”I did not shoot. I didnʼt see the targets.“ Ex-Berkut policemen, accused of the shootings on Institutska street, tell their version of events. And we compare their testimonies with what the lawyers said earlier

Stas Kozliuk
Yevhen Spirin, Dmytro Rayevskyi
”I did not shoot. I didnʼt see the targets.“ Ex-Berkut policemen, accused of the shootings on Institutska street, tell their version of events. And we compare their testimonies with what the lawyers said earlier

Getty Images / «Babel'»

On February 20, 2014, police killed 48 protesters and wounded several hundred others in central Kyiv. The main suspects in this crime were 26 policemen of the Kyiv "Berkut": a group of people in black uniforms with yellow tapes. In the winter of 2016, five former “Berkut” members were put to trial — Serhiy Zinchenko, Pavlo Abroskin, Oleh Yanishevsky, Serhiy Tamtura, and Oleksandr Marynchenko. Already in the summer of 2020, the Sviatoshynskyi District Court and its jury were planning to pass a verdict, but in December 2019, President Volodymyr Zelenskyi decided to exchange “Berkut” members for captured Ukrainians in the “LPR” and “DPR”. The lawsuit was delayed for more than a year because only two of those exchanged — Marynchenko and Tamtura — returned to Ukraine. It was decided to try the other defendants in absentia. And this March, the case of the shootings on Instytutska Street was to be debated, and in April the court was to go to the deliberation room. However, on February 24, 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine, and some of the participants in the process (some victims, their representatives, prosecutors, and even judges) were enlisted in the Territorial Defense and the Armed Forces. The trial was suspended again for several months. The first hearing took place on May 18, when the accused former Berkut members told their version of events on Institutska Street on February 20, 2014. They denied their guilt and refused to answer all clarifying questions from prosecutors, victims, and even their lawyers. They explained this by saying that prosecutors were biased. Their lawyers refused to comment this event to the media. Babel journalist Stas Kozliuk attended the hearing, listened to the prosecutorsʼ claims and the defendantsʼ arguments, and compared it to what their lawyers had said in previous years. We publish only the pieces of the direct speech of the accused that relate to the events that took place on the Instytutska Street.

Oleksandr Marynchenkoʼs story

Both Berkut ex-fighters began their stories about the shootings at the Institutska street from afar: Marynchenko from the events of February 18, 2014 in the government quarter, Tamtura — from January 19, when he was burned by a "Molotov cocktail”.

On the morning of February 18, Marynchenko and other Berkut policemen were in Mariinsky Park near the government quarters. He was part of a so-called seizure group — Berkut fighters, whose aim was to detain the most active protesters. On that day, cobblestones and sticks flew at the security forces. According to the accused himself, the police began to attack so that "the protesters would stop throwing various objects at us".

The policeman went to the Chinese embassy on Hrushevsky Street, where he picked up an injured member of the Internal Troops — his leg was injured and he couldnʼt walk alone. After Marynchenko took him to the ambulance, he remained near the Verkhovna Rada building. Later, Commander Dmytro Sadovnyk came and ordered everyone to get on the buses and go to the location of the Berkut Regiment in Kyiv. On the way, the police were told that they were going to rearm for heavier bulletproof vests and firearms — AKMS and Fort-500. After that, they were lined up in the square and told that a group of armed men was approaching Kyiv from Zhytomyr and they have to be detained.

At about 5 pm the same day, Marynchenko and his colleagues returned to the parliament building. At 8 pm they were relocated to the October Palace. Next to their gray bus was a blue Volkswagen Transporter. The Berkut policemen spent the night there: part of them in the bus, another part, which included Marynchenko, in the palace. Perhaps their only task on that evening and the next day, February 19, was to be on duty near the bus with weapons. The command allegedly ordered to leave them in the bus so as not to provoke the protesters. And then February 20 started.

Oleksandr Marynchenko

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

According to Marynchenko, many vehicles and policemen were moving up to the Concrete Barricade. He, like others, heard many explosions, but could not understand who was firing and from where.

