June 23, 2024

Athens News

News in English from Greece

Ukrainian helped the British, and others, to take their own lives

An BBC investigation helped identify a Ukrainian who had been selling poison to suicide victims for several years.

Leonid Zakutenko, a resident of Kyiv, is linked to at least 130 deaths in the UK. To find out the name of the “supplier from Ukraine” and even meet him face to face in the capital of Ukraine, journalists It took the Air Force two long years.

They tracked his online store, email address and PayPal account, identified him as Leonid Zakutenko, and in January 2022 decided to contact the “businessman” directly, posing as an interested buyer on a suicide forum.

Where it all started

On a website where people openly discuss suicide, members frequently mentioned the name “supplier from Ukraine.” A mysterious dealer was supplying a chemical commonly used in suicide to everyone around the world. Having contacted him, journalists asked for assistance in suicide. He quickly responded and said he could supply the chemical. The forum advises users to take antiemetic drugs along with the chemical, which he also promised to introduce. For obvious reasons, the BBC is not naming the website promoting suicide or the chemical being sold.

Just a month after that, Russian tanks crossed the border into Ukraine, and the opportunity to meet with the “supplier” seemed to disappear forever. Journalists could not even imagine that trade in chemicals could continue in such difficult times. However, the number of deaths associated with the forum continued to rise steadily. During this time, journalists also met with the families of those who died with the help of this site and the “Ukrainian” poison.

Arrest of “competitor”

Suddenly, in May 2023, the newspaper pages of the world media were full of headlines with the name of the same forum and the same chemical substance. The publications were linked to another person, Kenneth Lowe. He was arrested in Canada on suspicion of “counseling and aiding suicide” by distributing a dangerous product around the world. The former chef was charged with 14 murders and was linked to hundreds of deaths in different countries.

BBC journalists have once again intensified their search for the Ukrainian. They contacted him based on the information available at that time and introduced themselves as “suffering” to end their lives. He boasted during the conversation that he sent “five parcels a week” to the UK and could offer an express service. It seemed that Lowe’s arrest had freed up a niche in the market, which the Ukrainian hastened to occupy to expand his “business.”

Meeting in Kyiv

In an effort to reach Zakutenko directly, journalists flew to Krakow, Poland, in January and then made a 12-hour car ride across the border to Kyiv, where they arranged to meet him through an assistant who spoke Ukrainian.

As it turned out, Zakutenko was the “superhost” of AirBnB, and the journalists chose an interest in renting an apartment as the pretext for the meeting. He promised to show us the housing, and it seemed that everything was going well. But… When the investigators finally got to Kyiv and called to confirm the agreement, their hearts sank: Zakutenko said that he was out of town and the cleaner would show the house instead.

Did he really leave town? Or has he become too suspicious? They heard stories of Ukrainian men of fighting age who were stopped at checkpoints, immediately drafted into the army and sent to the front lines. Perhaps Zakutenko was just trying to be cautious.

Long-awaited meeting

The journalists then recount the climactic hours of their investigation:

“We went to his apartment, a Soviet-era high-rise building on the outskirts of the city. There was no sign of him. There was a post office within walking distance. A quick check of contacts in London showed that this was the place he was sending the poison from – this was confirmed by tracking data from a previous check purchases.

We messaged again, this time pretending to be another UK customer who needed a chemical urgently. He promised that he would send it within an hour if we paid for his “express service.” We did so, hastily opening a payment account and waiting at his door as the minutes ticked by. But Zakutenko did not appear.

We corresponded again. He responded by assuring us that the package had been sent and providing us with a tracking number. We convinced ourselves that perhaps he was now using a different post office. But the tracking number didn’t work. So we kept waiting, just in case.

Several long hours later, a stocky man in a leather jacket and black cap, carrying a large black bag, emerged from the apartment and headed down the road to the post office. It looked similar to the photos we saw on Zakutenko’s social networks, but it was difficult to be sure.

We followed the man inside and watched as he sent at least 15 packages to different recipients around the world. As soon as it was entered into the system, our tracking number suddenly appeared on the Ukrainian postal service website. It was Zakutenko! We saw him sending out the poison we had just ordered.

Suddenly, the air raid sirens came to life, breaking the silence. We quickly called our security consultant to see if we needed to take shelter. Luckily, they confirmed it was a false alarm and we continued to wait.”

“It’s a lie,” he told us.

The sirens were still howling when Zakutenko began to descend the steps of the post office. Reporters approached him and asked why he was sending poisonous chemicals to people who wanted to commit suicide. The question was duplicated by a translator in Ukrainian. “That’s a lie,” he responded, putting his hand on the camera and trying to walk away.

Journalists were persistent and asked what he would like to say to the families of the victims. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man replied. He said again and again that he did not understand our questions. But just a few hours ago he was texting us in perfect English.

And the forum continues to work

BBC journalists say:

“We have warned the authorities in Great Britain and Ukraine. And the forum, where information about those who sell poison is widely discussed, is still working…”

There are tens of thousands of users on the forum, many young and vulnerable. So did Katherine’s son Joe, who committed suicide in April 2020. In just three weeks, the 23-year-old used a forum to find a deadly chemical and learn how to use it. He left a suicide note:

“Please do your best to close this site to everyone else.”

The British government says the new Online Safety Act gives Ofcom* the power to take action against these types of websites. But Ofcom is still consulting on how the law will be implemented and enforcement action will not be taken for many months. This is too long for the families of those who died because of people like Leonid Zakutenko…

*The Office of Communications or Ofcom is the British agency that regulates television, radio and the postal service. Has broad powers approved by the state.

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