“Bullets” is the continuation of Hromadske’s investigative series “Traces of the Euromaidan Revolution.” In this documentary, we follow three stories – one wounded protester and two murdered ones on Instytutska Street during the first hours of shootings on February 20, 2014. Bullets were found in the bodies of all the victims in these stories. We explain to whom they belonged.
The First Story: Chair
Tall, skinny, light-haired Sviatoslav Kolesnykov waits for us under the bridge at the start of Instytutska Street. “I can’t go here. It’s difficult. Maybe I’m having a PTSD attack,” says Kolesnykov about his feelings when he visits the Independence Square (or Maidan in Ukrainian). He says that recently he's been trying to avoid coming there.
Kolesnykov went to the Maidan for the first time on December 1, 2013 – the day after police beat students during the Euromaidan. This was known as the March of Millions.
“What did we have left to do? When I was on the Maidan and I told my friends that I was there, they replied 'Quiet, quiet, what are you talking about?' But why couldn’t I talk about this in my own country? If even this isn’t allowed, then what are you allowed to do at all in this country?”
Kolesnykov is a Kyiv resident. He went to the Maidan mostly at night during 2013-2014. “I had a big responsibility. During the day there were others here, during the day the Berkut (a now-disbanded riot police force responsible for much of the violence during the Euromaidan – ed.) would not conduct their hot operations.” On the night of February 18-19 2014, Kolesnikov stood near the monument of the Kyiv city founders on Maidan square.
“They started breaking up the pavement somewhere after midnight. I would break it into pieces against a post. Chunks of pavement were littered around here,” he says, showing us the ground under his feet, which has now been asphalted over, near the start of the Alley of the Heavenly Hundred. “And when the dispersal began, two water cannons were dragged here. I just stood here, and a water cannon was driving toward me. I stepped some distance away to avoid getting plastered.”
Clashes between the Euromaidan protesters and law enforcers at the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine on the night of February 18. Central in this photo (with flags on top) is the monument to the founders of Kyiv where Sviatoslav Kolesnykov was on the night. Photo: EPA/ALEXEY FURMAN
Water cannons and a column of internal troops descend down the Instytutska street toward the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine on the night of February 18, 2020. Photo: EPA/ALEXEY FURMAN
During the night of February 20, Kolesnykov also came to the Maidan. He’d planned to go home at dawn. But the Berkut started to move, so the protesters decided to line up and give ground. Some of the Berkut began to go up on Instytutska street after them. Kolesnykov was afraid that the protesters would be surrounded, they’d be trapped, and so he went after them.
“I didn’t have any weapons. I don’t know who had them. But regardless, the Berkut had better ones. I was thinking of going up and I saw how a body was being carried down. I think that this was Bohdan Ilkiv. He was being carried by several people, and a medic was pressing on some wound, I think, on his right buttock. When the body was being jostled, the arms fell, and a fountain of blood dripped down them. And then I understood that it would be dangerous to go up there. I didn’t have a shield, nothing. I started to look for anything that would help me defend myself. At the end I found a regular office chair with a blue back. I took it and started to head up the street.”
Euromaidan protesters carry a wounded person while protecting themselves with shields on February 20, 2014 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO
Kolesnykov found himself at the top of the bridge, between the Independence Square and the October Palace (now called the International Center of Culture and Arts). With the chair, he covered a person lugging a crate of Molotov cocktails. At that moment, something struck him in the arm.
“There was a strong strike against my arm, and I understood that I was already lying on the ground, that I’d been shot, that something was wrong. I didn’t see where the shot had come from, which is why I planned to go toward where I came from. I stood up and quickly crouched down and ran towards the fire, so the smoke would cover me, so that I wouldn’t be seen.”
The wound wasn’t serious. Kolesnykov visited the doctor with his wife two days later. The doctor immediately sent Kolesnykov for an x-ray, which revealed that he had a round lodged in his arm.
The bullet take out of Sviatoslav Kolesnykov's arm and the x-ray picture showing it inside him. Photo: courtesy
At first, Kolesnykov thought that he was shot from “Ukraina” hotel. A few experts failed to establish which rifle, exactly, had shot him. But in 2014, experts from the Kharkiv Academic Research Institute proved that the bullet in Kolesnikov’s body was similar to a bullet shot from a Kalashnikov rifle with the serial number 703087.
Back in March 2014, investigators at the Berkut headquarters presented a list of rifles and the names to whom the rifles were registered to.
