Monday, October 21, 2013

Mystery of what befell young Ukrainian couple in Yucatán backcountry remains unsolved

Ten months later, a desperate mother on the other side of the world seeks answers, and so do local investigators: one murder, or two?

Updated Mar. 21, 2014 - Yucatán prosecutor confirms: remains found in remote peninsular region are those of missing Ukrainian tourist

Updated Feb. 1, 2014 - Remains of Ukrainian woman may have been found

Xocempich, Yucatán -
Dzitás County, or Municipality as it is known here, lies southeast of the state capital of Mérida, more or less in the center of the flat, dry Yucatán peninsula, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico on the west to the Caribbean sea on the east. It's one of 106 municipalities in this state, with a population of about 5,000. The county seat shares the same name.

Not much happens here, and not many people pass through the area. Those who do generally are on their way to or returning from the nearby town of Valladolid, a gateway to the famous Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá. More than a few residents use the language of ancestors as their primary tongue. Its curious sounds, made famous in the 2006 Mel Gibson movie Apocalypto, bear no resemblance to the official one imposed by Spanish explorers.

Because Dzitás is out of the way, a campesino from the tiny hamlet of Xocempich was surprised to discover the body in the car on Jan. 7. It turned out to be a 25 year old Ukrainian tourist, Oleksandr Batychko, who together with his wife had arrived on the peninsula in late 2012. Batychko had been dead for days, according to state forensic investigators, and his remains were in an advanced state of decomposition. They say he was killed at the scene. Batychko was identified by DNA analysis, with test samples provided by family members in the eastern European nation. He was not repatriated for many weeks. Body of Ukrainian murder victim remains in Mérida, nearly six weeks after his death.

The victim and his wife, Maryna Burakova, rented a car in Playa del Carmen after arriving in Cancún. Agency employees remember that the couple paid the contract in cash - 12,000 pesos, with the vehicle due back by Dec. 30. Items found in the rental suggested they were headed west to visit Chichén Itzá, and perhaps Mérida, a couple of hours away. But something happened along the way.

The murder occurred in the middle of nowhere, far from normal tourist hangouts. Click to enlarge.

Because cash and credit cards were found with Batychko, police immediately discounted robbery as a motive. There was no trace of Maryna anywhere, despite an exhaustive search by local constables, and she soon became the prime suspect. Prosecutors said her fingerprints were all over a knife left at the scene, which they claim was the weapon of choice. Oleksandr was stabbed many times, but the motive for the murder remains as obscure as the remote location where his battered body was found.

Mexico issued an international arrest warrant for Maryna Burakova on Feb. 9. The assumption was that she might have fled the country via Belize, which borders southern Quintana Roo state. But the frontier is perhaps half a day's drive from where the abandoned car was found, and how she would have arrived there is unclear. Yucatán police admit they have no idea where Maryna may have gone - assuming she is still alive.

Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, joined the search in June at Mexico's request, hoping to locate Maryna through immigration and passport controls of member nations. Her name is on a travel watch list, but the effort has produced no results. Interpol joins search for Ukrainian woman in Yucatán murder case.

In a recent interview with the Kiev press, Liudmila Burakova, Maryna's mother, told a reporter that the last time she heard from her daughter was in late December. Beset with grief, she added, "And now Ukraine has suspended the search."

"The Foreign Ministry talks about a lot of things they have done, but when you ask them specifically what they're doing now, all they tell you is that alerts have been placed with governments around the world. And the Mexican police say just the same," a heartbroken Burakova told the paper.

There have been rumors, according to Liudmila, that Maryna was sighted in Mérida, a sprawling city of a million people where oppressive heat seldom gives residents a break. None of the reports could be verified, however.

"We can't just let Maryna be forgotten," sobbed Liudmila. But as the year anniversary of a brutal homicide in the most unlikely of places approaches, there is little reason to believe the Yucatecan backcountry will give up the secret of exactly what happened near the Mayan village of Xocempich.

Oleksandr and Maryna, in happier times. They married in 2008, and had traveled the world.

Jan. 18 - "Violence on Yucatán soil" - against foreigners
Feb. 1 - Yucatán safety continues to be subject of hot debate
Feb. 4 - Crime with "impunity" still the norm in much of Mexico
July 15 - Cancún and Quintana Roo are not under a U.S. advisory, but maybe they should be

The crime scene was only a few miles from Chichén Itzá, where some (but not enough) gathered to await the end of the world last December. Enrique Peña Nieto was correct when he predicted not the widely proclaimed apocalypse, but a tricolor presidential win in 2012. Mayas must have been PRIstas.

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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