"There was an iron pillar near me, which was hit by a bullet. Its wreckage hit Makarets in the nose. His face was covered with balaclava, but I saw blood. I took him to a concrete barricade, where we found out that the wound was light. Our gray bus was near the barricade. I went inside and stood there for a while. I saw policemen and police officers going to the concrete blocks. There was no threat to my life at that moment. I did not shoot and could not shoot, because in front of me, towards the October Palace, there were many policemen and servicemen," Marynchenko continued.

He also insisted that he never returned to the palace building. Instead, he remained on duty at the corner of Olhynska and Institutska streets so that Maidan protesters would not bypass them.

"I hid behind concrete blocks, was there for some time. Pronoza approached me. On the opposite side of the street from the National Bank, we noticed a two-story building, saw that there was someone in the windows. We decided to go inside. Two employees of the Department of State Guard were found there. There was a window in the building that overlooked the Institutska street," Marynchenko said.

According to the Berkut member, Pronoza ordered him to come to the window, to make sure they were not bypassed by the protesters from Olhynska street. Together with Pronoza, they were on duty there until February 21.

"I just went to the bathroom. I heard that there were some screams from the Institutska street, some explosions, shootings. I saw a man in a black uniform with a yellow bandage on his arm near the concrete blocks. They appeared in our country the day before these events. Then we saw servicemen in similar black uniforms. I donʼt know who decided we needed insignia. Thatʼs how yellow scotch tape appeared: different [servicemen] used it how they wanted: some put it on one hand, some on two. Near the Concrete Barricade I saw a man in Berkut uniform. As it turned out, it was Serhiy Tamtura," Marynchenko told the court.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

He also added that he saw Dmytro Sadovnyk at the barricade. However, he doesnʼt know what he was talking about with other special services fighters.

"He had no right hand, so he wore a special glove. There was only one such person in our unit. I also know that there were people of my company on these blocks. They were on duty there, changing from time to time. And on the morning of February 21, somewhere between 8 and 10 oʼclock, Kyshkan approached me, he was Melnyk ʼs deputy. He told us to go on duty on Sadova Street. We had to warn everyone who went to the Institutska Street that itʼs a shooting there and itʼs dangerous. Half an hour later, our gray bus arrived and we were told to return to the base. First, we drove to the courtyard of the Cabinet of Ministers building. Our soldiers were drawn up there, two of our armored personnel carriers were standing in the yard. After the unit was assembled, we went to the location: some by bus, some by armored personnel carrier. Personally, I was in the armored personnel carrier," concluded Marinchenko the story about the Instytutska Street.

Already at the location of the Berkut Regiment, he went to say goodbye to Mykola Symysyuk. There Marynchenko saw Oleg Yanishevsky and Kusyuk. Melnyk later ordered Berkut members to take sniper rifles, binoculars and go to the rooftops to watch, as police officers allegedly expected an assault.

When the Berkut member found himself in an armory, he noticed chaos: in addition to Kyiv special forces, there were many police officers from other regions of Ukraine. They also received weapons. The Berkut policemen themselves were surprised by this, because you can get, for example, a machine gun in the armory only with a special card, which has a photo and number of the weapon. Naturally, other police officers, not from Kyiv, did not have such cards. In the end, Marynchenko handed over his AKMS and received the SGD. He waited on the roof until February 23. After that he went home for a few days. When he returned to the location of the regiment, he saw that his machine gun had disappeared. Using a special card to obtain the weapon didnʼt help: he was said there were no weapons left.

"The commander of my platoon promised to deal with it, but this issue was never resolved. A special card was cut with scissors so that someone else would not get my weapon," Marynchenko said.

He concluded by saying that he had seen many videos of people in black uniforms with yellow armbands near the October Palace. And he admits that these are his colleagues from the Kyiv Berkut, from his company. However, he can not recognize anyone, because everyone has about the same physique.

