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Maidan failed to “reeducate” law-enforcers

A court remands two former Berkut riot policemen, privates Pavlo Abroskin and Serhii Zinchenko, in custody and adjourns the examination of an appeal from their commander Dmytro Sadovnyk for a third time. The Heavenly Sotnia’s lawyers believe the trial is being delayed on purpose
06 октября, 18:12
Sketch by Viktor BOGORAD

Given the Russian aggression, the case of a mass-scale Maidan shooting would still be watched by “peripheral vision” if the notorious Kyiv Pechersk District Court’s judge Svitlana Volkova had not ruled the week before last to release Major Dmytro Sadovnyk, commander of a special-purpose company, from custody and put him on partial house arrest pending trial. Sadovnyk is under suspicion of killing 39 Maidan protesters, destroying material evidence, and abusing office. This may carry a life sentence. Naturally, relatives and lawyers of the Maidan casualties as well as activists are indignant about the Pechersk Court ruling, as is the Prosecutor General’s Office – judging by its official statement, the appeal, and, after all, the legal proceedings instituted against Judge Volkova who is suspected of knowingly handing down an unfair ruling. Yet Sadovnyk’s appeal about release from custody was not examined either this or last week. Both the defense attorney and the suspect failed to show up in the courtroom on the formal grounds of being ill. On October 1, the Appeal Court of Kyiv adjourned the case for a third time until Friday, October 3. Sadovnyk’s defense lawyer told the court that his client “had his arm and leg paralyzed” and was in a hospital’s neurosurgery department. Meanwhile, the prosecutor said that in the morning Sadovnyk had been reading the materials of his case at the Prosecutor General’s Office investigation department, which is duly recorded in the logbook. It almost goes without saying that the case is being delayed on purpose. After all, the aggrieved party’s lawyers say, judges might have ruled to forcibly deliver Sadovnyk to the courtroom. The court’s attitude to the Sadovnyk case leads to the assumption that the court remanded the two other suspects in this case, privates Pavlo Abroskin and Serhii Zinchenko, in custody on the same day only due to the publicity that this trial had gained.

A court remands two former Berkut riot policemen, privates Pavlo Abroskin and Serhii Zinchenko, in custody and adjourns the examination of an appeal from their commander Dmytro Sadovnyk for a third time. The Heavenly Sotnia’s lawyers believe the trial is being delayed on purpose


The Maidan times seem to have come back to the street in front of the Appeal Court building. The same Berkut riot policemen, now wearing tracksuits instead of a black-gray camouflage, are bustling near the entrance. They are grim athletic-looking guys who always stick together and are very reluctant to come into contact. They have come to back their commander Dmytro Sadovnyk. Some of them break into the courtroom and others keep waiting in the hall and near the gate. Word has it they were brought here on police buses, but this could not be confirmed. A bit smaller crowd gathers when the court hears the case of Sadovnyk’s subordinates – special-purpose company’s privates Abroskin and Zinchenko.

“Where are you from? You’ve come to back Sadovnyk?” I ask quite benevolently two guys in the courtroom, into which I elbowed my way – the major’s “support group” blocks the door, so one has to recall the methods of Maidan-era courtroom break-ins.

“And why are you asking?” one of them reacts rather aggressively. “Who are you?”

“I’m a journalist and an activist,” I   introduce myself, telling them my first and last names. “I just want to know. Have you come to back your comrade-in-arms?”

The man just turned away nervously in reply.

The law-enforcers show a sarcastic, even scornful, attitude to a dozen of self-defense people who come marching to the court house. They cast contemptuous glances on them. People begin to wrangle in a suffocating atmosphere by the courtroom door. Quite expectedly, the conversation (if it is the right word) switches to the subject of war. You can hear both sides exchanging the reproach “Why are you not in the counter-terrorism operation?” On the day the court hears the case of Abroskin and Zinchenko, emotions brim over and people pick a fight. The “support group” cries out: “Glory to Berkut!” In response, they receive “Death to Berkut!” On Monday, the Berkut supporters are met by the Court of    Appeals gate by masked people with flares. These guys are much fewer than       the law-enforcers, but the latter have to run away along Solomianska Street’s four-lane driveway. Some of them are caught up with, and the police have to literally tear the Berkut supporters from the hands of enraged hoodlums. Some balaclavaed guys are being overpowered but not arrested – “to avoid escalation.”

You can see on several dozen square meters of the Court of Appeal, where relatives of the killed Maidan protesters, Self-Defense militants, and former riot policemen come across one another face to face, that an illusion is vanishing – the illusion that the winter of 2013-14 will “straighten itself out.” It is not exactly pleasant to watch fist-fights, but it is dialogs that particularly make you feel sore at heart.

