Officers of the Berkut riot police forcefully cleared Euromaidan protesters from Kyiv’s Independence Square on November 30, 2013, on the pretext of making space for the city’s Christmas tree. That night they beat nearly 100 people, including students, activists, and journalists. The following January, when the stand-off between protesters and police had moved to outside the Dynamo stadium, Berkut officers also threw stun grenades and fired rubber and lead bullets into the crowd.
Numerous officers, who have been identified in videos documenting their use of excessive force against peaceful protestors, are currently on trial for abusing their authority.
While the Berkut special forces were officially dissolved in late February 2014, today, around 30% of former Berkut officers still work for Ukraine’s police. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, these include around 20 suspects in ongoing cases, nine of whom currently hold positions of authority.
READ MORE: Inside Kyiv’s Reformed Riot Police
Representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office say this is not only a moral-ethical issue, but a practical one, as it threatens the unbiased investigation of the crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests.
“[It affects] the attitude of those who could testify,” says Director of Special Investigations at the Prosecutor General’s Office Serhiy Horbatiuk. The potential witness “understands that his colleague or manager who is a suspect continues to work, so any real evidence does not lead to the law enforcement agencies replacing these people.”
However, the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not believe there are any grounds for dismissing these officers from their positions until they are declared guilty in court.
Hromadske spoke to victims of police violence during the Euromaidan protests, representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office, and several former Berkut officers about their attitudes toward the past crimes of present officers in Ukraine’s new police force.