Former MP Tetiana Chornovol. Source: Facebook/Тетяна Чорновол.
As the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on the Euromaidan Revolution was getting increasingly savage back in February 2014 and culminated in the tragic massacre of civilians with live ammunition in broad daylight, the protesters fought back however they could. One of their most audacious steps was to set ablaze an office of the ruling Party of Regions, headed by then-president Yanukovych, who sparked the Revolution by a rash U-turn away from the EU and towards Russia.
Among the protesters behind the arson was Tetiana Chornovol. The journalist was known for her investigations into the dastardly and illicit riches of the Ukrainian power vertical. Probably, this is why she was battered half-to-death during Euromaidan and after Yanukovych fled to Moscow, became an MP in the Ukrainian parliament.
The protesters made sure the office was vacated before setting it on fire. But unbeknownst to them, a system administrator returned, attempting to evacuate the hard drives on the computers. He died in the fire. And on 15 December, Chornovil was charged with premeditated murder — an accusation that Ukraine’s own investigators had previously ruled out.
This indictment is punishable with up to life imprisonment if proven, and has been slammed as a revanche of pro-Russian forces and as the latest incident in a disturbing trend of an assault on the Euromaidan revolution.
What happened on 18 February 2014
On the morning of 18 February 2014, the Euromaidan protesters organized a march called “peace offensive” through multiple cordons of police to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) building in order to support the demands of opposition legislators for rolling back to the 2004 constitution that restricted presidential powers and appointing a new government. The protesters faced fierce resistance from the police forces and multiple demonstrators were injured in the clashes, several protesters and police officers were killed. It was the first day when the law enforcers mass used live ammunition against the protesters, and the government forces mass used hired thugs known as titushki against the protesters.
Amid the clashes with police in multiple locations in central Kyiv, a group of protesters with anti-corruption journalist and opposition activist Tetiana Chornovol among them broke into the office of the ruling Party of Regions which was led by then pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. They set the office ablaze, the personnel was able to leave the building. An hour later police forces regained control of the office. One worker of the organization was found dead inside.
Ms. Chornovol didn’t deny setting the PoR office on fire in order to distract the attention of police forces to save the Euromaidan protesters and draw the titushki onto her and her husband, yet she rejected her involvement in a murder.
On 15 December the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) formally charged her with premeditated murder on the prior conspiracy of a group of people. The criminal investigation against her has ended and the DBR is going to pass the case to the court, where Ms. Chornovol may face a life sentence if found guilty.
“Case against the Euromaidan”
Tetiana Chornovol, who had then served as a legislator from late 2014 to 2019, believes that she received the indictment “for partaking in the Revolution of Dignity.”
In her comment to Priamyi Channel, Ms. Chornovol assumed that the reasons for opening the criminal proceedings against her may be orders from the Kremlin to discredit the Euromaidan Revolution and the personal grudge of incumbent President Volodymyr Zelenskyy against her, as Ms. Chornovol said.
“The case against me was initiated by Babikov, Yanukovych’s lawyer, who had suddenly headed the DBR earlier this year. And the first thing he did was initiating a case against me on the Maidan. Why? I have been doing a lot in the previous five years of my tenure [in the Parliament]. But I consider the confiscation of Yanukovych’s money to be my main achievement. One and a half billion dollars were returned to the state budget,” Chornovol explained on Priamyi.
As for alleged Zelenskyy’s interest in the case, she says that it was his “petty grievance” as “the fact that I had published information during the presidential campaign that Zelensky dodged the army draft also played against me,” Tetiana Chornovol commented to Priamyi.
Serhiy Horbatyuk, the former Maidan-linked crimes investigator, stated back in April after the SBI searched Chornovol’s house that his Special Investigations Department within the Prosecutor General’s Office (GPU) had investigated the case of the fire in the PoR office and he didn’t see any ground for charges against Tetiana Chornovol as the man who had died in the building had a lot of time to leave the office yet stayed to collect the collect computer hardware and died of smoke inhalation.
Former President Petro Poroshenko said that the charges against Chornovol are meant to threaten her and those who accuse her have been trying to make Tetiana Chornovol a person who is “guilty of the Revolution of Dignity.”
