Employees working for the Ministry of Internal Affairs refuse to testify or give any information about the crimes committed against protesters on the Maidan. In a display of solidarity, they are loath to testify against their superiors who have kept their jobs.
Ever-louder voices are being raised on the street and in the media criticizing the inaction of the prosecutors and the general lack of progress in bringing cases involving the murder of protesters on the Maidan [in February, 2014] to court. Racurs News has asked the defense lawyers of the victims’ representatives to share their thoughts on where things stand.
Taras Hataliak, coordinator for the team of defense lawyers working on behalf of the Heaven’s Hundred Family said the following:
“Since September we have established amenable relations with the prosecution. The investigation has been fruitless, but we think there are reasons for this. There is a general lack of political will among the leadership, and there are other issues as well. Mistakes were made.
“Each murder, injury, and assault was looked at individually rather than being examined collectively as an organized criminal action that took place on the Maidan between November 30, 2013 and February 22, 2014. For instance the HPU [national security service] was responsible for investigating injuries from a bullet while other injuries were being investigated by the Office of the Prosecutor in Kyiv. Everything is all over the place, so of course the results are miserable.”
For almost two months now the team of lawyers representing the families of the Heaven’s Hundred victims has been asking for more investigators to be assigned to the cases. On December 4th the Prosecutor General approved the creation of a new bureau in charge of investigating the crimes on the Maidan.
A coordinator responsible for providing analysis and an evaluation of the case documents was appointed. A lot of information has been lost. Many videos need to be reviewed and a mountain of evidence has to be examined.
The way we understood it, this newly formed bureau within the HPU is supposed to be in charge of investigating all the crimes related to the Maidan between the beginning of November, 2013 and the end of February, 2014. We wanted the cases in which the victims received injuries on the Maidan but died later while under medical care to be included in the investigation.
On December 5th a meeting was held between the lawyers, the families of the victims and the Head of the Security Service, as well as the heads of various departments. Valentyn Nalyvaichenko [Head of the Security Service] informed us that a department had been set up within the Security Service to coordinate the investigation.
We were told that any activist willing to participate is welcome to do so. That includes rights activists, the defense lawyers working for the families, and journalists. We were assured that work would be done on the federal level in the headquarters of the Security Service and on a local level in its district offices. Any valuable information should be passed on to the coordinating office.
The Ministry of the Interior assured us of their cooperation as well. We had meetings with Anton Herashchenko [of the MIA] and department heads of the ministry. Unfortunately we still have not received any answers to our questions.
The response we got from the MIA to a complaint we had filed about former and current members of Berkut being provided state-owned buses to bring the group to the Court of Appeals was telling. We supplied all the evidence including a video tape recording and demanded a review of the actions taken by the personnel of the Kyiv HPU and the MIA.
The results of the review shocked us. The review concluded that neither the employees nor the drivers had violated any laws: the Berkut group had simply asked for a ride.
At the pre-trial hearings former and possibly current members of Berkut videotaped and photographed the relatives of the victims and their lawyers. This is worrying: why did they do that? Why do they need such detailed documentation? It can be used against us illegally.
Cases the MIA is investigating need to be looked at separately. I have information that the MIA has already closed some cases and is about to close others. The ministry is investigating deaths that occurred after the Maidan as a result of beatings or gas poisoning, for example.
The police are investigating a death in Ivano Frankivsk of a person who died of hypothermia back in January. The man had been doused with water from water cannons. We will continue to demand from the HPU that the case be reopened. The MIA has miscalculated by letting the district police departments investigate cases independently.
Judging by the behavior of the police at pre-trial hearings, it is evident that they feel they are above the law. They exude confidence and insolence. I cannot know where their confidence comes from, I can only speculate. The Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, has not introduced any anti-corruption measures among the management of the ministry and especially in the department of public safety within the MIA and in regional offices.
The regional supervisors of Berkut have not been dismissed. The regional administrators of public safety departments continue to abuse their authority and to apply pressure on their subordinates. Therefore it is not surprising that the subordinates refuse to testify. They are still a part of the system and are afraid. I cannot claim for certain since this is part of the investigation and therefore restricted, but I suspect the HPU simply does not have any evidence from Berkut employees.
Oleksandr Tereshchuk, the former chief of police in Volyn Oblast, has been appointed Head of the HPU-MIA in Kyiv. We know how activists in Volyn Oblast were persecuted when Kyiv had its Maidan. We should hardly be surprised by the appointment. A report stating that an examination conducted by the Kyiv HPU-MIA has shown that Berkut did nothing wrong in and around the court, as I had already mentioned, is eye-opening.
I suspect there is pressure on the subordinate departments, possibly from the senior staff of the MIA that are involved in the investigative process. Since the prosecutor’s office has no working groups involved in the case, MIA divisions are being utilized.
We had submitted close to twenty oral as well as written questions to the senior staff of the MIA, and as of today have received only one response: about the incident with those buses at the courthouse and the subsequent pronouncement from the authorities.
Hanna Veremiy, sister of journalist Viacheslav Veremiy (who died in hospital from a gunshot wound he received on February 19 when the taxi he was riding in was attacked by unknown assailants) had this to say:
“We are dissatisfied with the fact that the judgment passed on the accused was changed from “attempted murder” to “hooliganism.” We are dissatisfied with the fact that he was released from detention and put under house arrest.
We were forced to replace the prosecutor in our case because the original prosecutor was biased. The HPU replaced him. The problem is that it was the original prosecutor who had initiated house arrest for the accused. This is the only suspect in our case that the authorities have detained. Others are still at large.”
Volodymyr Bodnarchuk, secretary of the NGO Heaven’s Hundred Family added the following:
“The investigations in some cases have been submitted for trial. The pre-trial phase is complete. We are displeased with some of the aspects in the investigations in some of the cases.
In marking the anniversary of the Maidan, the government published a progress report on the cases. The most substantial and accurate information was provided by the Office of the Prosecutor General. In it are claims that many problems exist, especially in regard to finding evidence. It is further reported that only 10% of the work has actually been accomplished. This, in our view, is consistent with the real situation.
Most of the cases have not made it to trial. We understand that there are objective reasons for that, but at the same time we would like to see a more efficient and effective examination process. The lawyers have appealed to the law enforcement agencies with suggestions on how to improve communication and cooperation between the agencies.
As far as the prosecution goes, we understand that under the existing structure and with an absence of a central investigative office in charge of examining the crimes that took place on the Maidan, it is difficult to work efficiently. The investigators employed by the HPU are responsible for all criminal cases, in addition to the ones that took place on the Maidan. The Maidan is not a priority. It is essential to create a separate department whose sole responsibility it would be to investigate the Maidan cases.
Members of Berkut have been indicted and charged with the murder of 39 individuals on the Maidan. There are problems with the judiciary, however. Instead of detaining the criminals, judges put them under house arrest. That was how the former commander of a Berkut squad, Dmytro Sadovnyk, escaped.”
The ministries of the interior bear responsibility for the lack of progress too, since according to me they have openly sabotaged the investigation and are covering for the employees of the MIA who were at the Maidan shooting. They refuse to testify and to provide evidence. In particular, they refuse to testify against their superiors who have kept their positions in the MIA. They are demonstrating their loyalty and solidarity.”