Where are 13 mysterious Berkut sniper suspects?
Despite claims from the head of Ukraine’s Security Service, only two former Berkut officers are in detention on suspicion of involvement in the gunning down of protesters on Feb 20. A third, Dmytro Sadovnik, was released from custody and disappeared while another 13 remain unnamed and unaccounted for
The Centre for Civil Liberties has probed assertions made by the head of Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU], Valentin Nalyvaichenko and found them to be worryingly empty.
At a press conference on Nov 18 given by the heads of the Prosecutor General’s Office; SBU and Interior Ministry’s office, Nalyvaichenko asserted that the Interior Ministry, together with the SBU, had “arrested and remanded in custody 16 former Berkut officers, the most dangerous of those people who are most suspected by the Prosecutor General’s Office over the shooting of protesters on Maidan, of peaceful civilians, of you and us”.
Nalyvaichenko gave no further information about these 16 individuals. However, at a press briefing on Nov 18, Anton Herashchenko, Deputy Minister of the Interior, stated that they have full information as to who shot at protesters on Institutska Square. These are 16 people “who fled Ukraine, some to the Crimea, others to Russia”.
Two former Berkut officers – Pavlo Abroskin and Serhiy Zinchenko – are presently in custody on suspicion of involvement in the shooting of protesters. Their superior – Dmytro Sadovnik – is not, after he was released from custody by a Kyiv court on Sept 19 and disappeared soon after.
Following outrage over his release from custody, Sadovnik had been due in court on Oct 1 for a hearing which could have reinstated his detention. He did not appear then or at a rescheduled hearing two days later. It was after that second non-appearance that Herashchenko reported on Facebook that Sadovnik had been placed on the wanted list.
On Oct 4 a judge of the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv issued a warrant for his arrest. It was a judge of that same court who had ordered his release on Sept 19. Sadovnik was in charge of the Berkut special force unit suspected of the sniper shooting in cold blood of 39 EuroMaidan protesters. Given that the charges against him were so serious, the court had to provide grounds for changing the restraint measure to house arrest. Those given were that he has a wife, three children and a flat in Kyiv, and a good character reference.
There are multiple questions over the release of Sadovnik. Why did the court release only one of the three men detained? How did the electronic bracelet which Sadovnik was supposed to be wearing prove so easy to remove and leave in the house, thus misleading the police?
With the above-mentioned contradictory statements about the progress into the investigation and number of suspects detained, civic groups wrote to the PGO; SBU and Interior Ministry demanding answers to simple questions: Where are the other Berkut officers who Nalyvaichenko claims were detained? Who are they? Are they in detention or have they fled? The Centre for Civil Liberties has thus far received an answer only from the Prosecutor General’s Office saying that they have not detained any other former Berkut officers aside from Sadovnik, Abroskin and Zinchenko.
There is no mention of any investigation into the circumstances whereby Sadovnik, the superior of two men still in custody, managed to be released and then escape.
An answer is all the more urgently awaited from Nalyvaichenko and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Ukrainians have seen countless cases where ‘criminal investigations’ dragged on for years. In this case dozens of peaceful protesters were gunned down, and much more is needed than upbeat statements around the first anniversary of EuroMaidan about arrests of key suspects. So far the enforcement agencies give no grounds for optimism.