Editor's Note: The following is an opinion-style article by Hromadske's Nastya Stanko who has been following the Euromaidan case since the start.
Oleksandr Marynchenko and Serhiy Tamtura, two former members of the Berkut special riot police force implicated in a February 20, 2014 shooting on Instytutska Street in Kyiv which claimed 58 lives, have returned to Kyiv following their exchange to occupied Donbas during the December 28 prisoner exchange. Another three ex-Berkut officers that were detained alongside them on the same charges have remained in non-government controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. This group includes the deputy commander of the Kyiv division of Berkut, Oleh Yanishevksiy, and two ex-officers from that division – Pavlo Abroskin and Serhey Zynchenko.
Lawyers for the ex-Berkut officers took photographs with their clients in the city of Shchastya in Ukraine's war-torn Luhansk region. The so-called Luhansk "people's republic" that took in the exchanged detainees following the exchange on December 29.
Along with the photo, Oleksandr Horoshynskyi, Marynchenko’s lawyer, published a statement from the suspects. The statement addresses the president, parliamentary head, and the prosecutor-general, and purports to explain that the suspects felt they were obligated to participate in the exchange, in order to not disrupt negotiations.
And that’s even a version of events that can be believed. These two suspects did not have good reasons for going with the exchange: they were under house arrest, with their wives, and the court decision to change their pre-trial detention status gave them a reason to believe that the evidence against them was not insurmountable, unlike the situation with the three other suspects who remained in prison.
For Marynchenko, traveling to the occupied territories was not exactly safe. In 2014, he fought in the Donbas on the Ukrainian side, so travelling to the people who he had previously fought against did not seem like the best idea.
Tamtura’s wife, in response to my question asking why her husband agreed to be exchanged, replied, “Ask Zelenskyy (President of Ukraine -ed.).” She made it clear that her husband definitely did not want to be exchanged.
Evidence of Tamtura’s and Marynchenko’s involvement in the February 20, 2014 Instytutska Street Shooting
Horoshynskyi, and a fellow lawyer for the ex-Berkut officers, Ihor Varfolomeev, have consistently claimed that their clients are detained without cause.
They were both arrested in the summer of 2015, and were in prison until 2019.
In December of 2019, the judge presiding over the case, Serhey Dyachuk, changed Marynchenko’s pre-trial detention conditions to around-the-clock house arrest from imprisonment – at the time, he’d been held in prison for nearly five years.
Tamtura had been under house arrest from July of that year, and his round-the-clock arrest had later been changed to only nightly.
Prosecutors on the Instytutska shooting case had constantly disputed the court’s decision to change the pre-trial detention conditions for Marynchenko and Tamtura.
But were they on Instytutska Street on the day of the shootings, and if so, what did they do there?
The thing is, not one of the five suspects, in the four years of investigations, have not fully testified to the events of that day. But Marynchenko, for example, has confirmed in court that he had a rifle.
“During the last hearings, Marynchenko presented himself and said that he had a rifle registered to him – 975072. Judge Dyachuk even warned him about the fact that he has the right to not self-incriminate, but Marynchenko repeated that he had a rifle registered to him with that number,” explained Ihor Zemskov, a senior prosecutor on the case.
The rifle with that registration number, like many other rifles, was destroyed. Ballistic experts, by the way, have indicated that two bullets found by investigations on the ground on Instytutska Street, were shot from that rifle, belonging to Marynchenko. But there is no evidence that any of the bullets shot from this gun wounded or killed any protesters.
As for Serhiy Tamtura, he himself has said in court that he was on Instytutska on that day. And that he had even called for an ambulance for himself when he was standing near the National Bank – from where the “black company”, a group of 26 ex-Berkut officers, shot at protesters.
“It was proven that Tamtura approached the ambulance, and he later confirmed that it was him and explained why he had called it. He said that he was suffering from stress caused by sleep deprivation for several days, and carried a very heavy helmet. He had a very painful headache which did not allow him to continue service. A medic and paramedic who had at the time responded to the call told us that Tamtura said, ‘Take me away from here, I don’t want to follow the orders we’ve been given.’ And these two witnesses confirmed their testimonies in court,” explained the prosecutor, Zemskov.
