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World

Former Russian Lawmaker And Putin Critic Killed In Ukraine

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Someone murdered a former member of the Russian Parliament yesterday. He once backed President Vladimir Putin. He stopped doing so and was living in the capital of Ukraine, which is where he was killed. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Kiev that the murder has shocked Russians who sought safety there.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: I'm standing on the street corner where Denis Voronenkov was killed in broad daylight Thursday. He was shot in front of the Premier Palace Hotel, where Kiev's movers and shakers like to meet. A few hours later, there's not a trace of the crime. People hurry by as Kiev's rush hour traffic roars past.

Reporters at the Kyiv Post, the city's English-language newspaper, were working in their offices next door when they heard the shots ring out. Within minutes of the gunfire, Brian Bonner, the paper's editor, was at the crime scene.

BRIAN BONNER: I didn't recognize the dead man. There was no police, no tape. He was just laying there in a pool of blood, obviously dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

KIM: The killer was fatally injured by Voronenkov's bodyguard. And officials later identified the man as a Ukrainian citizen who was working as a Russian agent. Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, said the murder was, quote, "an act of state terrorism by Russia." The Kremlin called the accusations absurd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Russian state television suggested murky business disputes could be behind the murder or perhaps Ukrainian nationalists upset about Voronenkov's earlier support for the annexation of Crimea. Voronenkov and his wife, the opera singer Maria Maksakova, used to be members of the Russian Parliament and ardent supporters of President Putin's policies.

Then last fall, the couple defected to Kiev, where Voronenkov made a U-turn and compared Putin's Russia with Nazi Germany. He took Ukrainian citizenship and promised to reveal new information about the Maidan, the 2014 People Power Revolution that led to Russia's military intervention in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors opened a corruption case against Voronenkov. A month ago, a Ukrainian TV journalist asked him if he felt he was in danger.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DENIS VORONENKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Of course," he said, recalling a prominent muckraking journalist who was killed in a car bombing in central Kiev last July. Russians who moved to Kiev thinking they would enjoy greater political freedom are concerned. I met Yuliya Arkhipova in a bohemian Kiev bar on the night of Voronenkov's killing.

YULIYA ARKHIPOVA: Somebody wants us to be frightened. Somebody wants us to think that Ukraine is not a safe place for Russians. And I don't like it at all.

KIM: Arkhipova moved to Kiev because she was inspired by the Maidan revolution and felt limited in the human rights work she could do in Moscow. Now, the 23-year-old runs an NGO that supports Russians seeking exile in Ukraine.

ARKHIPOVA: The truth is in Ukraine it's OK to be Russian and to speak Russian and to stay here being Russian.

KIM: She says given the level of anti-Ukrainian propaganda on Russian state media, any Russian who comes to Kiev is already making a political statement. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Kiev.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCUS D.'S "KINDRED SPIRIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.