By late February 2014, around 100 protesters had been killed during the Euromaidan demonstrations in Kyiv. Ukraine’s Berkut riot police, who had been standing off against the protesters for three months, were largely considered responsible. After being appointed acting Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov announced the dissolution of the Berkut special police division on February 25.
“These special forces have completely discredited themselves before the Ukrainian people,” Avakov declared, as he signed the decree.
Some former Berkut officers fled Ukraine, while others went to serve in the Anti-Terrorist Operation in eastern Ukraine. Many others continue to serve in the same division, now called the special police regiment instead of Berkut. A number of those currently working for law enforcement are concurrently on trial, accused of participating in the violent dispersion of protesters from Maidan in 2013 and 2014. But not all.
Ruslan Tsykaliuk was appointed the Commander of Ukraine’s special police regiment in December 2017 “for personal and professional qualities.” Tsykaliuk is a former commander of Berkut’s auto-transport unit. Off the record, at least two law enforcement officers told Hromadske that Tsykaliuk’s participation in the Euromaidan dispersion on November 30, 2013 is a “well-known fact.” This was also confirmed by experts working in the face recognition industry who conducted a comparison analysis between a person seen in the video footage from November 2013 and photographs of Tsykaliuk. Tsykaliuk denies this information .
“I was not there,” he firmly stated to a Hromadske journalist.
Berkut officers violently cleared Kyiv’s Independent Square on November 30, 2013, under the pretense of making space for the city’s Christmas tree. They used force and assault equipment against the activists, resulting in the injuries of close to 100 people.
All the crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests are under investigation in one comprehensive “Maidan Case,” which comprises 89 criminal proceedings. They include, in particular, investigations into the deaths of 95 people (82 protesters and 13 special forces officers).
Hromadske met with former Berkut officers now serving in the special police regiment, independent investigators of the crimes committed on Maidan, and current officials responsible for Ukraine’s national police to learn: What has changed since February 2014? What actually happened to Berkut after its official dissolution? And who is in charge of the special regiment today?
/By Victoria Roshchyna and Angelina Kariakina