This year Ukraine has seen a bizarre string of deaths involving high-ranking officials, including a ex-city mayor, a former railway executive, and the former head of the state body in charge of privatization
This article originally appeared at Radio Free Europe
A total of five officials died in a single 34-day period between January 28 and February 28. In each case, the deaths have been ruled probable suicides. But the victims' political allegiances and job histories have led many in Ukraine to suspect that the men were in fact murdered
January 26 -- Mykola Serhiyenko, the former first deputy chief of the state-run Ukrainian Railways, died in his Kyiv home after apparently shooting himself with a registered hunting rifle.
Investigators said Serhiyenko, 57, was alone at the time of the tragedy, and that all of the flat's doors and windows had been locked shut from the inside and showed no signs of tampering.
Serhiyenko, who worked with Ukrainian Railways from April 2010 to April 2014, had been appointed to the post by Mykola Azarov, the former prime minister under Viktor Yanukovych. Azarov and Yanukovych are both wanted by Interpol on charges including embezzlement and misappropriation.
January 29 -- Oleksiy Kolesnyk, the former head of the Kharkiv regional government, died after apparently hanging himself.
Kolesnyk, 64, did not leave a suicide note, but media and investigators have hinted he may have killed himself, noting that his death took place on the birthday of his friend and fellow politician, former Kharkiv Governor and Party of Regions ideologue Yevhen Kushnaryov, who died in 2007 after being shot on a hunting expedition.
Kolesnyk began serving as chair of the Kharkiv Regional Council in 2002, but resigned prematurely in 2004.
February 25 -- The former mayor of the southeastern city of Melitopol, 57-year-old Serhiy Walter, reportedly hanged himself. A member of the Party of Regions who had served as the head of Melitopol since 2010, Walter had been dismissed from his post in 2013 and put on trial for abuse of power and ties to organized crime.
Walter was forced to attend some 145 hearings during his trial, with prosecutors calling for 14 years' imprisonment. Throughout the proceedings, he insisted he was innocent. Walter was due to attend a new hearing on the day he died.
February 26 -- One day after Walter's death, the body of the 47-year-old deputy chief of the Melitopol police, Oleksandr Bordyuh, was found in a garage. According to news reports, Bordyuh's former boss was a lawyer involved in Walter's trial.
Media reported that the cause of Bordyuh's death was ruled a "hypertensive crisis," or stroke -- a term that police frequently use in instances of suicide. Additional details were not provided.
February 28 -- Mykhaylo Chechetov, the ex-deputy chairman of the Party of Regions faction in Ukraine's parliament, died after jumping or falling out of the window of his 17th-story apartment.
The death came just days after Chechetov was arrested for fraud and abuse of office stemming from his two years at the helm of the powerful State Property Fund. (Chechetov posted bond to avoid being held in pretrial detention.)
Chechetov's time at the property fund, from April 2003 to April 2005, marked one of the busiest periods of post-Soviet privatization, with the steel giant Kryvorizhstal among the cut-rate sales made during his tenure. The plant, notoriously, was sold to a group that included the son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Pinchuk, for just $850 million. (In October 2005, Viktor Yushchenko reversed the sale, reselling a 93-percent stake in the plant to Mittal Steel for $4.8 billion.)
Anton Herashchenko, a Popular Front lawmaker and adviser to the Interior Ministry, has speculated that Chechetov may have been driven to suicide by fellow old-guard members whose role in the deal stood to be exposed by his testimony. "It's a shame we'll never get to learn all of the interesting things we would have heard from Chechetov's evidence," he wrote on Facebook
Chechetov isn't the first head of the State Property Fund to die an unnatural death.
On August 27, 2014 the body of Valentina Semenyuk-Samsonenko was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, with a gun lying nearby. She led the agency from April 2005 to December 2008. Her family told reporters they dismissed the possibility of suicide, saying that she had spoken fearfully of someone taking out a contract on her life.
The third death of an official tied to Ukraine's privatization took place even earlier. In May 1997, the head of the Crimean branch of the State Property Fund, Oleksiy Holovizin, was killed in the entryway of his house.
Lawmaker Ihor Lutsenko, a member of the new government's anticorruption committee, wrote in Ukrainska Pravda that eliminating Property Fund chiefs makes it almost impossible to reverse corrupt privatization sales, like that of Kryvorizhstal.
"Semenyuk and Chechetov won't be saying anything," he wrote. "And that will cost us, the citizens of Ukraine, tens of billions of dollars."
The recent string of deaths comes 10 years after two more resonant cases that followed closely on the heels of the Orange Revolution. Heorhiy Kirpa, transport minister under Kuchma, was found dead in late December, 2004. His death came two days after the rerun of the second round of presidential elections that handed Yushchenko the win over Yanukovych.
The following March, Kuchma's former interior minister, Yuriy Kravchenko, died one day after being called as a witness in the resurrected case of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.
Both deaths were officially ruled suicides -- even though, in Kravchenko's case, it had taken two gunshots to kill him.