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‘His death is on Tokayev’s conscience’ Who was Aidos Sadykov, the exiled Kazakhstani activist who died after an assassination attempt in Kyiv?

Aidos Sadykov / Facebook

On June 18, 2024, Kazakhstani opposition journalist Aidos Sadykov, who received political asylum in Ukraine 10 years ago, was shot outside of his Kyiv apartment. Two weeks later, on the morning of July 2, Sadykov succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. He was 55 years old. Ukrainian investigators have identified the suspects in the shooting as Altai Zhakanbayev and Meiram Karatayev, two Kazakhstani citizens who allegedly fled Ukraine through Moldova after the shooting. Below, Meduza shares an abridged translation of a report by Mediazona Central Asia on who Sadykov was, why he was forced into exile, and what we know about his murder.

Regional activism

Aidos Sadykov was born in 1968 in the village of Karabutak in Kazakhstan’s northwestern Aktobe region. After moving to the regional capital to attend university, where he studied pedagogy, he started a career in the business in retail sector. Even back then, he later recalled, he was frustrated by the corruption that was rampant in his country: “I wanted to run my business myself, but I was told that I’d either have to pay up or go into organized crime.” Before getting into politics, Sadykov also worked for a time in the oil sector, which led him to get involved in supporting independent trade unions at the Chinese-owned oil company CNPC-Aktobemunaigas.

In 2003, Sadykov was charged with using a firearm and disorderly conduct. Though the alleged incidents had occurred years earlier and years apart, prosecutors combined them into a single case. Sadykov said at the time that the proceedings were launched in retaliation for newspaper articles he’d written about ties between members of the Aktobe regional government and the Moscow-based Solntsevskaya Bratva crime syndicate.

Investigators alleged that Sadykov had fired a gun through his neighbors’ door in 1997 and had thrown a fork at a restaurant server in 1999, though the purported victims said they had no complaints against him. The court ruled that Sadykov was mentally unstable and ordered him to undergo a month-long psychiatric evaluation.

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In 2005, Sadykov became the head of the regional branch of the opposition party Azat. Five years later, displeased with the party’s increasingly cozy relationship with the country’s authorities, he left Azat and founded his own opposition movement called Gastat.

On July 13, 2010, the activist and his supporters held a rally against the transfer of agricultural land to Chinese investors. The same day, he was arrested on new disorderly conduct charges.

According to court documents, Sadykov had “inflicted bodily injuries on a passerby and tore the buttons off of a police officer.” In court, Sadykov denied the charges, citing video footage that showed the alleged assault victim without any visible injuries and the policeman’s shirt with all buttons intact. The proceedings against Sadykov lasted only two days, and on July 16, the court sentenced him to two years in prison. After Sadykov had served two thirds of his sentence, the court granted him amnesty and released him.

Moving to Kyiv

In early 2014, the Kazakhstani news site Respublika published an article titled “There Aren’t Enough Tenders for Everybody” that mentioned, among other figures, parliamentary deputy Marat Itegulov. The piece’s author was listed as Bakhyt Ilyasova. In response to the story, Itegulov filed a lawsuit against Aidos Sadykov’s wife, Natalia Sadykova, alleging that she had written the article under a pseudonym.

On March 5, Sadykova was charged with libel. Four days later, the couple and their children left Kazakhstan. On March 17, Sadykova was arrested in absentia, and the Prosecutor General’s Office issued an arrest warrant against her. Later that year, Aidos and Natalia were granted asylum in Ukraine.

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Several months later, a group of men in police uniforms broke into the couple’s apartment and demanded they stop writing critical posts about the Kazakhstani government online, saying they could face deportation if they refused. Kyiv police did not investigate the incident.

Despite the threats, the couple decided to launch a new YouTube channel called Base, which soon became one of the most popular channels covering politics and current events in Kazakhstan. As of July 2, it has more than one million subscribers.

Many of the channel’s videos use material sent in by viewers in Kazakhstan. “My WhatsApp number is publicly available, so people contact me from all regions,” Sadykov said in an interview.

In October 2023, the Kazakhstani authorities issued a new arrest warrant against Aidos and Natalia for allegedly “inciting hatred.” The grounds for the charge are unclear.

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On June 18, 2024, Ukrainian media reported that a shooting had occurred on Kyiv’s V. Yarmoly Street. Later that day, Natalia Sadykova wrote on Facebook: “Today in Kyiv, an assassination attempt was carried out against Aidos Sadykov near his own home.” The Ukrainian National Police later confirmed the reports.

After undergoing emergency surgery, Aidos was transferred to the ICU. The following day, Natalia described her husband’s condition as critical, saying a bullet had hit his temple and grazed his brain.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office named two Kazakhstani citizens as suspects in the shooting: Altai Zhakanbayev and Meiram Karatayev. According to media reports, both men previously served as police officers in the city of Kostanay.

On June 19, Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev commented on the attack:

I have instructed the diplomatic service and law enforcement agencies to send official requests to the Ukrainian side regarding this serious incident. If necessary, Kazakhstan’s official agencies are ready to join the investigation to help identify the truth.

Ukrainian law enforcement later released information from their official investigation so far. According to investigators, Zhakanbayev and Karatayev arrived in Kyiv on June 2, rented an apartment, and began surveilling Sadykov. On the day of the attack, June 18, they allegedly waited for him outside of his home, with Zhakanbayev standing watch while Karatayev stood by the building’s entrance with a gun. When the journalist pulled up in his car, Karatayev reportedly shot him in the head.

Another exiled Kazakh activist

“The two assassins then fled the scene of the crime and, in an effort to hide the weapon used in the crime, disposed of the firearm — a pistol with a silencer — under circumstances not determined by the investigation by throwing it near a fence on the grounds of the Kyiv Zoo,” the investigators’ statement reads. Both men fled Ukraine through Moldova.

On June 21, Zhakanbayev turned himself in to police in Kazakhstan. His suspected accomplice is still at large. Ukraine planned to request Zhakanbayev’s extradition, but the Kazakhstani authorities have said they will not comply.

On the morning of July 2, Natalia Sadykova reported on Facebook that her husband had died in the hospital after spending 13 days in a coma:

Aidos Sadykov left us today at 3:00 a.m. Kyiv time. My beloved husband, the father of our three children, and a great son of the Kazakh people. Aidos gave his life for Kazakhstan; he died a martyr’s death at the hands of killers. For 13 days, Aidos fought for his life in the ICU, but there was no miracle. His death is on Tokayev’s conscience.

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Story by Azamat Akhmetov. Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale.

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