In a recent article, Noah Carl outlined the case made by Canadian academic Dr. Ivan Katchanovski that, contra the consensus opinion outside Russia but in line with Moscow’s messaging, the Ukrainian ‘Revolution of Dignity’ in 2014 was a coup orchestrated by the U.S. in concert with far-right or neo-Nazi elements who deliberately fired on the protesters in the crowd (as well as on Government forces) to escalate the violence and bring about enough bloodshed to force President Yanukovych out of office. Noah says:
Katchanovski has published his arguments concerning the ‘false flag theory’ in scholarly books and journals, and has presented them at academic conferences. All the germane papers are available for free online. You might therefore expect for his work to have received significant media attention – particularly in the last few months.
Well, not so much. Colour me sceptical, but the lack of media coverage might – perhaps – be deserved. Katchanovski is a political scientist with no expertise in firearm forensics, yet he’s claiming to have analysed the events of 2014 from that perspective and to have published ‘academic’ work on the subject. As far as I can see, none of his work on this topic has passed peer review: it’s self-published, apart from one paper which is restricted to political topics but in which he frequently refers to his non-peer reviewed work as if to introduce it via other means into the academic literature. He’s had one very brief chapter published in a book, but otherwise he has only been able to present his work at conferences, where it has apparently not been well received – for instance by fellow Canadian-based Ukraine experts Professor David R. Marples and Dr Taras Kuzio. Their criticisms can be boiled down to the fact that his work is poorly written, political rather than academic in nature, and highly flawed in its methodology and analysis. In fairness, Katchanovski is also very dismissive of the work of Marples, Kuzio and others, but he doesn’t engage with their criticisms of his work.
The notion that Katchanovski’s views have been suppressed by Western media is an example of a trope with which I’m rather familiar, having heard it from musicians whose new album didn’t get any airplay (I’m looking at you, Larry Love), to – most recently – a friend with very particular views about the layout and construction of stone circles in England who’s been tragically ignored by academics in the field. But in Katchanovski’s case, there’s also the fact that not many people in the West have any appetite to paint Ukrainians as Nazis right now. In order to explain why that’s the case – if it isn’t already obvious – let’s put Katchanovski’s claims into context.
They fall into the general narrative that Ukraine’s recent history can only be assessed in terms of, and is only explicable as a result of, neo-Nazism. This narrative has three strands: (a) that the 2014 revolution was a far-right/neo-Nazi coup; (b) that Ukraine’s military has been thoroughly infiltrated by the far-right; and (c) that President Zelenskyy has effectively been controlled by the far-right since 2019. Russia has been advancing these claims – along with others – as a justification for what is now being credibly described as genocide.
I dealt with the second strand of Russian propaganda – the claims of military infiltration – in a previous article, finding those claims so untrustworthy that I concluded that those uncritically repeating that kind of nonsense are effectively supporting Russia’s incitement to genocide. But like everyone else, Katchanovski tries to play the now rather shabby-looking get-out-of-jail-free card by saying ‘of course this doesn’t justify war’, when in fact this is precisely Russia’s justification for their war of ‘denazification’. As reported recently, Putin believes that the Ukrainian Government is “not a democratically elected government. They gained power through a bloody coup. People were burned alive. It was a bloodbath. And Zelenskyy is one of the culprits.”
Putin would like us to believe this is a legitimate casus belli, and since Katchanovski is the arch-proponent of the Maidan neo-Nazi theory in the West, let’s try to examine his claims forensically. But first, we should set the scene.
The 2014 Revolution
Protests began in Maidan Square in 2013 on November 21st when President Viktor Yanukovych, instead of signing an agreement that had overwhelming parliamentary support and which would have put the country on the path to EU membership (as well as releasing Yulia Tymoshenko from jail), decided instead to pursue an agreement with Putin that would have aligned the country economically and politically with Russia and its satellites. Due to the violent dispersal of protesters in the following weeks, and the introduction of draconian anti-protest and anti-free speech laws in January (described by the press as “dictatorship laws”), the protests grew in intensity, fuelled by these human rights abuses and perceived widespread Governmental corruption.
The first deaths occurred in late January, but the vast majority were killed on February 18th and 20th when the Government started using live ammunition – this having been authorised by the Minister of the Interior. On the night of February 21st, Yanukovych and many of his top officials fled – with Putin’s assistance – to Russia, after which the parliament (including many members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions) resolved unanimously to remove him from office and hold fresh presidential elections. The technical legality of this is denied by pro-Russian sources to this day, but it’s not clear how Yanukovych could have continued to govern Ukraine from his hotel suite in Moscow – and thus was he toppled.
