war crimes in Ukraine

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Prosecution of key Maidan suspects sabotaged by Interior Ministry & Police management

Halya Coynash
The Special Investigations Department has named four men, including a general holding a high post in Ukraine’s National Guard whom it suspects of having coordinated the Berkut storming of Maidan on 18-19 February, 2014

The Special Investigations Department has named four men, including a general holding a high post in Ukraine’s National Guard whom it suspects of having coordinated the Berkut storming of Maidan on 18-19 February, 2014.  According to Serhiy Horbatyuk, the Head of this Department, around 20 police officers holding high police posts are suspected of crimes against Maidan.  The resistance the Department has encountered to seeking the arrest of these first high-ranking officials has prompted them to publicly accuse the top Interior Ministry management of sabotaging their work.   

Horbatyuk pulled no punches about the methods used during a press briefing on October 2.  He and his colleagues complain that the Interior Ministry and National Police are trying to discredit them in order to undermine their findings.  They have therefore, within the limits demanded by the fact that this is on ongoing investigation, set out details of the men under suspicion and the charges they face, and of unlawful efforts from their management to put pressure on judges and witnesses.

The four men have all been informed that they are under suspicion, but attempts to have them remanded in custody to avoid them fleeing the country have been largely unsuccessful.

General Volodymyr Hrynyak was the former Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry’s Department of Public Security, and now holds the post of Head of the analogous department in the National Guard.  He was first informed of the suspicions against him in December 2016, of involvement in the following:

  • Illegal issue of money to law enforcement officers during Euromaidan;
  • Unlawfully obstructing meetings, processions and demonstrations in compliance with a clearly criminal order and using physical violence;
  • Organizing the actions of subordinates with these aimed at carrying out a criminal order with the use of violence, degrading treatment, etc. with grave consequences to the rights of individuals, the public and the State’s interests.

At the press briefing, Horbatyuk reported that it was Hrynyak who was appointed commander of a merged police unit during Euromaidan.

Three other men were also informed that they were under suspicion on September 29.  Anatoly Seredynsky and Ihor Babych were both Hrynyak’s subordinates, while Serhiy Pohotov was a former First Deputy Head of the Department of Public Security.  Babych and Seredynsky are now head and deputy head, respectively, of the Department for Preventative Measures of the National Police.  Pohotov now holds a high position in security for Naftohaz Ukraine.  

All four are suspected of having taken part in coordinating enforcement officers, including Berkut, during the storming of Maidan on February 18 and the night storm from 18-19 February. 

The fact that the Interior Ministry and National Police should be publicly denying that the men were implicated has forced the investigators to present some of the evidence they have, such as telephone records.

According to Horbatyuk, Hrynyak and Pohotov received instructions from top police management during the storming on February 18 and passed these on, including to Berkut commanders.  The infographs demonstrated at the briefing clearly set out whom the men had communicated with during the relevant period.

Hrynyak, for example, received 39 calls from the Deputy Interior Ministry, as well as over 50 calls from his own direct management.  He also spoke with the Department of Public Security.  He himself made less outgoing calls, which the investigators believe was because he passed on instructions to Berkut via Seredynsky and Babych, who were both in contact with a number of Berkut commanders.. He did, however, hold direct calls with the commanders of four Berkut units during that night.

The investigators report that various Berkut commanders and other enforcement officers have confirmed that the suspects coordinated Berkut activities.

Russian grenades

The investigators have established that the enforcement officers had no Ukrainian grenades by the bloody events of 18-20 February 2014. 

“If Russian-made grenades had not been brought on special flights from Russia and illegally distributed through a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers as supposedly allowed to be used (without any medical assessment); if these had not been issued and used, some of the fatalities would have been prevented, as well as very many of injuries suffered from them.

Pohotov; Seredynsky and Babych are suspected of having unlawfully ensured that these Russian grenades were placed on the list of permitted weapons, issued and used.

The investigators have found a report from the Department of Civil Security asking for the purchase of 26 thousand Russian grenades.  In fact, the grenades were already there, with nobody having bought them, as supposedly ‘brotherly assistance”.  This too means that the report was a deliberate falsification to ensure that the grenades could be used, with Pohotov having played a direct role in this.

Pressure on the courts

The investigators sought back in December to have Hrynyak remanded in custody, but to no avail.  The accounts from journalists following similar attempts since September 29 to have Pohotov, Seredynsky and Babych remanded in custody suggest that there has been pressure brought to bear on the judge.   At present the latter men are only subject to a night curfew. 

Previous resistance by Ukrainian courts to choosing serious restraint measures has resulted in a number of key suspects fleeing the country, and the investigators are understandably frustrated, especially given the seriousness of at least one of the charges that could result in a life sentence.  Horbatyuk has commented, for example, that the assertion made by the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov that Hrynyak is innocent can in itself be viewed as pressure on the court.  These are all men who have remained in their posts and / or close to the people whose testimony doubtless forms part of the investigators’ evidence, making it also very easy for them to try to pressurize witnesses.

The Department of Special Investigations had also applied to the court to have Seredynsky suspended from his post as Deputy Head of the Police’s Department of Public Security. The hearing took place at the Kyiv Pechersky District Court on October 7, with written submissions sent from the First Deputy Head of the National Police Viacheslav Abroskin and First Deputy Head of the Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovy opposing the suspension. Seredynsky himself claimed in court that he had been moved to another department though the prosecutor from the Department noted that they had seen no evidence of this.  Although no proof was provided to the court, Judge Tetyana Ostapchuk rejected the investigators’ application.  Seredynsky thus remains in his post, and only under night house arrest.



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