Separating myth from reality: 6 facts on the shooting of the Euromaidan protesters

Euromaidan protesters get shot at vul.Institutska on 20 February 2014

Euromaidan protesters get shot at vul.Institutska on 20 February 2014 

2016/02/20 • Euromaidan 2 years, Maidan

Article by: Olena Makarenko

18-20 February 2014 will remain as black days in Ukrainian history. People who were opposing the regime of Yanukovych at Euromaidan were simply killed. 49 people were shot dead and 157 injured at vul. Institutska in Kyiv on February 20. The names of those who died for the future of Ukraine now are eternalized by the term “Heaven’s Hundred.” They are remembered and honored, as for many they became a light showing the way to the future and a collective conscience which prevents rolling back to the ways of the past. Streets across the country are named on their behalf. The number of the “Heaven’s Hundred” is actually more than 100. Also, more than 50 people are still considered missing after the Revolution of Dignity. Killed people were also registered from the “opposite side”. Four representatives of law enforcement agencies were killed on February 20. The investigation of the case is still ongoing. While new details emerge occasionally, much evidence disappears as time passes and none of those responsible for shooting unarmed protesters are punished. Here is what we know on the second-year anniversary of the most tragic events at Euromaidan.

Fact 1. Yanukovych was responsible for giving the orders

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Ukraine’s disgraced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych by himself gave the order to use weapons against Euromaidan activists in the center of Kyiv, stated the prosecutor of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine, Vladislav Kutsenko.

“Now all the episodes of the case [about the shootings on Euromaidan] are connected; we see the intent, we clearly see that at the top of the pyramid is Viktor Yanukovych himself, who gave illegal orders. And then farther there are other people who did all this,” said the prosecutor.

Fact 2. The “black unit” of the Berkut carried out majority of shootings

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The “black unit” of the Berkut shoots protesters at vul. Institutska on 20 February 2014

25 members of the so-called “black unit” of the Berkut riot police are incriminated with the majority of crimes committed on Euromaidan in February 2014. It was a special unit with anti-terrorist training, which implemented the orders of the head of Kyiv’s Berkut. These people were detained just after the Euromaidan. However, later for unknown reasons they were released. The majority of them ran away to Russia and some to Crimea. Only five of them were captured.

The General Prosecutor’s office incriminates committing a terrorist act to these people.

“It was done for no reason other than to intimidate people using firearms. Therefore the committing of a terrorist act is incriminated to these people,” said a representative of the General Prosecutor’s office. “I emphasize that absolutely all people from this black unit of “Berkut” were from Kyiv, they did not come from outside the country, [..] and it was they who used firearms against protesters in an unjustified way,” said Markian Galabala, a lawyer of the families of the heroes of the Heaven’s Hundred.

A video that surfaced recently shows a close-up view of the executors of the orders; a short version is below and the 41-minute full version is available here.

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You wonder who was killing Euromaidan protesters two years ago? These images leave no doubt. What is more disturbing is…

Posted by Euromaidan Press on Saturday, February 20, 2016

Many people involved in the case still work at their positions and the investigation constantly faces a situation where witnesses have to give evidence against their senior managers.

“It is obvious that in the current situation, when the huge part of the persons involved… no, did not run away, but continue to work in law enforcement agencies – the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Security Services, – investigation is ineffective… In general, it is difficult to find witness from ‘the other side,’ but in such circumstances it is practically impossible. I’m talking about the Berkut, about the criminal investigation department and the Public Security Management Department, and about the Prosecutor’s Office,” said a lawyer of Heaven’s Hundred Evgeniia Zakrevska.

Fact 3. They were shot with Kalashnikovs and rifles

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The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) found 23 items of weapons by which activists were shot in February 2014. Twelve of these items have been identified.

According to Hrigorii Ostafiychuk, an SBU spokesman, a hidden cache with the weapons was found in Holosiyiv district of Kyiv in the summer of 2015.

“24 items disappeared from the Berkut regiment – Kalashnikov AKMSs of 7.62 mm caliber, one Dragunov sniper rifle, and 3 pump guns. The last items have not been found. We found 23 items from which we can piece together 23 Kalashnikov rifles, the elements of a Dragunov rifle, and a barrel of the smoothbore rifle IZh,” said Ostafiychuk.

Also, the spokesman noticed that the identification numbers were mechanically removed from the fragments –  they were burned and smoothed out.