Katchanovski’s contention is that the violence in Maidan Square was provoked by far-right elements (principally the ‘Right Sector’), who set up sniper positions in various buildings to escalate things on February 20th, and were so lethal as to be responsible for the deaths of the majority of the protesters, as well as Government forces – bringing about Yanukovych’s overthrow.
The first problem with this theory is that it ignores most of the events prior to February 20th, including the deep and widespread outrage that had been developing against Yanukovych for months, all the prior violence, and other details such as the fact that Yanukovych had been preparing to flee the country in the week prior to the 20th.
Katchanovski acknowledges that the Government had been shooting and killing protesters during this period before, during and after his supposed neo-Nazis had taken up their positions on February 20th, so even if he were right about the identity of the snipers, there’s little to suggest they could have affected the outcome: the Government’s previous authorisation for – and use of – live ammunition beginning on the 18th, combined with the failure of these tactics to disperse the protesters, was what broke the camel’s back.
And even supposing they existed, what might these far-right snipers have achieved, politically? Quoting Marples:
If the massacre and subsequent events constituted a coup by the Right Sector, then why are its supporters not in power today? One recalls their unceremonious eviction from the Hotel Dnipro on April 1st, 2014. Can one have a successful coup that does not result in a takeover of power by the perpetrators?
Katchanovski claims the murders of protesters “represented a violent overthrow of the Government in Ukraine and a major human rights crime” committed by “elements” of the Euromaidan and “far-right”. His position ignores the crucial detail that the far right did not come to power after the Euromaidan came to power, and that they lost two pre-term elections in May and October 2014.
Despite these flaws having been pointed out by Marples, Kuzio and others prior to Katchanovski’s first publication, he doesn’t address them in any of his articles between 2015 and 2021. In fact, he disingenuously claims that “there is no other scholarly study” that disputes his claims.
Of course, if it could be shown that there were far-right snipers in action during the Maidan protests, it would not be a trivial matter, and would undoubtedly colour perceptions of those events – though not to the benefit of the Right Sector. In fact, one could argue that it would have been very much in the interests of mainstream Ukrainian politicians to have been able to prove, after the events of 2014, that the extremists of the Right Sector had been killing their fellow protesters: the Interior Minister of the post-Maidan government wanted to ban that organisation, and they are very much not political allies of the current Government. But nevertheless, the presence of far-right protester-murdering snipers on February 20th – which must obviously have been unknown to the vast majority of protesters – certainly wouldn’t (as Katchanovski hopes) delegitimise the protests themselves, or the post-Maidan or current Government of Ukraine.
These are highly relevant and salient points, which effectively render Katchanovski’s analysis moot as far as the wider political situation goes. But with that important caveat, let’s dig in to some of the specifics of Katchanovski’s claims. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to restrict myself to a discussion of the identity of the mysterious snipers.
Guns and Ammo
To be clear, nobody is disputing that Government forces shot and killed protesters, and neither is there any dispute that a few of the protesters were carrying guns (probably a mixture of hunting rifles and some captured police firearms) and did almost certainly shoot and kill some Government officers. A BBC reporter in fact identifies what was likely a protester in the Hotel Ukraina shooting at someone (although not at him), and the protester Ivan Bubenchyk claimed (or admitted) to having killed Government officers with an AK rifle. However, Katchanovski’s core contention is that some protesters also deliberately shot other protesters.
We’ll have to get a bit technical at this point, because Katchanovski attempts to draw conclusions based on firearm forensics. This is an area in which I’m definitely no expert, but I’ve been generously assisted by a California-based firearm forensics consultant (who spoke off the record) and an ex-Ukrainian soldier – although any errors remain my own.
Beginning on page 28 of his 2017 article, Katchanovski discusses the different firearms that were seen on February 20th or later recovered by investigators, as well as bullets found in trees or recovered from those injured or killed. Apart from the discovery of 80 cartridge casings found in one location, it appears that few casings were found. Forensically, this is problematic because it’s more of a challenge to identify the firearm used from the projectiles alone:
[S]hell casings are the main evidence at a firearms crime scene.Walker, Robert E., Cartridges and Firearm Identification (Advances in Materials Science and Engineering), CRC Press (p. xv).