The rifles themselves vanished from the base immediately after February 20. They were later found in a lake on the outskirts of Kyiv – cut into pieces and with their serial numbers filed off. But a cartridge repository was found at the police headquarters in Kyiv. There they’d found expended ammunition and markers showing from which rifle with what serial number each round had been shot from. A round from a cartridge numbered 703807 and the round dug out of Kolesnikov’s arm were identical. And the rifle with that number was registered to a Berkut alpinist-sniper – 24 year old Pavlo Abroskin. Kolesnykov has no doubts of the expert’s conclusions that Abroskin was the one who shot him. And not from the “Ukraina” hotel, as he’d earlier believed, but from a snow-covered barricade. “He was just someone’s tool. He made money from this, he’s just a bog-standard criminal,” says Kolesnykov.
Pavlo Abroskin was detained at the Kyiv Berkut base in April 2014, under suspicion of murdering 48 protesters and wounding about 80, as part of a group, on February 20, 2014 on Instytutska Street. He spent five and a half years in a pre-trial detention center. Hromadske met Abroskin in November 2016. At that time, his case had been in the court system for two years. For all that time, he’d never once testified, though he said that he wanted to talk about his version of the events of February 20, 2014, but now was “not the time.”
“Did you kill people on the Maidan?”
“I didn’t kill anyone. The bullet that incriminated me – that fired at Kolesnykov – was not my bullet. I wasn’t using my own rifle.”
“And you didn’t shoot?”
“I didn’t shoot and didn’t see who was shooting.”
Abroskin didn’t mention even once what he was doing on Instytuska Street that day over the course of our three hour interview. And he couldn’t explain whether he had a piece of yellow tape affixed to his black uniform – a marker of the group that was shooting people.
Stefan Reshko, one of the lawyers for the ex-Berkut officers, answering one of Hromadske’s questions about the experts that point the finger at Abroskin, replied that Kolesnykov had, during the pre-trial investigation and during the investigative experiments, insisted that the shooting was coming from the "Ukraine" hotel. And after two and a half years of court hearings, he tried to change his testimony to change the probable shooting location in the direction of the people with yellow tape.
“Kolesnikov’s motives for changing his testimony are obvious: if K.’s wound is proven to be caused by one of the suspects, he can earn $4,000,000 as compensation for material damages, which he claimed in a civil suit.”
Reshko also commented on the expert evaluation. “Over a dozen ballistic tests, conducted over the course of 2014, had agreed that Kolesnykov’s round has no relation to the bullet shot from the service weapon belonging to the special status police division Berkut. One of the tests from December 2015 points at Abroskin’s weapon. The tests by the Kharkiv experts were announced by the court, but it was not subject to critical analysis by both sides, and there are a lot of comments about it.”
Former Berkut officers, from left to right: Pavlo Abroskin, Serhiy Zinchenko, Oleksandr Marynchenko, Oleh Yanyshevskyi, and Serhiy Tamtura at the Sviatoshyn court in Kyiv, Ukraine on November 28, 2016. Photo: Serhiy Nuzhnenko / UNIAN
On December 29, 2019, Pavlo Abroskin was exchanged, along with another four ex-Berkut officers from his division, for Ukrainian prisoners held by the Russian puppet states of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. In order to facilitate the exchange, the Prosecutor General had changed the prosecutors on that case to ones that were more loyal – and those "more loyal" prosecutors had then asked for a change in the suspects' pre-trial detention status from imprisonment to arrest on personal recognizance. And judges from an appellate court confirmed it. Abroskin has yet to return from occupied Donbas. And he hasn’t testified to what he saw during the events of February 20, 2014.
“Sentencing the guilty parties, I think, will not happen anymore. Our entire court system and government leadership encourages them to evade punishment. It seems like this is due to the fact that for them, these events are not important. I don’t doubt that these ex-Berkut officers will have books written about them in [the Russian Federation] and that these books will be sold here, and they will pervert historical justice and the memories of the fallen,” says Kolesnykov.
The Second Story: Messenger
“I want to light the lamp here – oh, my son. Where are those matches...”
A woman in a warm black hat stands near a tree and digs in her bag. Above her head, on the tree, a photo of a young, smiling man with dark hair. This is the woman’s son – Serhiy Kemskyi. The woman is Tamara Kemska. We’re standing a little above the October Palace (now International Center of Culture and Arts - ed.). “No matter how hard it is to go up – the distance from the metro to the top of Instytutska street, or from the very bottom – well I just, you know, fly past it, and in my mind’s eye I see how Serhiy – how he walked here."
