oleg would really appreciate any help An Orphan Smiles can offer.

If bail is granted the bail money will remain on the court's bank account until the verdict (which may take A LONG time – three years or longer). If the judge does not does not accept the petition, then 90% of the bail money will be returned.

A little about Zhenya’s attorney Oleg. Oleg has been selected among the top five young human right advocates in Ukraine and will be going to training in Stasbourg, France in the European Court for Human Rights. Zhenya and his supporters are extremely lucky to have Oleg working on this case. He could be working in other fields making a lot of money and instead he chooses to fight for poor people at no cost.


Latest Update from Ukraine - 16 July 2009

On July 9th the local court refused to hear Zhenya's case again and sent the case back to the police station for a new investigation. That was the second time prosecutors tried to re-submit the case to local court after the Court of Appeals ordered a new investigation. The police do not want to do a new investigation, but the local court is afraid to hear the case as it is. They still remember the fuss Zhenya's attorneys made in mass media about it. His attorneys are hoping that Zhenya will be released once the new investigation starts, but in Ukraine you never know. The police can hold suspects for 18 months, which begins only now.

Update from Ukraine - 26 February 2009

Zhenya’s conviction was annulled.  The case is however, going to be reinvestigated and they will continue to hold Zhenya in jail while this happens.  Two of the television stations were at court.  It is still a long road ahead, but there is a glimmer of hope now.

Update from Ukraine - 5 May 2009

Zhenya's case was submitted to court again this last week. The police didn't do a new investigation. They just re-submitted the case to court. Just like the prosecutors re-open and then immediately closes the investigation against the police officers who tortured Zhenya, when we bring them new court decisions. Ukrainian justice at its best...We keep fighting. Thanks for the money that is being sent to help Zhenya. Money is also being used to provide a phone account, so that he can talk to his sisters and brothers.

Update from Ukraine - 26 February 2009

Zhenya’s conviction was annulled.  The case is however, going to be reinvestigated and they will continue to hold Zhenya in jail while this happens.  Two of the television stations were at court.  It is still a long road ahead, but there is a glimmer of hope now.

Update from Ukraine - 23 January 2009

Zhenya's story was just aired again on the local television (prime time!). The program talked about the horrible law-enforcement system and told several typical stories of innocent people kept in prisons on absurd charges. They interviewed me, our attorneys and Zhenya's sister. The reporters also asked the judge and prosecutors for comments but they refused.

In the meantime, on December 31, 2008 our attorneys submitted an appeal against Zhenya's verdict to the Kiev Court of Appeals. The court should have a preliminary hearing in this case some time in February. I will keep you informed on how that goes.

Update from Ukraine - 7 December 2008

Well, this case is turning into a very dramatic Hollywood movie with unknown ending...The ONLY witness we had - Zhenya's neighbour who was watching TV with him at the time of the murder died of hypertensive crisis (supposedly)! We can't say for sure it was a murder but it is certainly a very sudden and suspicious death. The man was under 40! Moreover, the journalist who did the TV coverage on Zhenya's case has been given two bodyguards by the SBU (former KGB) after his TV channel reported numerous anonymous threats addressed to this reporter.

The Prosecutor's Office wants to launch an investigation against Oleg Veremeenko, one of our attorneys, for sharing video information from the case with TV people. The judge was very upset with Oleg for sharing information with mass media (which is perfectly legitimate by Ukrainian law). The pressure on the defence is enormous.

Today our attorneys brought an expert from the national television station (a camera man) who was supposed to confirm that the "shadow" on Zhenya's face on the videotape was not really a shadow but signs of beating. The judge did not want to hear him. The attorneys requested an examination of Zhenya's hand-writing (signatures) on police papers - the judge rejected that request, too. Our attorneys made several other requests but they were also rejected. During heated debates in court session the prosecutor felt sick so the judge had to stop the hearing and call an ambulance.

When we left the court another TV crew was waiting for us. We all spoke to the cameras and left. The next court hearing is scheduled for December 11th. I don't think it will be the last one but I do hope there will be a verdict before the end of this year.

Our attorneys were amazingly brave and professional today, as usual. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have them working on this case.

Update from Ukraine - 3 December 2008

THE most popular 1+1 national TV channel has just told Zhenya's story to the whole country! At prime time (7.30 p.m.) when the whole national watches the news!! They showed interviews with Zhenya's sisters, attorneys, the widow (she said Zhenya wasn't there when the husband was killed) etc. Our attorneys are simply THE BEST!!!!! I can't tell you how excited I am - there are thousands stories like Zhenya's but our attorney Oleg managed to make Zhenya's story known to the whole country. Now the highest ranked government officials will have to respond...Its not a victory yet but its a HUGE blow on the system. WOW!

Update from Ukraine - 13 November 2008

The hearing today lasted 4 hours. Our attorneys managed to get a copy of a video tape that was made by police during the investigation (Zhenya's 'confession'). The police taped him from the back so you couldn't see his face but when they moved the camera you could see Zhenya's face for a couple of seconds. The attorneys stopped the tape and everyone could see that the left side of his face was all black and swollen. The prosecutor claimed it was a shadow on Zhenya's face. The judge allowed an independent person to look at the tape and they brought a clerk from the court's administrative office (not quite independent but our attorneys were happy even with that). The clerk confirmed that the boy on the tape obviously looked beaten.

Another good thing today was that the Prosecutor General's Office has put Zhenya's case on their "monitoring list", which is the result of the UN Human Rights Group's report. This means more pressure on the judge to ensure proper procedure. The next hearing is scheduled for December 5th. It is likely to be the last one. Our attorneys expect a 'guilty' verdict but at least it will enable them to move the case to the higher court.

In the meantime, Zhenya asked for some shoes and clothes - turns out he still wears the pair of pants in which he was arrested almost 2 years ago. We will try to find some warm clothes for him at the orphanage. His 18-year-old sister will deliver the clothes and food. Relatives have to wait in line for 8-10 hours outside the detention center to submit care packages... And there is no guarantee everything will be delivered and not stolen, of course.

Update from Ukraine - 28 October 2008

The Unites Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will try and meet with Zhenya in the CIZO 13 jail this week.

Update from Ukraine - 27 September 2008

I spoke to Oleg today (one of our attorneys) and he said the hearing on Thursday was very long but good. The judge was hearing one of the cops, the other one didn't show up for the 4th time. The cop who was testifying was very nervous, gave conflicting information and 'couldn't remember' too many things. Our attorneys, on the other hand, presented another written evidence of Zhenya's alibi - a written statement from the TV channel with the exact timing of the soccer game that Zhenya was watching with the neighbor. The time of the soccer game coincides with the time of the murder.

The next hearing is scheduled for October 13th. Our attorneys are also preparing a complaint to the European Human Rights Court. Normally you can apply to the European Court only after the final verdict in the home country but when cases are intentionally postponed and last too long you can apply without waiting for the final verdict.