There’s also no evidence that Tamtura’s rifle was used in killing or wounding anyone, but many of the bullets used that day are impossible to identify due to damage.
“Investigations during the court’s examination of the evidence, which included expert research and video and photographic materials...in particular, have established that the firearm, registered to [Tamtura], was the subject of detailed expert study. But the court did not receive and was not presented with any information about Tamtura’s involvement in its use in harming any persons on February 20, 2014,” stated the court in its decision to change Tamtura’s pre-trial detention conditions from imprisonment to house arrest last July.
And with this small collection of evidence against the two suspects, prosecutors insist that the group as a whole is being charged with shooting 48 people and wounding 80, not a specific person, since someone did the shooting – someone else did the coverup.
“The evidence confirms that [Tamtura and Marynchenko] worked together in the same division, and is in agreement with what we can see on video. And even if Tamtura himself did not shoot anyone, then he assisted others in shooting. They moved together, they left together, and they did some other actions together, that’s why we can talk about only the big or little level [of culpability]. That is, every [suspect] fulfilled a certain part of their role,” explained Oleksiy Donskoy, another prosecutor on the Instytutska shooting case...
What will happen to the case after the return of the two ex-Berkut officers?
It’s obvious – the same thing that’s happening in other Euromaidan cases, in regards to different events. In those, some of the ex-Berkut officers also fled, and one, for example, remained. The court moved the cases involving those who fled to a different criminal proceeding, and announced a manhunt for the escaped suspects. The court then continued hearings with the single suspect that remained.
In the most important Euromaidan case – the shootings on Instytutska – things will move forward the same way. The case will continue hearings, and a different criminal proceeding will be established for the three other suspects – Yanishevskyi, Abroskin, and Zynchenko.
And it’s possible that this year, after four years of hearings, we’ll receive a finale and a verdict.
Tamtura and Marynchenko, in their message to the president, prosecutor-general, and head of parliament wrote that they want justice, they trust in a just court, and want to further participate in the hearings. At the same time, they’ve said that they fulfilled their duties on the Maidan, and call the events of that day a coup d’etat.
With the collection of evidence we have today, Marynchenko and Tamtura will probably not receive longer sentences than those that they’ve already served (Tamtura – 4.5 years imprisonment, Marynchenko – almost 5), considering the “Savchenko law” where each year counts for two – unlike their colleagues Yanishevskyi, Abroskin, and Zynchenko, who have not returned following the exchange.
Experts claim that a bullet shot from Abroskin’s rifle lodged itself in the body of slain victims Mykola Dzyavulskyi and Serhiy Kemskyi, as well as wounded victim Svyatoslav Kolesnykov. And that a bullet, fired from a gun registered to Zynchenko, stuck in the body of slain victim Maxym Shymko.
There are witnesses that state that they saw the deputy commander of the Kyiv division of the Berkut, Oleh Yanishevskyi, with a rifle in his hands, and that he shot that rifle. The prosecutors believe that Oleh Yanishevskyi was the only person who was dressed in patterned camouflage and shot into the crowd of protesters, unlike other special riot police dressed in black. But he didn’t use his personal rifle. He shot the rifle of ex-Berkut officer Mykola Simisyuk, who had been killed. Yanishevskyi said, in an interview with is, that the person dressed in camouflage on video was him, but only while that person did not have a firearm. Yanishevskyi claimed that when the person in patterned camouflage appeared with a rifle, he no longer recognized himself.
Lawyers for Zynchenko and Abroskin dispute the expert analysis which says that their clients murdered protesters on Instytutska Street.
It seems like the evidence that the prosecution has collection will not give the other ex-Berkut officers the ability to return to the dock, just like the other 21 special riot police officers who fled to Russia from Ukraine in 2014-2015, and received Russian citizenship.
/By Nastya Stanko
/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski