On February 20, 2014, 48 people lost their lives in what has come to be remembered as the bloodiest episode in Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution. Most of the people who died in those fateful hours were picked off by snipers of the now-disbanded Berkut riot police.
Five officers have been on trial for five years for the shootings, but there’s still no sign of a verdict, despite the fact Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced the pre-trial investigations into the crimes have now been completed. This, however, is something that has since been refuted by a number of people, including special prosecutor Serhiy Horbatiuk.
The families of the people who died during the revolution are still waiting for justice and many believe the Ukrainian authorities are to blame. In a press briefing on February 19, a lawyer of one of the deceased’s relatives Vitaliy Tytych commented that the families and their legal representation are collectively considering taking the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.
We sat down with Hromadske’s Editor-in-Chief Angelina Kariakina, who has been following the cases since the revolution itself, to discuss the ins and outs of the investigations and why it’s taking this long.
On the trial
The sheer scale and impact of the Euromaidan crimes are a large factor of why the investigations and legal proceedings are still not complete. To put this into context, Kariakina explains that, in addition to the 48 deaths and 80 injured, the court also needs to hear the testimonies of the witnesses, as well as the accused, before debates can begin and verdict given.
Kariakina says that “according to different calculations, this whole trial may take another year.” However, this is normal for a case of this “historic” nature, Kariakina adds, citing the presiding judge Serhiy Diachuk – someone she believes the case is “really lucky” to have, even though his disciplined approach maybe prolonging the process.
“I think this historical trial is really lucky to have that sort of judge, who is very tolerable in terms of openness, media and all that. But, at the same time, he's very strict, to the point and he's trying to make everything not as quick as possible,” Kariakina comments.
What’s more, the fact this case has dragged on for years has led to a decrease in interest and coverage of the topic.
“Unfortunately, I don't know why, maybe because there is so many things in Ukraine happening: the war, the political struggles, so many things are happening that sometimes you lose focus and, unfortunately, it's not something that the media also is following,” Kariakina says.
Another impediment to the investigation is the amnesty law, which prohibits protesters from testifying. While this is seen as positive in that it protects the protesters from the legislative issues of the time, as Kariakina comments, it has also resulted in a “legal trap” when it comes to truly getting to the bottom of the events of revolution’s most violent moments.
On conspiracy theories
Considering the lack of concrete answers regarding the Euromaidan cases, it’s no wonder they have been the subject of speculation. Some of the most popular rumors include the presence of Georgian, Russian and Lithuanian snipers on Maidan.
“This information pops up, sometimes deliberately, in a number of documentaries or quasi-investigations by some sometimes unknown foreign media, in English, saying that there were different forces here in Ukraine,” Kariakina states.
However, special prosecutor Serhiy Horbatiuk recently stated that the investigation was also looking into the role of Russian emissaries – most notably, Putin aide Vladislav Surkov. However, again, there are no clear answers here either.
“What exactly his role was, and what he was communicating, and what impact it had on situation on the ground in Instytutska, in Maidan – that is still a huge question and there is a lot of speculation about that.”
Kariakina adds that the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office continue to state that the whole operation on the ground was coordinated by the local police.
On the role of the police
The five suspects currently on trial are all members of the former Berkut riot police, which was dissolved in the aftermath of the revolution. There are a further 20 officers no longer in Ukraine. According to Kariakina, 16 have ended up in Russia and four in occupied Crimea. Some of them now work for the Russian police force.
What’s more, there are also former riot police now working in Ukraine’s reformed special forces police units. This brings the effectiveness of Ukraine’s wide-scale police reform into question.
One officer in particular, Ruslan Tsykaliuk, who Hromadske has investigated, is now the commander of the Kyiv special forces. As Kariakina states: “he is now the face, the hands and the brain of this now so-called reformed police, which give us the reason to say that it's the same Berkut but just without the specific name Berkut.”
On the role of Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko
Kariakina also believes that the Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who claimed that the pre-trial investigations have all been completed earlier this month, has also had a hand in politicizing the Euromaidan cases.
“Throughout these years, in his position, in his office, he remains a politician and that he puts his political ambition over justice and it is very unfortunate,” Kariakina states.
Lutsenko recently announced plans to construct a monument to the Heavenly Hundred at the site of many of the shootings – Kyiv city center’s Instytutska street, which was recently closed off for tests as part of the investigation.
“Who needs that?” Kariakina asks of the decision to construct a monument at a time when Ukraine is preparing to go to the polls for the presidential and parliamentary elections. “In my opinion, it looks like a political moment, where the government would need a memorial for their own political reasons.”