Ukraine PM's top aide shot dead in hunting 'accident'

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The Independent Online

Police in Ukraine are investigating the death of one of the country's most powerful and controversial politicians in what is said to have been a hunting accident.

Yevgeny Kushnaryov, described as "the right-hand man" to Ukraine's pro-Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, died this week after being shot by one of his hunting companions.

Mr Kushnaryov and nine other hunters were stalking wild boar in the heavily wooded east of the country when tragedy struck. Police are examining three different versions: that he was shot due to careless gun handling; that it was an accident caused by a ricochet; or that he was murdered.

His death has sent shockwaves through Ukraine's volatile political scene and prompted his friend Mr Yanukovych to cut short an official visit to Turkey.

Mr Kushnaryov, 55, was the ideologue-in-chief of the pro-Russian Party of the Regions and was instrumental in the party's comeback after its humiliation during the pro-Western orange revolution in 2004. The revolution propelled Viktor Yushchenko into the presidency, where he remains. But his influence has been steadily diluted to the point where his rival, Mr Yanukovych, holds the balance of power.

One version of events has it that Mr Kushnaryov and his friends were on their way home when they saw a wolf and leapt from their cars to shoot at it. In the frenzied firing, he was shot. Another version suggests he was shot while still sitting in the car. There are conflicting reports about how many times he was shot, ranging from once to several times.