A native of Laski in the Zhitomirskaya Oblast district of the Ukraine, born in 1959, Anatoly Onoprienko was placed in an orphanage at the age of one year, following his mother’s death. An older brother was kept at home with their father, and the fact of his abandonment apparently fueled a pathological hatred of families, erupting into a seven-year killing spree that would snuff out 52 lives.
A forestry student and sometime mental patient, Onoprienko got off to a slow start as a serial killer, claiming his first victim at age 30 in 1989. Eleven more would follow by 1995, but he had yet to hit his stride with a series of ultraviolent home invasions that would lead Ukrainian newspapers to dub him the Terminator.
Prior to December 1995, his murders had gone virtually unnoticed, except by overworked police detectives and surviving loved ones of the victims, but Onoprienko was preparing to change his modus operandi, venting his rage at whole families instead of solitary targets. The massacres followed a pattern, Onoprienko invading isolated houses in the predawn hours, herding family members together and blasting them with a 12-gauge shotgun before looting and burning their homes. Frequently, police found family photos scattered at the crime scenes, torn and tossed about in the slayer’s fury.
The first wholesale slaughter occurred on December 12, 1995, in Gamarnya, Zhitomirskaya Oblast, where a forestry teacher named Zaichenko, his wife, and two infant sons were killed in their home. Nine days later, four members of the Kryuchkov family were killed at Bratkovichi, their home set afire. A passerby named Malinsky was also shot dead on the street outside when he glimpsed the fleeing gunman. On January 5, two businessmen named Odintsov and Dolinin were shot while sitting in their stalled car outside Energodar, Zaporozhskaya Oblast, and before the night was out, two more victims were killed at nearby Vasilyevka- Dneiprorudny, including a pedestrian named Garmasha and a policeman named Pybalko. The following day, three more men were shot and killed in a car parked on the Berdyansk-Dnieprovskaya highway. The Terminator returned to Bratkovichi on January 17, butchering five members of the Pilat family and torching their home. Two apparent witnesses to the crime were also shot dead as the killer escaped. In Fastova, Kievskaya Oblast, four more victims were blasted on January 30, including a 28-year-old nurse, her two sons, and a male visitor. The Dubchak family was next, annihilated at home in Olevsk, Zhitomirskaya Oblast, on February 19. (The father and son were shot in that attack; the mother and daughter were beaten to death with a hammer.) Eight days later, in Malina, Lvivskaya Oblast, four members of the Bodnarchuk family were slain, the adults shot, their children hacked to death with an ax; within an hour, a male neighbor was also shot and mutilated in his home. Back in the Bratkovichi neighborhood on March 22, the Terminator shot and burned to death four members of the Novosad family.
Bratkovichi residents had seen enough. With the largest manhunt in Ukrainian history already under way, they demanded and received “an extreme response.” A National Guard unit, complete with rocket launchers and armored vehicles, was sent to protect the village, while some 2,000 officers scoured the western Ukraine in search of their nameless, faceless quarry. In the end, it was apparently a family quarrel that brought the reign of terror to a close. Anatoly Onoprienko was staying with a cousin’s family when one of his hosts found weapons hidden in his room and a quarrel erupted, ending with Anatoly’s ejection from the house. Before he left, the stalker vowed that his cousin’s family would be “punished on Easter,” a threat that was relayed to local authorities. On Easter Sunday, April 16, police traced Onoprienko to a girlfriend’s home where he was arrested following a brief scuffle. A search of the premises revealed a tape deck stolen from the Novosad family, a pistol taken from a murder scene in Odessa, and a second firearm linked to several of the family massacres.
In custody, Onoprienko demanded to speak with “a general,” and once the officer of proper rank arrived, he swiftly confessed a total of 52 murders, thus tying the official Russian record held by Andrei Chikatilo. The murders were compelled by “inner voices” emanating “from above,” he claimed, though Anatoly wasn’t sure if his orders came from God or aliens in outer space. Either way, the killer said, he was imbued with “strong hypnotic powers” and telepathic control over animals. The best thing, Anatoly said, would be for scientists to study him as “a phenomenon of nature.”
Onoprienko was convicted on all counts and sentenced to death on April 1, 1999. There are still significant gaps in the time line of his movements between 1989 and 1995, although it is confirmed that Anatoly was expelled from both Austria and Germany during that period. Investigators are exploring possible links between their prisoner and other unsolved homicides in the Ukraine and elsewhere. Onoprienko’s life was spared on March 22, 2000, when Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma signed a new law abolishing capital punishment.