By Pavel Polityuk
KIEV (Reuters) – Two Ukrainian police officers were arrested on suspicion of murder on Tuesday, accused of fatally shooting a five-year-old boy while drunkenly firing weapons at cans and bottles in the courtyard of an apartment building, officials said.
The boy Kyrylo Tliavov was taken to hospital with a head injury last week and died late on Monday, sparking protests by activists outside the interior ministry building. They lit flares and held placards saying “the police kill people”.
People also lit candles and brought soft toys near the building.
The head of the provincial police force in the Kiev region, where the incident took place 80 km from the capital, resigned and asked to be transferred to the Donbass region where Ukraine is fighting a conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
“I, as President and as a father, want to assure you that I will do everything to ensure that the guilty are justly punished,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on Facebook.
“No softening. No attempt to hide this matter. This tragedy should become a lesson. Those who have to take care of the safety of citizens should remember their responsibility.”
A lawyer for one of the officers told TV channel 112 that it was too early to know who was culpable.
“Nobody wanted to kill this boy, who was five years old,” Andriy Chichirkin said.
Investigators found cartridges, cups and cans near the boy’s house which they believed were used during the incident.
Activists on social media called for another protest on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Avakov has not commented on the case.
Ukrainian police have previously been the target of mass protests, including in 2012 when officers were accused of helping cover up the rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl because the attackers’ parents had political connections.
Tackling corruption in Ukraine’s police force was a priority for the authorities who came to power following the 2014 Maidan protests that toppled a Russian-backed president, but critics say the change has been patchy.
(Editing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)