SACRAMENTO'S Ukrainian community buries family as search continues for the killer

Monday, August 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ As thousands packed a church for the funerals of six members of a family slain last week, sheriff's deputies stood watch, fearing the man believed responsible for the killings might surface at the service.

Sunday's two-hour funeral, in Russian and Ukrainian but with English translation, brought together Sacramento's Russian-Ukrainian community that has grown to as many as 75,000 immigrants.

Six hearses stood waiting in the sunshine outside Bethany Slavic Missionary Church. Inside, five white caskets stood open at the front of the church, with a smaller white casket for Nikolay Soltys' son, Sergey.

Soltys, 27, tops the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Investigators said he most likely remains in the Sacramento area nearly a week after he allegedly slashed the throats of his pregnant wife, 3-year-old son, aunt, uncle and two young cousins during a rampage that spanned several hours and three locations Aug. 20.

Anatolly Nakonchay, the oldest of Soltys' wife's four brothers, said there were periods of ``disquiet and domestic unrest'' between the couple.

``There were episodes where I and my brothers had to physically intervene,'' Nakonchay said. When Lyubov decided to leave Ukraine, ``There were many who asked her not to go. Her answer was 'I want my son Sergey to have a father.'''

At the funeral, a police helicopter circled overhead as more than 5,000 members of Sacramento's Eastern European community packed the church. More than 20 Sacramento County sheriff's deputies stood watch, although the funerals concluded without violence.

At least a dozen of Soltys' relatives are under police protection in the Sacramento area. However, the search expanded last week to Russian-Ukrainian communities in San Francisco and Oregon, while police are paying special attention to Seattle, Charlotte, N.C., and Binghamton, N.Y., where Soltys once lived or had family ties.

``We have a member of the Russian community apparently responsible for six deaths and he's unpredictable,'' said Lt. Larry Saunders of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. ``He could be gone, he could be here, we just don't know.''

A $70,000 reward has been offered for Soltys' arrest. Television's ``America's Most Wanted'' aired the case nationally Saturday night, generating more than 100 tips. Even more continued flowing in to a Sacramento command center from four hot lines, including one set aside for those speaking Ukrainian and Russian.

Police believe Soltys killed his 23-year-old wife, Lyubov, at their North Highlands home, then drove to the Rancho Cordova home of Galina Kukharskaya, 74, and Petr Kukharskiy, 75, perhaps in search of money.

They say he killed them and their 9-year-old grandchildren, Tatyana Kukharskaya and Dimitriy Kukharskiy, who lived next door.

Soltys then picked up his son, Sergey, from his mother in a third Sacramento suburb, Citrus Heights. The boy's body was found a day later in a cardboard box on a trash heap in rural Placer County.

``An entire world has watched the unfolding of these events,'' Senior Pastor Adam Bondaruk said in Russian. ``The entire United States is in deep sorrow.''

Bondaruk called on followers to put aside any negative experiences they had with authorities in their homelands and to help investigators with their search. Hampering the search for clues are language barriers and fear in the immigrant neighborhoods of a man whose motives remain a mystery.

On Friday night, a local cable station broadcast a videotaped plea for Soltys' surrender from his mother, Varvara.

``Nikolay, your family loves you very much, and we are asking you to please turn yourself in peacefully,'' she said in the broadcast.

Soltys' wife and son will be returned to Ukraine for burial. The four others were buried Sunday at Quiet Haven Memorial Park following the service.