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Anger over acquittal of ex-Berkut officer charged with torturing Maidan activists

Halya Coynash

A Ukrainian court has acquitted Andriy Khandrykin, a former Kharkiv Berkut officer and, seemingly, a current police officer, of torturing two Euromaidan activists.  Prosecutors from the Special Investigations Department say they categorically disagree with the ruling and will certainly lodge an appeal.  

There have been a number of controversial features to this case, not least the fact that Khandrykin remained a Kharkiv police officer throughout the proceedings.  It also seems rather curious that Neither Khandrykin, nor his lawyer, Valery Rybin appear to have seen the need to appear for the announcement of the verdict which, in principle, might have ended with Khandrykin being taken into custody.

Three former Berkut officers were implicated in the detention and torture of two Maidan activists, one of whom was underage, on 20 January 2014 near the Dynamo Stadium in Kyiv.  The two young victims were, in the middle of winter, undressed, beaten and humiliated, before being dressed in different clothes and taken to a police station.

Khandrykin was the only defendant, but this was because two other former Berkut officers, Vladislav Masteha and Artyom Voilokov, had fled to Russia after the announcement that they were facing criminal charges.  There is now a separate case against them.  This, it should be said, is unlikely to ever be brought as Russia has been swift to provide its citizenship to virtually all ex-Berkut officers, making it particularly disturbing that men facing serious charges were able to flee across the border so easily.

Khandrykin was charged with torturing Maidan activists (under Article 127 § 2 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code).  In the case of a conviction, this would have carried a sentence of from 5 to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Judge Oksana Birsa from the Dniprovsky District Court in Kyiv announced her verdict on 30 August 2019.  In his reaction, Valery Smirnov, who headed the team of prosecutors, noted that “judge Birsa’s main argument lay in issues of the legal techniques for obtaining evidence. In the first instance this concerned whether Khandrykin’s own testimony regarding his role in the detention in the case around the victims’ detention constituted improper evidence.” 

Smirnov also accused the judge of having gone beyond her procedural role of arbiter when she did not allow the prosecution the right to make comments during the court debate in the case. He says that they had had specific and well-founded arguments refuting the assertions presented by Khandrykin’s lawyer, Valentin Rybin regarding allegedly improper evidence and unproven guilt, which the judge “for some reason did not give them the right” to voice.

Birsa also rejected the civil claims for compensation lodged by the victims of the events on 20 January 2014.

The prosecutors and the lawyers representing the victims are all convinced that there was ample evidence, including video footage, witness testimony and Khandrykin’s own acknowledgement at the time of his role in the men’s detention, to back the charges against the ex-Berkut officer, still serving in Ukraine’s police force.

The acquittal may be overturned at appeal level, but it is one of many blows to the only investigators, from the Special Investigations Department, who have achieved any progress in fully investigating crimes committed against Maidan activists.

See: Ukraine’s Prosecutor General accused of crushing only effective Maidan crimes investigative body

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