But before we even start discussing the various projectiles recovered, there are already serious problems with Katchanovski’s analysis. I’m not sure how it would go down at a Texas barbecue, but his misuse of terminology seems bizarre to me in many ways, with perhaps his most fundamental error being when he tries to distinguish what he calls “military grade bullets” (i.e., non-expanding, ‘ball’ ammunition) from what he calls “expanding hunting bullets” (i.e., controlled-expansion or ‘hollow point’ rounds). To be clear, ball rounds are used in military service (in part because the 1899 Hague Convention prohibits expanding rounds in combat), but they are by no means limited to military service – they’re also commonly used by civilians as a general-purpose/training round, and are thus very readily available around the world. On the other hand – and somewhat paradoxically – there are good ethical and practical reasons why hollow point rounds (sometimes misleadingly called ‘explosive’ rounds) are the de facto standard for law enforcement as well as civilian self-defence wherever the jurisdiction allows, while also being used for hunting. To summarise:
Hollow points are marketed toward law enforcement, security providers, and private citizens seeking personal defense or hunting ammunition. In accordance with the 1899 Hague Convention, military forces that abide by the protocol are prohibited from using hollow-point-type projectiles in combat.Walker, p.72. I would note that a recent conversation with a couple of U.K. police firearms officers revealed that their particular unit uses ball ammunition, so the use of hollow point rounds by law enforcement is by no means universal.
The reason why this matters is because Katchanovski strongly implies that expanding bullets – which he calls “expanding hunting bullets” – would fit with the kinds of ‘hunting’ weapons available to civilian protesters, rather than Government weapons. This is quite wrong. In fact, absent specific information about the types of ammunition used by everyone involved, no firm conclusions can be drawn from the type of projectiles recovered (whether ball or hollow point) except that it’s perhaps unlikely that protesters would have been using ball rounds.
With these statements, Katchanovski has already demolished any credibility he might think he has, and it’s therefore very troubling that he uses it to falsely try to lay the blame for civilian deaths on protesters. But he goes further when he repeatedly uses the phrases “hunting pellets” or “pellets used in hunting” to describe shotgun pellets. Shotgun pellets are of course used for hunting, but also for home defence and in law enforcement, and there is clear evidence of Government forces carrying shotguns and no evidence of protesters using them. Katchanovski himself refers in his 2021 article to “pump rifles” (i.e., pump-action shotguns) being fired by Government forces.
He then says that two protesters were shot with “7.62×54 caliber bullets”, referring to projectiles from the 7.62×54mmR cartridge – a standard Warsaw Pact cartridge that was (and still is) used in the Mosin-Nagant rifle, as well as in the more modern PK machine gun and the Dragunov/SVD sniper rifle in all their variants. Several Dragunovs are visible in the hands of Government units on February 20th, and at least one PK. However, Katchanovski states that the particular type of 7.62×54mmR bullet found – the ‘LPS’ type – could not have been used by government forces because it was developed in 1908 for the Mosin-Nagant – an obsolete rifle that Government forces weren’t using.
This is incorrect. Katchanovski has mistaken the 1908 ‘light bullet’ for the LPS or ‘light steel core bullet’ (which has a mild steel core capable of penetrating lightly-armoured targets), variants of which are in use today, and indeed some were specifically developed for the Dragunov. It seems likely that these were rounds from the military 7N1 or 7N14 cartridges fired from a Government Dragunov, and very unlikely that a civilian would want to use this type of light armour-piercing round (even assuming they were accessible to Ukrainian civilians), since their lesser effectiveness against ‘soft’ targets would make them totally unsuitable for self defence or hunting (and even unethical). In general, and except for a bit of fun on the range, one would not expect to see armour-piercing rounds being used outside of military service or as an option for a police sniper.
Thus, there are already a number of instances where, either from ignorance or bias, Katchanovski gets things back to front. But he then makes some statements that require a closer look. Firstly, on page 28 of his 2017 paper:
A forensic ballistic examination of a bullet fragment found that Viktor Chmilenko was shot dead by a 30-06 caliber ‘Springfield’ bullet.
Then on page 29:
Oleksander Khrapachenko was killed by a corroded .308 Winchester caliber expanding hunting bullet. This NATO bullet caliber does not match the caliber of AKMS used by members of the special Berkut company, who are charged with his killing.
Katchanovski uses this to suggest that these were fired by protesters with hunting rifles, which piqued my interest because both of these rounds have a diameter of 0.308″, and are of a large class of cartridges that includes the .30-30 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, the .300 Holland & Holland Magnum and – most importantly – the Western 7.62×51mm (or ‘7.62 NATO’) cartridge (but not the Russian 7.62×39mm and 7.62×54mmR cartridges, which do not have a diameter of 0.308″, being slightly wider).