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

Serhiy Tamturaʼs story

Tamtura said that in "calmer times" his company was in reserve, guarding the Interior Ministry and the Cabinet of Ministers. He was first involved in Euromaidan clashes on January 19 on Hrushevsky Street, near the Dynamo Stadium. Then, according to Tamtura, the protesters tried to pull the bus from the colonnade of the stadium, which was covering the soldiers of the Internal Troops. The accused, together with other Berkut members, had to cut the cable used to pull the bus and return to their positions. However, when he went forward, he fell under a barrage of cobblestones, and was hit by a "Molotov cocktail". As a result, his form was burned, he himself received burns to the eyes and mucous membranes, traumatic brain injury, and contusion of the spine. This was the end of his participation in counteracting the protests — the Berkut member was taken to the hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Lukyanivka district. He spent two weeks there, after which he guarded the police dormitory and the location of the Kyiv Berkut regiment. As he himself explained: "We knew about the attempts to attack them".

On February 17, 2014, Tamtura learned that he had been enlisted in an armored group led by Viktor Melnyk. Already on February 18, he and his colleagues boarded a Volkswagen Transporter: there, in addition to Tamtura, there were seven people — one driver and six Berkut fighters. During the interrogation in court, the accused recalled several names of his colleagues: Melnyk, Kyshkan, Pilovy, Gorbyk.

Like Marynchenko, on February 18, 2014, Tamtura and his armored group stood near the parliament building. There he saw the leadership of the regiment: Kusyuk, Tyagnyryadno, Yanishevsky. Also, according to him, there were representatives of other departments from the regions. All commanders, except the Sadovnyk, wore camouflage clothing. Sadovnyk preferred the black uniform.

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

Tamtura assures: he did not take part in the dispersal of the peaceful march on February 18, 2014, he sat in a minibus until the evening, after which Melnyk ordered the fighters to relocate to the October Palace. And together with the gray bus of the company mentioned by Marynchenko, they went to Maydan Nezalezhnosti. Their Volkswagen relocated from time to time: it stood at the main entrance to the palace, then moved to the parking lot near it. Marynchenko claims that he sat in the car almost all the time. He explains it simply: the bulletproof vest is heavy, it is difficult to walk in it for a long time. So on February 18 and 19 it was like this. The accused says he was tired. Physically — because the armor is heavy, morally — because he was constantly waiting. Finally, on February 19, they were allowed to remove the protection stuff, and on the night of February 20, Tamtura went to the trunk of a minibus to get some sleep.

"On the twentieth of February I woke up in the morning from a poke. I looked around. There was no one in the vehicle, only some ammunition and silhouettes outside the window. The back door of the van didnʼt open from the inside, so I knocked to be released. I saw Shpyliovy. He said something like, "Youʼre not equipped yet, and theyʼre shooting there." I did not ask questions, began to put armor on. At this time, our group has already moved towards the Maidan. I tried not to lag behind them, but managed badly. At some point I lost them. There were many people, vehicles were moving towards them, fighters of the Internal Troops and Berkut. It was not like a mass retreat, but rather a panicked retreat. I understood that there was a shooting, some aggressive actions. Many law enforcement officers fled from the Maidan," Tamtura said during interrogation.

On the way to the October Palace, he met one of his colleagues, who for some reason went forward unarmed.

"In the area of the Snow Barricade, I saw Kyshkan, the deputy commander of our group. He told me to bring the Fort 500 he had left in the van. So I got back in the car, took the weapon, and gave it to Kyshkan. He ran towards the Maidan, I went in the same direction. I moved slowly because I couldnʼt come to my senses after sleep. So I came to the alley that leads to the main entrance to the October Palace. There was still a green building fence, an electricity transformer, and stairs leading to the Institutska street. I stopped, wanted to see if there was any firing. At that moment, an explosion erupted near my head. I donʼt know if it was a salute or a firecracker. I sat down, in a few seconds I was picked up by the Internal Troops and led towards the Concrete Barricade, there were no Berkut fighters nearby. They left me behind the blocks. I saw the wounded man being carried through the passage in the barricade. Later, when I got to the hospital, I learned that it was Mykola Symysyuk," Tamtura said.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

He also added that he heard gunshots at the Institutska Street, but could not understand exactly where they were.