Fact 4. Snipers carried out orders of Ukrainian law enforcement chiefs

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Snipers operating at Maidan

There are signs of a “third party” which was involved in the events at Euromaidan. The snipers are believed to be this third party. However, as the investigation in the case is still ongoing, the presence of the snipers gave rise to conspiracy theories.

On 5 March 2014, a recording of a phone call between the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Urmas Paet was published on YouTube. In the conversation which took place in February 26, Mr. Paet said, referring to the doctor Olga Bogomolets, that according to all available evidence, the  policemen and protesters who were victims of the sniper fire were shot by the same snipers. Some Russian journalists hurried up to explain this version by stating that that time Ukrainian opposition hired the snipers.

Urmas Paet confirmed that the phone conversation really took place, but clarified “I did not give the characterization. I only expressed the concern that if the rumors start to live independently, it can harm the situation in Ukraine.”

Later, Olga Bogomolets said that she did not tell Paet about killed from both sides because she did not see the bodies of killed policemen. Also she did not make any assumptions that somebody from the opposition could have guided the snipers. The Estonian Minister suggested that the phone call was published at 26 of February on purpose to discredit the new Ukrainian authorities.

According to the head of the temporary investigative commission on the case, Gennadiy Moskal, the snipers were the employees of law enforcement forces and were implementing the orders of the SBU ex-head Oleksandr Yakymenko and ex-Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko.

In summer 2014, in the report of the temporary Investigative Commission, it became clear that the evidence on the case was eliminated. The Commission concluded that it was done because of the criminal negligence of new heads of Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Fact 5. Russian trace likely but not proven

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Vladislav Surkov, advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin

So far there are no clear facts on Russian involvement in the massacre at Euromaidan. However, signs of it appear now and than as new facts of the case are revealed.

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who used to head the Security Services in Ukraine from 24 February until summer 2015, repeatedly said that Volodymyr Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov had been staying in Kyiv during 20-21 February, 2014 using documents which were registered to the name Aslanbek Dudaev.

He has been accompanied by six Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) generals. The SBU General Byk who now is under arrest met with him,” said Nalyvaychenko.

These materials were given by the letter #468 from 8 May 2015 to the General Prosecutor’s office. The second page states which types of sniper rifles were dropped off and in which hard cases,” added the ex-head of SBU. Later, the General Prosecutor of that time, Viktor Shokin, stated that his Office did not receive evidence from Nalyvaichenko so that they cannot talk about Russia’s involvement in killing the “Heaven’s Hundred”.

However, according to the lawyer of “Heaven’s Hundred,” Evgeniia Zakrevska, the evidence given by  Nalyvaichenko is just a small fragment of available proof. She also stated that Shokin made a logical mistake. Instead of refuting the words of Nalyvaichenko [about Surkov’s arrival], he denied Russia’s involvement in general.

Indeed, Nalyvaichenko is not the one telling about evidence of Russia’s involvement at Euromaidan.

In the documentary “Quai d’Orsay. The Backstage of Diplomacy” by the French journalist Serge Moarti,  Eric Fournier, the head of the French MFA’s Department of Continental Europe, said that the MFA and International Development of France knows for sure that “agents of the Russian Security Services” were among the snipers who shot people on the Maidan in Kyiv in winter 2014.

Later the official representative of French MFA, Roman Nadal, did not refute these words, but reminded that the investigation of the case is ongoing in Ukraine.

The presence of Russia’s FSB at Euromaidan is also widely discussed.

“During the winter 2013/14, the groups of FSB and the Interior Ministry of Russian Federation visited Kyiv 3 times. The largest group consisting of twenty-seven people came on the first visit, during 13-15 December. The second visit of six people took place on 26-29 January. Seven people came on the third visit, on 20-21 February. Note: each time the ‘guests’ appeared after a peak of confrontation. In December, after the attempt to disperse [Maidan] in the night of the 10-11th. In January, it was after the failure to announce a state of emergency. In February – after the massacre of the 18th and the day of the mass shootings at vul. Institutska,” tells a fragment from the investigatory book “Maidan. The Untold Story.” It was published at lb.ua on the first anniversary of the tragic events at Euromaidan. A day later, Nalyvaichenko confirmed the statements of the book.

Besides other facts, the book also tells about 7,386 items of impact, among which were several types of grenades, which were taken to Kyiv from Russia, and also about Surkov’s visit to Crimea in 11-12 February 2014 to “prepare” for the annexation of the peninsula.

Speaking of the ‘Russian trace,’ personally I mean the initiators or, so to speak, ‘ideologists’ of the mass killing of protesters, who influenced Yanukovych and other high-ranking officials to give the criminal orders. This data is also based on the analysis of telephone conversations of Yanukovych, in particular, directly during the mass executions of protesters.

