war crimes in Ukraine

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Ukrainian Police Counter-Offensive

Halya Coynash

A day after the shocking video footage above of police ill-treatment of a captive protester and in the wake of other damning reports, the police are alleging attacks on their officers and pointing the finger at EuroMaidan activists

The Interior Ministry’s official website has reported the killing in Kyiv of an unnamed police officer whose body was apparently found with a gunshot wound.  Virtually simultaneously the same site asserted that three police officers carrying out their duties on Friday evening near Maidan Nezalezhnosti [the centre of the EuroMaidan demonstrations] had been “attacked by the so-called Maidan Defence and that one had received a knife wound”.  The police first claimed that the three were being held in the Kyiv City Administration building seized almost 2 months ago, but that the person allegedly attacked had been released. As of Saturday morning, the same site is demanding the release of two officers supposedly still held there.  It claims that negotiations have continued through the night with opposition MPs.  This is denied by one such MP, Andriy Parubiy.

These are the two most serious of four alleged attacks on police officers or stations posted on the site which also provides advice for “those wishing to help police officers who have suffered during the mass disturbances, you can make donations to the Ukrainian Charitable Fund for help and social protection for the families of those who died fighting crime…”

Ukraine's Public Enemy Number One: The Police, as per one report just published, should be seen, it would appear, as Public Victim Number One. 

If one believes the website, of course. 

The National Resistance Headquarters was  swift to deny the claims that EuroMaidan self-defence volunteers had taken a knife to a police officer.  It also condemned the killing of a police officer and expressed sympathy for the man’s family.

Its statement points out that “these reports have already provoked renewed fighting on Hrushevsky St” and suggests that they could be used as a pretext for using force to disperse EuroMaidan.  

No law-abiding country will tolerate attacks on its police force, and the suggestion is cynical, but not lacking in credibility. 

Ukraine’s police force, especially the special force Berkut unit, has been subjected to a barrage of well-deserved criticism of late.  The posting on the Internet of a video showing Berkut and other officers stripping a captured protester naked in freezing temperatures and humiliating him was so shocking that the police issued an “apology”. 

Such uncomfortable moments are normally avoided because video footage is lacking or because they careful edit what is available with the police denying any wrongdoing.  Over recent weeks there has been clear evidence that armed officers have deliberately fired at journalists; that Berkut officers have beaten up journalists and peaceful protesters; and there are also alarming indications that the police are at very least not obstructing those titushki or hired thugs or others used to beat up protesters.  The funeral took place on Friday of 51-year-old Yury Verbytsky who was abducted by unidentified men from hospital and savagely beaten.  His body was found on Wednesday in the Boryspil forest. 

On Jan 26 the funeral will be held of Serhiy Nihoyan, the 21-year-old EuroMaidan activist, one of at least two activssts who died under Berkut gunfire in the morning of Jan 22.

AutoMaidan leader Dmytro Bulatov together with fellow protesters has come under considerable pressure from the traffic police over the last month.  Bulatov has not been seen since Wednesday evening, and his relatives are desperately concerned for his safety.

The police site informs that the 27-year-old security officer from the Holosiyivsky district police station was shot as he was returning home not far from the Berkut hostel where he lived. 

Violence breeds violence and a link with recent protests cannot be totally excluded.  It can also not be considered in any way proven or even especially indicated.  Yet by Saturday morning “a police source” has positively stated that the police link the murder with radical groups acting on EuroMaidan.  “There are witnesses of the event, and information gathered points to radical members who seized the Kyiv City Administration”.  The original police report says only that security guards who heard shots saw two men running away.  Had any serious evidence been left on the scene, it is unlikely that the police would not be demonstrating it, rather than leaking such vague statements.  The officer killed is described as having lived in a Berkut hostel yet he himself was not a Berkut officer. 

The posting of this story directly under a report directly accusing EuroMaidan guards of an incomprehensible act of violence was probably intended to suggest the danger to society and public order of those taking part in the EuroMaidan protests.  There have been other attempts, such as the story which disappeared in the face of amused incredulity of a supposed rape in a protesters’ tent.  The situation has become considerable more volatile since then, and any attempt to make use of people’s death or to fake news stories is not only morally distasteful but criminally irresponsible. 

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