Four years on and only one real sentence for crimes against Maidan
On the fourth anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, or Euromaidan, only one person is serving an actual prison sentence for crimes against Maidan activists, and President Petro Poroshenko seems poised to sign a disastrous bill which could force the termination of most Maidan investigations.
Although there are objective reasons for the length of time of some trials, and not all prosecutions warranted a prison sentence, the statisitics seem pitiful given the number of deaths in the last month of Maidan, the violence against peaceful protesters, the wrongful court rulings and detention.
Serhiy Horbatyuk heads the Special Investigative Department established at the end of 2014 to investigate Maidan crimes. The Department is running around 150 criminal prosecutions investigating over 3 thousand offences during Maidan. It is structurally within the Prosecutor General’s Office, but independent, and has frequently antagonized the management of all law enforcement agencies through its blunt criticism of obstruction shown. On the eve of the fourth anniversary, Horbatyuk has given several interviews, the most comprehensive and damning that to Focus.ua, in which he speaks of systematic obstruction of the investigation from the Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko, the Interior Ministry and courts, as well as from Interpol.
The strange role of Interpol
Interpol has refused to issue Red Notices against most people whom Ukraine wants to prosecute over Maidan crimes. The reason given is that the crimes were committed in conditions of a change of regime, and that there could therefore be elements of political persecution.
Interpol is willing to place the so-called ‘titushki’ or hired thugs who often worked very closely with Berkut riot police, on the wanted list, but not people directly linked with the authorities. This, of course, includes a number of the key suspects, most of whom are in hiding in Russia. These include people who are believed by the investigators to have played a direct, often fatal, role in the violent dispersal of young Maidan activists on November 30, 2013 or in the bloodshed on 18 and 20 February 2014.
Horbatyuk adds that recently they have come up against Interpol’s refusal to even issue Blue Notices, where countries are not obliged to apprehend a person, but should notify Ukraine of the individual’s movements. Ukraine has bilateral agreements with many countries, and such information could enable the investigators to formally apply to a specific country for his extradition. The same grounds are given for refusals.
Ukraine has placed 110 people on its wanted list on suspicion of involvement in Maidan crimes.
As well as ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, and others in power during the months in question, they include many Berkut officers or those who issued orders regarding their deployment and actions. As reported here, ten of the 23 ex-Berkut riot police officers suspected of gunning down protesters in the last days of Euromaidan have received Russian citizenship, while a further two men have been given ’refugee’ status. The Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas, whose position in all such matters is dictated by Moscow, recently added three ex-Berkut officers charged with the deaths to their list of people to be handed over in exchange for Ukrainian POW and civilian hostages. Another suspected killer Vitaly Honcharenko and three other former Berkut officers fled to Russia in April 2017.
Horbatyuk recently reported that Russia has refused to extradite Serhiy Kusyuk whom Ukraine wants to try for his leading role in the bloody dispersal of Maidan activists on November 30, 2013. Kusyuk was then the Berkut unit commander in charge, while Petro Fedchuk, who is also wanted for his role during the suppression was the deputy head of the Kyiv police. Both men have been seen in Russia enforcement officer gear crushing protests. Russia’s excuse for not extraditing him is that Kusyuk is now a Russian citizen.
Titushki vs. represenatives of the authorities
Horbatyuk notes that although 48 people have been convicted of Maidan-related crimes, the only person serving a real sentence is one of the ‘titushki’, not a law enforcement officer. Of the 380 suspects, 48 are high-ranking police officers, heads of regional administrations or their deputies, the former President and ministers.
201 are or were from law enforcement agencies: 22 investigators; 15 prosecutors and 14 judges.
Many of the 48 convictions, which included a number of titushki, were for lesser crimes, and the suspended sentences may well have been justified.
Horbatyuk does, however, point out the lack of any real cooperation from the police, with this emerging only when titushki are facing charges, not when ex- or current enforcement officers are the target of investigation.
Horbatyuk stresses that his department has investigated all crimes, though some, such as the first deaths – of Serhiy Nikhoyan and Mikhail Zhyznevsky – remain unsolved.
The fact that many of the trials have still not ended is attributable to both objective factors – the complexity of the case, the number of victims to question, etc. – and subjective causes.
The latter have been reported here on multiple occasions, and clearly remain major problems. The law enforcement agents provide information when asked, etc., but provide little real help in solving crimes committed by law enforcement officers.
Police management, Horbatyuk says, lack the will to help establish who was responsible and do not follow the principle that those believed involved in crimes against Maidan, or who obstruct their investigation, should leave the police service. “Many of the then heads of police divisions currently hold high-ranking posts in the police”.
Asked by the Special Investigaitons Department, the Interior Ministry carried out an ‘investigaiton’ and passed an act which covered all events from the beginning to the end. It was concluded that the former leadership of the country and those who later fled Ukraine were to blame for everything.
The special investigators believe that there should have been investigations at least over each individual day, but the police claimed that this had already been done. However, if it had, Horbatyuk points out, this would have resulted in a form of lustration with disciplinary measures, including dismissal, applied where people were found to have committed infringements Around 15 suspects are still serving in the police force.
Obstruction from judges
A number of judges implicated in Maidan court rulings continue to examine cases linked with Maidan. There were some attempts, Horbatyuk says, to bring the over 100 judges implicated in politically motivated rulings to account. All resulted in procedure which can lead to decisions being revoked at appeal level or if not then, at the European Court of Human Rights.
Judges can refuse to remand suspects in custody or release them, giving them the chance to abscond. There are multiple other forms of obstruction and / or deliberate procrastination.
In some cases this is open sabotage, in others, judges are probably closing ranks. Horbatyuk says that he doesn’t know for sure, since he doesn’t directly communicate with the charges. The rumours he mentions are especially depressing, namely that judges are reluctant to prosecute people for offences linked with Maidan, because the government could change again and they would suffer for having convicted people before.
Horbatyuk does believe that they will, sooner or later, bring all investigations to their conclusion. The question is whether there is the policial will to continue the investigation.
As well as the risk from new amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, if these are signed by the President, there is also the risk that all investigations will be terminated since the prosecutor’s office loses investigative functions from 21 November. Horbatyuk believes that this is deliberately aimed at blocking the investigations.