“I have lost my son,” a woman, the relative of a killed Maidan activist, says at the top of her voice, almost shouting.

“But what does this have to do with us?” says one from Sadovnyk’s “support group.”

“You obeyed criminal orders.”

“Who told you that? It is up to the court to decide. We were also shot in the chest.”

“Who killed my son?”

“We’re also seeking the truth. We used no expansive bullets.”

“And who then shot my husband to death with a Kalashnikov assault rifle? He carried a wooden shield,” says the relative of another Heavenly Sotnia militant.

One more woman clings to the words “also seeking the truth” and invites the law-enforcers to join forces and conduct a joint public inquiry. It is, incidentally, a good but, unfortunately, a utopian idea.

We have no access to case materials now, but it was possible to judge about the way the Prosecutor General’s Office conducted the investigation at the time when the Hennadii Moskal parliamentary commission, which also inquired into the Maidan events, was working. The commission sessions resembled a show that involved, quite reluctantly, medium-level officers from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Kyiv Prosecution Office, the Interior Ministry, and all kinds of police special-purpose squads. They would just gather, speak to TV cameras, get an “edifying clip on the ears” from Moskal, and go away. And is there anything to speak about? The chief organizers of the mass-scale shooting of people on Instytutska St. and of other crimes against Maidan activists, identified when Makhnitsly was Prosecutor General (Yanukovych, Pshonka, Zakharchenko, and Yakymenko), have “slipped away” to Russia, while there is practically no evidence as to those who carried out orders. Evidential documents have in fact been destroyed. Nobody doubted that this would be taken care of. Yet something is available. Take, for example, the latest post in the Ukrainska Pravda blog of Yevhenia Zakrevska, a Heavenly Sotnia lawyer, who draws attention to the Belsat channel footage that shows events on the morning of February 20 (https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvtP7mgHsMY). You can see in the 54th second a riot policeman firing in the Maidan direction with his left hand, while the gun barrel rests on his dead-looking right hand. Incidentally, Sadovnyk has no right hand, which is often used as grounds for claiming that he is not guilty. Yet, in the last week’s interview with Depot, Sadovnyk himself says that he requested to be sent to the counter-terrorism operation area. Asked how he can possibly fight with an injury like this, the law-enforcer says assuredly to the journalists: “If necessary, I’ll be shooting and throwing grenades.”

Actually, the assessment of evidence is part of the consideration of a case on its merits, which we hope will occur in the near future. Meanwhile, a several-days-long observation of courts suggests a pessimistic idea about the allegedly dismissed Berkut riot policemen. I cannot even bring myself to write “ex-Berkut men.” The cries “Glory to Berkut!” and chanting the name of a no longer existing special-purpose squad make me plunge into doubt: can there be such thing as “former Berkut”? On paper, the squad has been disbanded, but the men themselves seem to be thinking it still exists. You can feel “corporate solidarity” not only here, but also in the counter-terrorist operation area, where you can often see Berkut’s insignia and flag. This cohesion is an advantage in war, but when it comes to, say, law-enforcement reformation (as the interior minister promises us, it is sure come to this), the corporate spirit in the uniformed services greatly complicates the reformatory process. Nor does this assist the investigation.

According to Interior Ministry insiders, most of the Berkut servicemen have not vanished or changed their profession – they have become ordinary policemen with, I must say, very specific principles. A former Berkut man tries to persuade a journalist on the Radio Liberty website that people were paid for standing on the Maidan. “There were no ordinary people there,” the man says. “Ordinary people stay at home instead of running around maidans.” These words mirror the same idea of the authorities-society relationship that is planted in, say, the brain of the Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Zorkin who stunned everybody by saying that serfdom was “the main clamp that kept up the nation’s inner unity.” The grassroots are staying at home, while adult uncles are solving adult problems, and whoever does not stay patiently at home is not one of the grassroots but a provocateur on the State Department’s or the opposition’s payroll. Here, in the courtroom, the “Berkut support group” also talks on and on about the “paid-for Maidan.” And, if you don’t know, we have also lost Crimea due to the Maidan.

Civil rights? No, we haven’t heard this.

