Whole families in Bratkovichi, a hamlet near the Polish border, have been slaughtered by the killer who the authorities are now trying to stop with a division of national guards. Alexander Yevashchenko, of the Ukrainian CID, said the murders were believed to be the work of one man. "It is the worst killer the Ukraine has ever seen and may be the worst crime spree in history."
Andrei Chikatilo, the Rostov Ripper executed in 1994, had previously held that title with 52 child victims murdered over 17 years. The "Beast of Bratkovichi" has only been active since December.
The death toll is so high because the killer targets entire families. "He breaks into houses early in the morning, shoots all the inhabitants, including the children, and then sets the house on fire," said Inspector Yevashchenko.
The killer first struck on 30 December when he murdered a family of four in their beds and then killed a passer-by who evidently saw him fleeing. In his latest attack he shot another family of four - a man, his wife, their daughter and the wife's disabled sister. The murderer has not sexually assaulted any of his victims and police are puzzled as to his motive.
Over 100 investigators are working on the case and troops have been sent in to calm the population. In addition, street lights and telephones have been installed in the hamlet which, like most rural settlements in the former Soviet Union, was scarcely living in the 20th century until the killings started.
In Soviet times, the Communist-controlled press only reported crime news from the West. This lack of glasnost was one reason why Chikatilo was able to kill for so long around the southern Russian city of Rostov - the public was left in ignorance and the police were unable to appeal for witnesses.