Ukrainian lawyer on hunger strike over investigation of Maidan massacre

Ukrainian lawyer on hunger strike over investigation of Maidan massacre

Yevheniya Zakrevska. Photo: zn.ua.  

Maidan, Ukraine

Yevheniya Zakrevska is a prominent Ukrainian lawyer for the families of Heavenly Hundred, the protesters who were killed during the Euromaidan Revolution. On 21 November, the anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity, Zakrevska announced her hunger strike on the air of a TV show. This is how the lawyer tries to draw public attention to the fact that the investigations into the Maidan cases have been suspended, and to make the Parliament vote for the legislation which can resolve the issue. Later, at least 16 people joined her hunger strike.

The pause in the Maidan killings probe was caused by the reforms in Ukraine’s public prosecution. Shortly after the Revolution, the Special Department for the Maidan cases was created within the Prosecutor General’s Office (GPU). The agency had dealt with the cases throughout the post-Maidan years until now. In 2018, a new institution, the State Bureau of Investigation (DBR), was launched to investigate the crimes committed by top officials, law enforcers, military officers, and judges. In effect, the crimes committed by law enforcers, like the Maidan killings, fell under DBR’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, a recent large-scale public prosecution reform transferred the investigative function from prosecutors to DBR and other law enforcement bodies. It was a long-awaited step, though it worsened the situation with the Maidan cases, most of which had to be transferred to the DBR, and some to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). However, the question arose: who will investigate these cases now? Will new people explore everything from scratch or the current investigators would continue with the probe?

Zakrevska and other activists are standing for a simple amendment to the DBR law that could fix the issue, allowing the GPU prosecutors who have been investigating the Maidan cases to continue their investigation as DBR operatives, getting employed in the institution without a competition.

However, the Parliament did not find time to consider the amendment at a recent session when it was included in the agenda. That is why Zakrevska went on a hunger strike.

Later, 18 out of the 19 members of Parliament’s Law Enforcement Committee of the Parliament supported the amendment. Now, the question is whether the whole Parliament is going to vote for it. 3 and 5 December are among the dates to pass the legislation. Meanwhile, Zakrevska continues to lose weight and tries to deliver her message to a wider audience.

Here are the key points she voiced in her interview with Ukrinform.

Why public attention to Maidan cases is needed

Berkut officer. Photo: tsn.ua

Zakrevska explained that she decided to launch her hunger strike as two dates coincided. The first was the date when the GPU investigators lost their powers. The second date was the sixths anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity.

“I realized that without putting a tough emphasis, we don’t have a chance for adopting this amendment,” she says.

Zakrevska believes that there is no one to blame for the situation. The Prosecutor’s Office is not guilty of not filing this amendment since it’s not within their purview. In turn, the Parliament refers to their regulations, and the DBR answers that they have created a department for the Maidan cases.

On 18 November, DBR head Roman Truba informed that the department for the investigation of the Maidan crimes was established in the DBR.

“I don’t want to offend anybody, the investigators of the newly created department probably are good investigators. However, they have nothing to do with the Maidan cases,” Zakrevska says.

Zakrevska also warns that there are signs that Andriy Portnov, deputy head of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovychs Administration, has an influence on Truba and has his own interest in the Maidan cases. The lawyer emphasizes that the cases should not be transferred to the DBR until its department for the Maidan cases consists mostly of the GPU investigators who are already at it,

“And if we won’t have the department that tries to solve them, if we won’t hand over the cases to those who care about them and, what’s more, won’t keep [the cases] secured in order to prevent information leaks, then I am afraid that the pieces of evidence might be destroyed and the information might be disclosed to the defendants of the proceedings.

However, according to Zakrevska, out of 67 investigators who served in the Maidan Crimes Department of the PG Office as of 1 July 2019, only 25 have left now. She assumes that even fewer might remain when the Parliament will start considering the amendment.