Incidentally, I can remember talking to a Berkut commander (I came to this conclusion, for he was in his civvies) in winter near the Interior Ministry on Bohomoltsia St. While my colleagues heatedly debated with the riot policemen who were blocking somebody again, this officer quietly came up to me and said: “What are doing here? You should stay at home and keep your husbands warm instead of hanging about rallies.” Frankly, speaking, I lost the faculty of speech. I had never thought I would have some time to persuade somebody that women also have civil rights, not only “Kinder, Kirche, Kueche.” I was at a loss for word and just went away quietly. But this still left a nasty taste in my mouth. I am almost sure that I saw that commander the other day among the Court of Appeals audience. Like on the previous occasion, he stood out against the backdrop of tracksuited guys, wearing a not-so-cheap suit and a demonstratively expensive watch.

I mean here that they have not heard about gender equality either.

But this is lyricism. In reality, the attitude of law-enforces is also a point in far more serious matters.

Some of those present in the courtroom caught one of them red-handed – when the latter was saying something about the “Kyiv junta” that was sending him to meet death. Somebody still seems to have his brains washed. It would be OK if the “Kyiv junta” was doing so, but, by all accounts, it is someone else. Asked directly in the abovementioned interview about how it had happened that a part of the Crimean Berkut betrayed Ukraine, Sadovnyk said: “You can’t say in no uncertain terms that Crimea and the east are traitors. This is not exactly right.” Then he went on: “Crimea is a specific region which has always been developing in its own direction. As for   the officer’s honor, one must take into account the region’s historical particularities.” Although the phrases are tricky, we can see their essence. Almost the same words came at a session of the parliamentary commission that investigated the Maidan events from an Omega special-purpose police unit officer whose snipers a cameramen filmed on the perimeter of the Cabinet building roof in the bloody February days. As far as I remember, he interpreted his Crimean counterparts’ treason as “their own choice.” An interesting attitude indeed: when it comes to shooting the unarmed, they are guided by orders, but they immediately recall the choice to “whitewash” traitors.

The worst in this is that nobody seems to be sorry about anything – neither about broken heads, nor about injured eyes, lost lives, illegal detentions, and beatings that were almost surely perpetrated under the guarantee of going scot-free. Probably, there is also a demand to meet these guarantees today. For this reason, justice is hardly feared.

The essence of the position of the Berkut men who came to back their comrades who they allege are totally innocent is as follows: we did not shoot, we killed nobody. OK, but this raises two questions. The first is: who was killing? And, as the classic version of a community support police officer – “he fell off the chair and hit himself to death” – no longer works here, the conspiracy theory comes to the fore – from the Russians to the opposition. The second one was asked by a woman among the courtroom audience: “And who beat up the people in Mariinsky Park on February 18-19? Also the Russians?” People were not only being killed. For example, Vlad Tsilynsky was thrown off the stadium colonnade on Hrushevsky St. by no other than Berkut men – a video show this very well. There is also the Automaidan that was hunted down by Berkut and the traffic police. There were hundreds (!) of instances of beating-up, illegal detention, and kidnapping, not to mention what happened later. Later, the prosecution trumped up charges and courts handed down unjust rulings. Were all those people really the Russians who wore Berkut’s uniform, the judge’s gown, or the prosecutor’s epaulets?

We all heard the president promise amnesty for those Maidan events’ participants who later fought against terrorists. But amnesty is not an easy matter (it is a special point). First of all, no lustration is possible unless a comprehensive investigation into the Maidan events is made. A comprehensive investigation is not only the arrest of a few suspected perpetrators – it should also deal with the prosecution’s investigators, judges of district and appeal courts, the MPs who voted for the “dictatorial” laws, those who supplied titushky [hired thugs. – Ed.] to antimaidans nationwide, and titushky themselves whose hands are stained with blood (for example, of the murdered journalist Veremii), etc. An irony and a whim of fate: the notorious Judge Maria Pryndiuk, who examined, together with other judges, a series of appeals about the pretrial treatment of the Maidan activists arrested in January, is now one of the judges who handle the Sadovnyk case. The rapporteur judge, who handles the appeal about the release of another suspect, Serhii Zinchenko, from custody, is the Court of Appeal judge Bets, also notorious since the Maidan times. This only reminds us of our eternal Ukrainian impunity in this transient revolutionary world. But this increasingly resembles playing with fire. Against the backdrop of beating up Shufrych and the popularity of the folk game “Throw the traitor into a trash can,” we can see balaclavaed guys, armed with tear gas sprays, run after Berkut men near the court and hear Sadovnyk’s lawyer complain about being threatened with manhandling. All this issues a dire warning: if “lustration” fails to be carried out in a civilized way, it will assume the format of fist-fighting.

Maria Tomak is a Euromaidan SOS and Civic Liberties Center activist

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