"I heard shots nearby and in the distance. But couldnʼt understand exactly where they were. I felt bad, had a headache, couldnʼt stand for a long time, so I mostly sat. I saw someone peeking towards the Maidan from the side of the barricade, I didnʼt see what was happening next — the view was closed to me by KAMAZ truck. Some of the fighters wore yellow armbands, but I canʼt say for sure when they appeared. I saw a machine gun, ammo to it. Why I paid attention to this: we did not have such weapons. From time to time I fell asleep, and on the radio I heard the Sadovnyk shout at someone to hide and not come out. I heard shots from behind the Concrete Barricade, I didnʼt see activists. I also didnʼt see them firing. A few hours later, Trepachov, commander of the 3rd Platoon, approached me. He looked at me and ordered the other soldiers to take me to the ambulance. And before that, he ordered me to give my weapon. I gave it to Gorbyk. I donʼt remember being taken to the ambulance by an armored personnel carrier, I thought I was walking there,” Tamtura said.

The ambulance doctor asked him why he was carrying out criminal orders. Berkut fighter denied everything. Already in the hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, he left the form in which he was on the Maidan, and two days later fled home, because there were rumors that "some right-wing radicals may storm the hospital". He returned to the unit on March 8, 2014. And he found out that his machine gun had disappeared. It was allegedly taken away by the Prosecutor Generalʼs Office. At the end of his story, he added that on February 20, 2014, he had 60 rounds of ammunition with him, two magazines with fake ammunition (the armored group had to use them to scare people they planned to detain), and a pistol with 16 rounds. He also did not deny that his company had fighters near the October Palace. However, like Marynchenko, he cannot recognize anyone but the Sadovnyk.

"I didnʼt shoot. I did not see the targets. I did not charge the weapon with bullets. I donʼt think it was a mass protest. These were riots with weapons and group attacks [on the police]," Tamtura concluded.

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

Questions that were never raised in court

The former Berkut fighters did not answer any clarifying questions: neither from the prosecutorʼs office, nor from the victims, nor from their lawyers. They answered only the courtʼs questions. In addition, the accused stated that they do not want to talk to journalists at the moment. One of the lawyers, Stefan Reshko, added that as of May 2022, he still had no contact with the other three defendants: Zinchenko, Abroskin, and Yanishevsky.

At the beginning of the court hearings in 2016, some Berkut lawyers said that some of their clients were not even on Institutska Street on February 20, 2014. This is probably about Marynchenko. However, during the interrogation he admitted that he was in the center of Kyiv. During their interrogation, the defendants did not mention the "Georgian snipers" who, according to the lawyers of the former Berkut members, provoked clashes in the center of Kyiv on February 20.

The same applies to the protesters: while Berkutʼs lawyers have been convincing the court for years that Maidan activists shot at police officers, the defendants themselves did not say a word about this. When asked by the court whether they had seen civilians shot that day on Institutska Street, they answered briefly: "No".

There are still questions to their words. For example, why do the testimonies of former Berkuts differ? Why did they voice one version of events during the pre-trial investigation, and on May 18, 2022, they talk about another? For example, during an investigative experiment in May 2015, Tamtura stated that he had only ammunition with him and no ammunition at all. Similarly, during an investigative experiment, Tamtura claimed that he saw many different people with weapons, including sniper rifles, behind the Concrete Barricade. Similarly, these people had different insignia: not only yellow headbands, but also triangles or squares. During the interrogation in court, he did not remember these moments, referring to ill health and sleep deprivation.