Critical moment for the Maidan cases in courts

There are more than 30 law enforcers who have been under suspicion or charged with Maidan crimes, whose cases are already submitted to courts but they continue to work as law enforcers.

“When a victim comes to testify and sees a person [involved in beating and persecuting the protesters] continuing to hold a position in police, the victim understands that tomorrow they will meet again and that [the person] will start taking revenge. It does not help the investigation,” Zakrevska highlights.

The lawyer says that there were also those who did not support violence against the protesters. Some of such operatives testified later. However, these are the people disliked by the system. In effect, they were not even admitted to the new police department created as a result of the post-Maidan reforms.

Zakrevska believes that the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov seems more interested in keeping those who were ready to execute criminal orders during the Euromaidan Revolution and will be ready to do the same in the future.

The position of the defendants in the case of the 20 February shootings is that they had the right to shoot. And Zakrevska says that their defense considers the protesters who ignored the deadly danger while trying to evacuate the injured as crazy, drug addicts, or militants.

“They [law enforcement officers] were obviously fighting a war. They were on one side and the protesters on the other. Their philosophy was that they had to win and they had the right for revenge.”

In the interview, Zakrevska also outlined the current situation with the Maidan cases. All the culprits of the 20 February killings in the Maidan were identified. Five people are charged, and 21 other officers of the police special force Berkut who fled to Russia were put on a wanted list.

“Additionally, according to the results of the examination that the investigators received last year (for you to understand how long it takes), one bullet was identified as fired from a firearm of an Omega unit officer, thus he was also charged,” the lawyer says.

Zakrevska stresses that at the stage of submitting the case to court the investigation might fall through,

“Now, in fact, is the critical moment. The end of the investigation terms and so on.”

The lawyer praises the procedure of examining the evidence in the Kyiv Sviatoshyn District Court. Under it, all the pieces of evidence related to a particular victim are collected and discovered during one day, which is not typical for Ukrainian courts,.

“And it’s way more complicated for a prosecutor in court. […] He has to really navigate the materials of the case, to know which footage should be shown in regard to a particular victim and when. In this regard, tons of new information unknown at the pre-trial investigation emerge at court hearings. New eyewitnesses of those injuries appear, and additional testimonies of those who evacuated an injured or already killed person emerge,” Zakrevska says.

While endorsing the work of the Kyiv Sviatoshyn District Court, Zakrevska criticizes the Kyiv Shevchenko District Court,

It considers the charges against the former head of SBU Kyiv regional office, Oleksandr Shchokholev, who’s charged with the events related to the assault of the Maidan overnight into 19 February. Many were killed there, too, and many injured, they used the grenades shipped from Russia there.”

According to the lawyer, the hearings in this court often take place just once a month. The hearings are often disrupted and the only thing the sides manage to consider is another petition of the defense.

Top officials will now be investigated by anti-corruption bureau

As mentioned above, three institutions are going to investigate the Maidan cases now – the SBU, the NABU, and the DBR. However, many of the cases are interconnected, Zakrevska says.

“There are connections between the economical crimes, which would be transferred for investigation to NABU, and violent crimes. However, in order to notice them, coordination is required between NABU and those who investigate violent crimes.”

The idea was that in the period when Viktor Yanukovych usurped power, a part of the money pumped out through the schemes of then-head of Tax Service Oleksandr Klymenko was used to prosecute the Maidan activists, for extra wages to Berkut operatives, and to fund street armed groups known as titushkas.

In conclusion, Zakrevska underlines the importance of open court hearings.

“In the process of court hearings, when people can see everything that the investigators collected, they can make their own conclusions. Later they can agree, or disagree with the verdict, but they will understand the entire background of the events during Euromaidan, the actions to which the police resorted, and what the opposite side had on their minds.”

Yevheniya Zakrevska adds that when judges see that the result is important for people, they start acting more responsibly.

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Edited by: Yuri Zoria

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