war crimes in Ukraine

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First sentences in Ukraine over mass murder of Maidan activists

Halya Coynash
The prosecutor has already announced that he will be appealing against the startling verdicts and sentences

Enforcement officers shooting in the direction of Maidan activists on Instytutska St. on 20 February 2014. Photo UNIAN

Enforcement officers shooting in the direction of Maidan activists on Instytutska St. on 20 February 2014. Photo UNIAN

Four former Berkut special force officers have been convicted of charges over the shooting of activists on Instytutska St during the bloodiest day of the Euromaidan protests on 20 February 2014.  A fifth ex-Berkut officer was acquitted of all charges.  Ukraine’s prosecutor and a defence lawyer have already announced that they will be lodging appeals.

Only two of the five ex-Berkut officers were present at the Sviatoshynsky District Court in Kyiv to hear Judge Serhiy Diachuk  announce the verdicts on 18 October 2023: Serhiy Tamtur who was acquitted, and Oleksandr Marynchenko, who was found guilty only of having exceeded his powers. The two men had returned to government-controlled Ukraine in 2020 following the highly contentious decision in December 2019 to exchange all five defendants for hostages held prisoner in the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk and Luhansk republics’.  Oleh Yanishevsky, Deputy Commander of the Berkut Regiment, Pavlo Abroskin and Serhiy Zinchenko were declared fugitives and placed on the international wanted list in October 2021.  Judging by the number of other former Berkut officers who immediately fled to Russia where they were almost immediately given Russian citizenship, it seems likely that this is where the three are in hiding.

Oleh Yanishevsky was found guilty of murdering unarmed citizens and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He was also found guilty of manslaughter and causing bodily injury through carelessness, but here the court said the charges were time-barred and waived sentence.

Pavlo Abroskin and Serhiy Zinchenko were both found guilty of the killings and received 15-year sentences

Oleksandr Marynchenko was found guilty only of having abused his official powers.  He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and banned from working in the law enforcement bodies for two years.  This, however, means that, if the sentence is upheld, he will be regarded as having served it.  The court took into account the period of time he had spent in detention, with this calculated as two days (in the worse conditions of a Ukrainian SIZO or remand prison) for one day of the sentence.

Serhiy Tamtur was found not guilty on all counts.  Abroskin and Marynchenko were both acquitted of some of the charges.

Court hearing with all five defendants on 16 July 2019 Photo Oleksandr Rudomanov,

Court hearing with all five defendants on 16 July 2019 Photo Oleksandr Rudomanov,

The prosecution was represented by Oleksiy Donsky, one of the main prosecutors on Maidan cases.  He immediately announced that the prosecution will appeal and noted the Supreme Court ruling which had determined that, in the case of a group of individuals who committed a crime, it is not paramount whether a single individual’s role was more active, or passive.  Hromadske reports Donsky as explaining that “it is sufficient that the group acted in coordinated fashion, that there were ties connecting them.  This special Berkut unit, based on the evidence, fully met those criteria on 20 February. Yet Marynchenko [was found guilty of] abusing his official powers, but not of murder, despite the fact that he was acting as part of the group.”

Defence lawyer Stefan Reshko also announced that he would be appealing against the verdicts passed on the three men found guilty of murder. 

As reported earlier, two of the men – Serhiy Zinchenko and Pavlo Abroskin were arrested in April 2014, together with the commander of their unit Dmytro Sadovnyk.  Sadovnyk vanished almost immediately after judge Svitlana Volkova from the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv suddenly decided to release him under supposed house arrest on 19 September 2014.  Serhiy Tamtur; Oleh Yanishevsky and Oleksandr Marynchenko were later arrested and first taken into custody, with Tamtur and Marynchenko subsequently released under house arrest.

It was always reported that all five men were accused of taking part in the killing of 48 Maidan activists on Instytutska St and wounded of very many others  All five had admitted to being in the relevant part of that street on 20 February 2014, but all denied shooting people.

There was considerable protest in December 2019 when the men were released in the exchange of prisoners.  Lawyers representing the families of Maidan victims and those human rights groups who protested objected in the main to the timing. They believed that any decision about such an exchange should only come after the expected conclusion of the trial in 2020. 

Marynchenko and Tamtur returned to Kyiv in February 2020, saying that they were determined to prove their innocence.  

From left Marychenko, Tamtur, during a hearing Photo Kateryna Serko,

From left Marychenko, Tamtur, during a hearing Photo Kateryna Serko,

The men’s trial began in May 2016.  It was resumed after the enforced break due to the release of all the men, the return of two and need to ensure that the others were declared wanted and could be tried in absentia.  This, effectively second, trial ended in November 2022, with the jury  having been deliberating since then.

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