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Ex-Berkut officer on trial over AutoMaidan ambush

Halya Coynash

A first court hearing is due on April 30 in connection with the Berkut riot police ambush of Automaidan activists in Jan 2014.  Only one officer has been charged, although the names of those who took part in the beating up of activists and smashing of their cars are known.  So too are their current positions in the police force, with all of this arousing bemusement among Maidan activists and EuroMaidan lawyers.

The ambush was carried out during the night of Jan 23, 2014, outside a clinic in Kyiv where the AutoMaidan  were keeping guard over activists receiving treatment.  There were serious grounds for such protection with numerous cases where activists were abducted, beaten up and then found in various police stations. Not all, however.  The badly beaten and tortured body of Yury Verbytsky, a Lviv seismologist, was found in a forest two days after he was abducted from a clinic on Jan 21, 2014.

Berkut officers, probably flanked by titushki, or paid thugs, appeared at around 4 a.m. at Clinic No. 17.  They smashed up the cars and detained all those inside them.  According to one young man who managed to escape, they threatened to take them away and beat them.  At the time HromadskeTV reported that this looked like a deliberate ambush with information having been put out on the Internet saying that help was needed.  The aim was clearly to gather as many AutoMaidan activists in one place as possible and set upon them.  by men in uniform and titushki. 

Singer and EuroMaidan activist Ruslana called the ambush “brazen and unconcealed terror on the streets of Kyiv”, and said that the activists had called the Berkut officers unprecedentedly aggressive. 

Kateryna Butko was in the passenger seat of one of the cars that night.  She explains that the ambush was organized by the Kyiv Berkut who beat them, piled them into vans and took them to Mariiynsky Park.  She managed to escape, however the men were first forced – in freezing temperatures – to kneel for an hour and a half in the snow, and were then taken away to police stations.  The following evening obliging judges remanded them in custody for 2 months.

Butko is blunt in blaming Arsen Avakov, Interior Minister for the fact that after well over a year only one person – Dobrovolsky, the commander of the first regiment, is facing charges.  She says that even those charges were only brought after public pressure.

She asserts that the fact that the men’s faces were concealed is not relevant here.  Back on Jan 28, 2014, when the Yanukovych regime was still intact, the then head of the Kyiv Berkut regiment  S.M. Kusyuk responded to a formal information request by providing a list of the vehicles used and of each Berkut officer involved in the operation. 

The information was doubtless not provided for the purposes of prosecution, but there is no reason to disbelieve it.

If Mr Avakov has difficulty finding these people, I can give him a hint. All of them are still working in the police force.  They have not been informed of any suspicions, and have not  even faced disciplinary measures”. 

In a video from Jan 19 two of the Berkut officers had not even bothered to put on helmets and their faces are clearly visible.

Butko asserts that the two men (whom she names) were from the Lviv Berkut and were responsible for the damage caused the car above.  They and “all participants in the Maidan events” have remained in their jobs.

Yevhenia Zakrevska, one of the lawyers representing EuroMaidan activists also stresses that all the names of the members of the Berkut unit were known last winter, yet neither the Interior Ministry nor the prosecutor’s office seem interested.

There were major violations committed during the EuroMaidan demonstrations.  There have also been constant assertions that those responsible will be held to answer.  One person is facing charges on Thursday.  There seems little will for much more.

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