Former post-Euromaidan Head of Parliament and acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said on Channel 5 that the indictment against Chornovol is an attempt to denigrate the heroes of the Euromaidan, turning them into criminals, and to deprive real murderers of responsibility. According to him, revanchists are shaping the current agenda including that for law enforcement agencies and the case shows that the current authorities are anti-Ukrainian and revanchist.
MP Andriy Parubiy believes that “We are witnessing what is called political revanche, a counterattack by Russian forces here in Ukraine, an offensive against Ukraine.”
Legal experts: accusations are void
In his phone comment to Euromaidan Press on the indictment of Tetiana Chornovol, Vitaliy Tytych, a lawyer for the families of the Heavenly Hundred, said that GPU’s Special Investigations Department had questioned Ms. Chornovol as a witness in the probe into the fire in the Office of the Party of Regions that resulted in the death of a man. He said that the Department didn’t found any grounds to charge her. Mr. Tytych states that there were no cause-and-effect links between the actions of Chornovol and the death of the victim of the fire as the two events were separated in time.
Tetiana Chornovol didn’t deny that she was among the active group of protesters blamed for the arson, however, her personal participation in setting the building on fire wasn’t backed by any evidence but her own words that she had believed that it was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, he says, the group of protesters ensured that all people left the building before setting it ablaze which exonerates them of attempted murder. Therefore, the criminal offense can be classified solely as arson – the destruction of property. The victim, a system administrator of the office, voluntarily returned to the office later in an attempt to remove the server hard drives.
“This accusation is void. In the context of the ECtHR practices, this is clearly political persecution,” says Mr. Tytych.
Meanwhile, Vitaliy Tytych assumes that Ms. Chornovol has been trying to achieve her own results by “inflating the situation around this criminal case,”
“This is an important point: making her political statements, she creates grounds for certain opportunities for manipulation by current investigators of the DBR. Obviously, she pursues political goals… She actively provokes this criminal proceeding,” believes Mr. Tytych.
Commenting to Euromaidan Press, Oleksandra Matviychuk of the Center for Civil Liberties also referred to the results of the probe by GPU’s Special Investigations Department saying that the GPU investigators didn’t qualify the death of the office worker as premeditated murder since they found no connection between the arson and the death of the office worker as people were able to leave the building,
“That’s why the new round of this case looks quite strange. And even more strange in terms of the way it was qualified because a premeditated murder requires the intent to kill a particular person, which is unlikely to have happened in this case.”
On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Euromaidan Revolution, 19 November, two pieces of news related to the revolution emerged.
First, SBU and National Police conducted searches in the Museum of the Revolution of Dignity related to financial operations of the museum. The Prosecutor’s office of Kyiv denied that the raid was devoted to the anniversary, while MP Volodymyr Viatrovych believed that the search was a “demonstration of Anti-maidan revanche in Zelenskyy’s Ukraine and the discrediting the Revolution of Dignity and everything connected with it.”
Later the same day, journalist Sonya Koshkina reported on her Telegram channel that the DBR had opened proceedings related to the Euromaidan at the request of Yanukovych’s ally Renat Kuzmin and now summons for questioning participants of the Revolution of Dignity Oleksandr Turchynov, Andriy Parubiy, Vitaliy Klitschko, Serhiy Pashinsky, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Tetyana Chornovol. The DBR denied that summoning was politically motivated and stated that the interrogations were canceled due to the COVID-19 situation two weeks prior to the Euromaidan anniversary.
Oleksandra Matviychuk says that she believes that both events
“have signs of a pre-planned special operation, not that much legal, but informational, that aimed to undermine trust in the Euromaidan, and, for the people who participated in it and understood what was happening there, to finally kill the remnants of trust in public authorities.”
These parallel actions of various law enforcement agencies that provoked public outrage were not coincidental, Ms. Matviychuk believes.
Asked if she sees the Chornovol indictment as the next step of law enforcers to denigrate the Euromaidan, Oleksandra Matviychuk said that she can’t make a final conclusion based on the information published in mass media,
“But I wouldn’t exclude it,” she adds.
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