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

Similar questions arise for Marynchenko: during the investigation, he allegedly claimed that he was not in the center of Kyiv on February 20. And his phone, which was recorded by mobile operators in the Instytutska area, was allegedly taken by his wife, who was in the area that day. Similarly, he has never mentioned since 2016 that he only followed the corner of Olhynska and Instytutska streets. Although this could be an advantage for the accused: it would remove the question of his involvement in the shootings.

It was also not possible to ask former police officers why they consider the events at the Instytutska Street to be group attacks and whether they have seen at least one such attack. What happened to "Georgian snipers"? How and from whom did they receive orders, how did they keep in touch with other groups, and did they find out where their Kalashnikov rifles went? Why does Marynchenko claim that he did not shoot at Instytutska Street, but the investigation found shell casings from his machine gun between the Concrete and Snow barricades, on the same Institutska?

Explanation of prosecutors

As the defendants and their lawyers did not agree to speak, Babel asked prosecutors if they had found confirmation in the words of former Berkut fighters.

"As for Tamtura, he really spent two days in hospital. The circumstances of the contusion have not been established. We know that a grenade flew at Symysyuk. And there was a group of Berkut fighters. But it is impossible to identify them, "prosecutor Oleksiy Donskyi explained. He suggested that Tamtura was injured in a grenade blast near Symysyuk, although he said he was alone during the blast. The prosecutorʼs office does not know about other powerful explosions that could lead to contusion, during which a person can lose consciousness fall asleep.

"After the concussion, he said, he lost consciousness and fell asleep. But we have evidence that he was active after the explosion. For example, he called different people from his mobile. He talked for more than a minute with his mother, then with his brother, and for more than 7 minutes with a girl named Yulia. And he was not called so that he would be forced to answer calls during his sleep. He called first. The situation in the hospital was similar," Donsky explained.

The prosecutorʼs office said that there were no confirmed facts that anyone had been killed or wounded by Marynchenkoʼs or Tamturaʼs weapons. However, this does not mean that they didnʼt actually shoot.

Stas Kozlyuk / «Babel'»

"Most of the protesters were killed by bullets. If the bullet is not stuck in the body — it cannʼt be found, it could flatten, deform, or destroy. We have a lot of such bullets that cannot be identified due to serious deformations," prosecutor Ihor Zemskov explained.

Donsky added that the representatives of the victims tried to involve several bullets in the case, which were probably fired from Marynchenkoʼs machine gun. However, the court refused to take them into account, explaining that this was evidence obtained after the start of the trial.

"For eight years, we did not have Marynchenkoʼs position on the events at the Instytutska Street. It appeared only on May 18, 2022. I donʼt understand why the court refused to do that, as the law allows this," Donsky said.

He added that one of the victims found the bullet on Instytutska Street, kept it for several years, and only tried to bring it to court after the court hearings began. It is important that there are no traces of blood on this bullet. However, according to prosecutors, the victim kept it as a memory of the events and wiped it several times with special solutions. So even if there were any traces of blood on it, they have already been destroyed.

"We have 5 shell casings from Marynchenkoʼs machine gun, which were found on Instytutska Street, these shell casings passed the examination. And they are in court materials. The accused says that the examination was incorrect: the shootings of 2012 and 2014 were compared. Like, he fired so much that the pattern of the barrel cut has changed. We talked to the experts, and they explained to us that the cut for each barrel is unique, almost like fingerprints. And it does not change. To deform this picture, you have to shoot for years, every day, itʼs about tens and tens of thousands of shots. What Marynchenko was talking about is the wear of the barrel, but by no means the deformation of its notch,” says Zemskov.

Prosecutors also said they had no video footage from the Palace parking lot. Namely, the accused were there for a long time. Therefore, confirming their words about their movement is problematic.

The prosecutorʼs office plans to voice its claims during the court debate, which is scheduled to begin in July 2022. They will probably last for several weeks. Therefore, the court is expected to enter the decision room no earlier than September. However, according to the participants in the trial, the situation very much depends on the situation at the front: if the Russians do not try to storm Kyiv again, the verdict will be by the end of this year. And one of the most important stories of the Maidan will end in court.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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