Tamara Kemska, the mother of Serhiy Kemskyi who was murdered on February 20, 2014 at the Euromaidan in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 6, 2020 in Kyiv. Photo: Andriy Novikov / hromadske
Serhiy Kemskyi arrived on the Maidan on November 22, 2013 – the second day following the start of the Euromaidan. On February 18, 2014, he suffered a small wound to his nose, and on the 20 he’d planned to head home. But when the shooting started, he started to head up Instytutska Street, following the Berkut – past a flower garden and the October Palace. “Here, or maybe it's been rubbed away by now...this is the place of his murder. I see how he walks right here, and then falls and then here is where they start pulling him away by his feet.”
Tamara shows us a faded but still visible white cross on the asphalt near the tree.
"I see how he fell on the video – that was the first shot. I see how he tried to get up. At first, he waved his hand, as in, "I'm wounded, save me." And then a second shot fires, and he starts to spin, jump, scream... It was a terrifying image. And then they pick him up under his shoulders and start to take him, which means that he’s still alive. And Mykola Dziavulskyi (another protester murdered on the same spot that Kemskyi was – ed.) and Kemskyi were brought into the October Palace almost immediately, but there was just no one there to save them, they died. Serhiy wasn’t hit in a single vital organ, he had a bullet in his lungs. He could have been saved. He died from blood loss."
Serhiy Kemskyi's body at the Independence Square on February 20, 2014. Photo: Volodymyr Hontar / UNIAN
One bullet exited Kemskyi’s body, while the other stayed in his body. Using the same principle as in Kolesnykov’s case, it was identified with the help of the cartridge repository. Experts' assessment proved that the bullet taken out of Kemskyi’s body was the same as the one shot from a rifle with the serial number 792786.
Bullets from the same rifle injured the protesters Boniuk, Korolchuk, and Kovalchuk, and had killed Mykola Dziavulskyi.
That rifle was registered to a Kyiv Berkut officer named Volodymyr Tryhubets in 2012.
Law enforcers and protesters on Instytutska Street in Kyiv on the morning of February 20, 2014. Photo: Yevhen Maloletka / UNIAN
Tryhubets was on the Euromaidan but did not take part in the events of February 20, unlike his weapon. At least the investigation to prove it. The same year he received a Russian citizenship and began working at the OMON (a special police division analogous to SWAT – ed).
The Ukrainian prosecutor-general’s office announced international warrants for him and another 17 ex-Berkut officers, who had all served at the Kyiv division. But Interpol refused to include them in international wanted lists, because they consider the Maidan cases to be political.
“If it’s proven, I don’t know how they’ll go about their lives – these are murderers, and the fact that it will be proven – I’m absolutely certain that it’ll be proven. It’s not important for me to know who did the shooting but who gave the orders,” says Tamara Kemska.
“I’ve been writing messages to his page for the last six years. I write these very short letters, and today I wrote asking why he didn’t visit me in my dreams.”
Tamara Kemska (R) and her son Serhiy. Photo: Facebook
The Third Story: The Left-Hander
Zoya Kuzmenko meets us at her apartment in Vinnytsa, a regional capital 300 km southwest of Kyiv. A stable in the guest room is decorated with a picture of her son, Maxim Shymko, and her husband, Mykola Shymko.
“He was at the language Maidan, and at the tax one – on different ones. Maksym was shocked by the events of [November] the 30th, when the students were beaten. Maxim said that you can’t beat children. He immediately went to the Maidan, immediately signed up for the 4th Hundred (a division of protesters on the Maidan – ed.), seeing as he was a Cossack. He called me and said “You should have seen it, mom. There are such people here, ladies in mink coats tearing up pavement, people who came out because they couldn’t tolerate the bullshit,’” explains Zoya.
Zoya Kuzmenko, the mother of Maksym Shymko who was murdered on February 20, 2014, speaks to Hromadske on January 21, 2020 in Vinnytsia, central Ukraine. On the table, there are portraits of her late son and his father Mykola who could not withstand depression after Maksym's death and died shortly after. Photo: Oleksandr Kokhan / hromadske
Maksym Shymko posthumously received a medal "For Bravery" in 2016. Photo: Oleksandr Kokhan / hromadske
On February 18, 2014, Mykola Shymko had his birthday. Maksym was home, and had planned to return to his place on the Maidan on February 22. But while the family was sitting down to a celebratory dinner, protesters were being chased out of the Maidan. Maksym went that same evening back to Kyiv.