“We have no confirmed data about the participation of Russian snipers on the Maidan (in fact, the criminals could have any nationality, it does not matter, the important thing is who and for what purpose was using them). By ‘Russian trace,’ we mean people who are currently identified only at the level of phone numbers of the Russian communication operators, [taking part] in the system of  events [in Ukraine], including those that took place on February 18, 2014, the murders on vul.  Instytutska on February 20, the Kharkov Congress on February 22 and Yanukovych’s departure from Ukraine on 22-23 February. Through contacts of Yanukovych and Azarov [ex-Prime Minister], we recorded the ‘participation’ of the same mobile phone users of Russian telecom operators. In other words, the determinative events of the script which took place after the beginning of murders on 18 February in the context are consistent with these phone calls,” said a prosecutor of the General Prosecutor’s office, Oleksiy Donskiy, in an interview to Radio Svoboda.

Fact 6. Euromaidan shootings not yet recognized as a crime against humanity

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Berkut officers shoot Euromaidan protesters on 20 February 2014

The Hague International Court of Justice has not yet classified the shootings at Euromaidan as a crime against humanity. It was stated in the report of International Hague Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. According to the preliminary investigation, Ukrainian law enforcement servants of that time often used “excessive and unreasonable” force against activists and journalists during protests at Euromaidan in 2013-2014. However, the law enforcement agencies have not committed crimes against humanity, stated the prosecutors.

“Although the considered events were not indicted as a crime against humanity, the Court notes that serious violations of human rights took place at Maidan,” said Bensouda.

According to the prosecutor, the violent actions of the authorities on the Maidan were directed “against the civilian population,” however there is no sufficient evidence that this was “widespread or systematic”.

Just after the report has been released some media started to spread information that as the events at Euromaidan so far were not recognized as a crime against humanity, the court will not consider this case anymore. In this regard, Ukrainian activists from Euromaidan SOS and the Legal Advisory Group refuted such an interpretation of the report of the Hague Court.

This report is published annually and reflects only on the current status and the stage of preliminary investigation, which is directly related to the information submitted to the court by the officials and representatives of civil society of the country. The conclusions of the report are based only on data submitted to the court by the officials and civil society of the state, as at this stage the International Criminal Court is unable collect evidence,” stated the activists.

Paul Dikan, the lawyer of the families of the heroes of the “Heavenly Hundred” explains the procedures of the Hague Court:

Officially, Ukraine is not a party of the International Criminal Court, because we have not ratified the Rome Statute. However, on 9 April 2014 Ukraine appealed to this Court for a declaration on recognition of its jurisdiction in the period from 21 November 2013 to 22 February 2014. So that this period Ukraine passes under the jurisdiction of the court.

“On 25 April 2014, the procedure was started and the first of four stages of the investigation have been passed. So far we are on the second. It was recognized that we have passed the identification, and the second phase is a revision whether these crimes match the definitions of the Rome Statute. We understand that the events that took place in Ukraine apply to the definition of crimes against humanity. There is also a crime of aggression, events in the east of Ukraine fall into this category. However, the Court jurisdiction will be extended for these crimes only in 2017.

“Each year, the prosecutor’s office of preliminary investigations writes a report on the activities of the previous year. The Mission of the International Criminal Court to Ukraine reported that there were signs of excessive violence, but did not see either systematic attack or the immensity. It refers to Maidan. At this stage, the court examines only the evidence provided to it by the state. After many requests Ukraine sent only a ‘poor’ report.”

The reason for the slowdown in the investigation the activists see in the fact that many people who are that way or another involved in committing these crimes are still working at their previous positions, so they are not interested in the development on the case.

Another reason is that the state does not contribute much to the investigation. According to the activists, the priority for the state is a public report on the investigation, but not the investigation itself.

Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • Vlad Pufagtinenko

    “Viktor Yanukovych by himself gave the order to use weapons against Euromaidan activists in the center of Kyiv, stated the prosecutor of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine, Vladislav Kutsenko.”……Let’s be clear. Yanukovych wasn’t smart enough to tie his shoes without permission from Putin. We all know who really gave the order.

  • Vid Beldavs

    I recall seeing a newspaper article that spoke of the absence of security forces in the center of Kiev in the hours before Yanukovych was spirited out of Kiev. Was this true? If true why would security forces that were supposed to guard government facilities leave them unguarded at a time of increasing chaos? Were they abandoning ship, fleeing for their personal safety or had they received orders to not be present?