Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 221

On November 23, Dmytro Dvorkis, mayor of Vinnytsya, the capital of Ukraine’s central region, was attacked in his Jeep in the city center. Sprayed with bullets from a Kalashnikov gun, the mayor was wounded, though not critically, in the neck and chest, his driver was killed, and the attacker escaped by car. This is the second gangland-style attack on a public official in the Vinnytsya region this month. On November 7, the mayor of Mohyliv-Podilsky was attacked but not injured in a similar incident. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has begun an investigation into the attack on Dvorkis, which seems to have certain political implications.

The incident has exacerbated the on-going rivalry between Ukraine’s two strongest pro-presidential parties, the United Social Democratic Party (SDPUO) of the parliament’s deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk and oligarch Hryhory Surkis, and the People’s Democratic Party (NDP) of Premier Valery Pustovoytenko.

Dvorkis is a leading member of SDPUO. Last year, he was elected in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) on the candidate list of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko’s Hromada. After Lazarenko fled the country early this year amid accusations of corruption, Dvorkis left Hromada and joined SDPUO, one of President Leonid Kuchma’s favorite parties. The city of Vinnytsya then became the arena of confrontation between the business elites with either SDPUO or NDP affiliations. NDP has been strong in Vinnytsya, a key agricultural region, ever since the party’s former leader Anatoly Matvienko’s tenure as governor in 1996-1998. SDPUO recommended that Kuchma appoint Dvorkis as regional governor this past July. Dvorkis was however later stripped–not without insistent urging by the NDP–of his deputy mandate by court, which ruled that he could not serve as governor, mayor and MP simultaneously. Having failed to secure popular support for Kuchma in the presidential elections (on October 31, Vinnytsya voted for Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz), Dvorkis–like all regional governors who lost to Moroz–was compelled to resign as governor on November 2.

As mayor of Vinnytsya since 1992, Dvorkis has been actively involved in redistribution of property in the city and has demonstrated diverse business interests. Further, having recently targeted the local alcohol mafia, he has also acquired enemies in the criminal world. The police have ruled out political motives behind the recent attempt on his life, but SDPUO rushed to blast the incident as act of “political terrorism.” The Vinnytsya branch of SDPUO was more specific, claiming that NDP’s regional branch was involved. An indignant NDP described the allegation as absurd and suggested that Dvorkis had been punished for his commercial debts to semicriminal structures. SDPUO has been steadily supplanting NDP as Ukraine’s “party of power.” It is now trying to push Pustovoytenko out of his post as prime minister, and may try to use the allegation in its under-carpet war against him. The case may, however, strike back at the Social Democrats, if Dvorkis is found to have been involved in underworld deals (Uryadovy Kuryer, November 3; Inter, November 23; Studio 1+1, UNIAN, Den, Kievskie vedomosti, November 24; Fakty i kommentarii, November 27).