“We were just in the other room, and Pavlo (Zoya Kuzmenko’s younger son – ed.) was sitting in front of the computer, and I heard screaming, so loud that the building nearly exploded.”
Maksym Shymko died at 9:07 a.m. He had three gunshot wounds on his body, all in the neck.
“His father went to identify the body. And when he left, he stopped talking... and remained silent for half a year. If he needed something, he’d just point at it to show me. And this depression ate him alive, he didn't manage to beat it.”
Maksym Shymko holding a spear with a red tip together with fellow protesters on Instytutska Street shortly before he was killed on February 20, 2014. Photo: courtesy
One of the three rounds stayed in the body of Maksym Shymko. It was identified, according to expert conclusions, as being identical to a round shot by rifle with the serial number GU3557. This rifle was registered to Serhey Zinchenko – a sniper-driver for the Kyiv Berkut division.
“I first thought that it was Sadovnyk’s fault, because he doesn't have a right hand (Dmytro Sadovnyk is the former commander of Kyiv's Berkut division -ed.), but it turned out that there was someone left handed – that Zinchenko was left-handed. First [Zinchenko] said that he was a driver, not a shooter, but he did shoot, and he shot very skillfully, because my child did not have any chance to survive. And I asked him, what rights did he have to deny my child a chance at life? He was silent.”
Zinchenko was arrested, alongside Abroskin, in April 2014 at the Berkut headquarters. He also was imprisoned for five and a half years. He likewise failed to testify. In December 2019, he was also exchanged to the Russian puppet states of the so-called DNR and LNR, for Ukrainian prisoners.
Ex-officers of Berkut's special division Pavlo Abroskin (L) and Serhiy Zinchenko during a session at the Sviatoshyn district court regarding the February 20 shootings at Instytutska. Kyiv, March 30, 2016. Photo: Serhiy Nuzhnenko / UNIAN
“It was important for me to see my son’s murderer and look him in the eyes. We first came to the court with my husband to testify. And I saw that they had not confessed. And they didn’t care that the parents of their victims were sitting in front of them. And they kept quiet until the final day, until they were released.”
Zinchenko’s lawyer, Ihor Varfolomeev, replying to hromadske’s question about the matching rounds, told hromadske to wait.
“We have not yet reached the stage of legal proceedings, when such complex, contradictory yet extremely important issues can and should be covered. You and everyone who is interested will hear everything in court soon enough. Zinchenko is not involved in Shymko's death, and in this regard we will present our evidence, which is in the case file and has already been investigated in court,” says Varfolomeev.
With Zoya Kemska and her younger son Pavlo, we head to the cemetery. Next to the grave of Maksym Shymko is the grave of his father, Mykola. He never left his depressive state following the murder of his son and died in November 2018. Pavlo rolls a cigarette and leaves it in a special plate on his brother’s grave.
“Pavlo doesn’t smoke, but Max did, so we always light a cigarette for him here,” says Zoya.
Zoya Kuzmenko next to her son's grave at the cemetery in Vinnytsia, central Ukraine on January 21, 2020. Photo: Oleksandr Kokhan / Hromadske
Experts from the Kharkiv research institute have in total been able to identify 29 rounds from the bodies of the slain and wounded victims of that February 20 day on Instytuska Street. These rounds, according to ballistic expert conclusions, were shot from the rifles belonging to 14 members of the Kyiv Berkut division. Other rounds either exited the bodies, or were too deformed for identification.
On February 8, 2020, two of the ex-Berkut officers, Oleksandr Marynchenko and Serhey Tamtura returned to Kyiv following their exchange. They consider themselves not guilty and want to prove it in court. There isn’t any evidence to connect those two specifically to the murdered or wounded on that day on Instytutska.
READ MORE: 10 Dramatic Videos Of Euromaidan
The ex-deputy commander of the Kyiv Berkut division, Oleh Yanyshevskyi, and his former subordinates Pavlo Abroskin and Serhey Zynchenko have not returned following their exchange to the so-called "Donetsk People’s Republic," just like the 18 other ex-Berkut officers who fled to Russia and received that country’s citizenship. Their lawyers tell Hromadske that they’re doing everything possible to “get those guys back home.”
/By Anastasia Stanko
/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski
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