Distinguishing between some of these from the projectiles alone (especially from just a fragment) could be very difficult or impossible, and in particular the .308 Winchester and 7.62 NATO cartridges are so similar as to be effectively interchangeable: a gun that can fire a .308 Winchester can fire a 7.62 NATO round, and almost always vice versa (indeed, the term ‘.308’ is often used to refer to the 7.62 NATO cartridge). Furthermore, the 7.62 NATO cartridge is really a shortened .30-06 cartridge. To illustrate the possible problems even with just a single cartridge type, here is a selection of .30-06 projectiles, the only commonality being their diameter of 0.308″:
Further on this point:
When a projectile is recovered intact, the mass can be used as a starting point to ascertain what caliber class the projectile belongs to. […] Measurements of the projectile mass are taken alongside measurements of the projectile dimensions, yielding suggestions of candidate class cartridges [emphases mine].Walker, p.101.
Given all this, I asked a firearm forensics expert whether a .308 Winchester projectile could clearly be distinguished from a 7.62 NATO projectile and he said he would be “very hesitant” about doing so, noting the cartridges are interchangeable.
Sneaky Sniper Rifles
At this point, I began to wonder whether Ukrainian Government forces could have been using Western-made sniper rifles chambered in 7.62 NATO or similar. The possibility was worth investigating, since if they weren’t using these rounds, it might tend to confirm Katchanovski’s claim that these came from commercially-available hunting rifles (thus suggesting protesters). However, evidence of Western-made sniper rifles in government hands was not difficult to find, and the former Azov Battalion volunteer Carolus Löfroos (whose unvarnished account of the war in the Donbas in 2014–15 I’d highly recommend) was able to identify the specific types of rifle.
In a second video, we can see a Sako TRG rifle. This is almost certainly the Sako TRG-22 (chambered in 7.62 NATO), which is again known to have been used by the Alfa and Omega government units. These units were deployed at the protests in 2014 alongside the Berkut special police.
But this left me totally baffled. From Katchanovski’s account, it appeared that Ukrainian investigators had failed to identify these rifles and the potential significance of these .308″ diameter projectiles, leaving open the possibility these were rounds fired by protesters. I had to dig a bit deeper. The Ukrainian Attorney General’s office couldn’t provide me with the forensic reports due – as far as I could establish by machine-translating their letter – to an ongoing trial, so I commissioned a translation of the key portions of the 2016 trial that Katchanovski cited, which I will quote at length. Firstly, concerning Katchanovski’s ‘.308 Winchester’ round:
[The judge, reading the forensics report] (03:11:06): During the comparative investigation of the bullet shell with the data of the recorded literature, the coincidence of the shape and design features, dimensional characteristics were established, and the material was made from the shell of the bullet 7.62 hunting cartridges 7.62×51 with the expansive soft point bullet of the plant production.
These cartridges are designed for firing the following types of firearms: carbines Medved, Los, Zubr, MC 125, MC 126, MC 1907, Vepr, Saiga, and other models of weapons, including the ground one, which is issued under the cartridge .308 Winchester due to the fact that it corresponds to the latter in the size ballistic characteristics, namely, carbines.
The weapon is fired with the low wear of the bore of the gun 7.62×51 in caliber. This weapon can be a Mannlicher carbine, Czech [actually Finnish] weapon Sako TRG-22, Vepr, and so on. It is absolutely impossible to provide an answer.
The specified bullet shell is only suitable for the group identification with common features, namely for the probable established type of the weapon used on shooting.[Prosecutor] (03:14:35): By the way, one of the few bullets that has the same 7.62 caliber, but it is slightly longer than 7.62×51. This bullet, in particular, can also be used in sniper rifles. If we already watched the video, in particular, regarding the video where a person in a black uniform lies conditionally on the trench parapet, when they leave along the [illegible], but also in Instytutska Street, the shown person who lies, does not shoot. However, we can clearly see that the sniper rifles were also used by the law enforcement officers. They were present there. However, in the future, we will show that these rifles, that they really fired from these rifles. In particular, the expert opinion included the name of one of the Sako rifles. [emphases mine]
It’s worth quoting Katchanovski’s account of this portion of the trial once again:
Oleksander Khrapachenko was killed by a corroded [?] .308 Winchester caliber expanding hunting bullet. This NATO bullet caliber does not match the caliber of AKMS used by members of the special Berkut company, who are charged with his killing. This forensic expert level evidence corroborates other evidence, such as eyewitness testimony…
I can forgive Katchanovski for using the misleading term ‘hunting bullet’, since – while totally inaccurate – the term ‘hunting’ does appear in the transcript (which I believe to be idiomatic, and due to a lack of a Ukrainian term for ‘sniper’); and while it is true (according to statements made just subsequent to the above quote) that police units weren’t using 7.62 NATO rounds, other Government forces were. In particular, the Sako make of rifle – as seen in Government hands – was singled out by the prosecutor.
Katchanovski has completely omitted these hugely important facts.
When analysing and critiquing the work of others, I try to live up to the maxim: “Never ascribe to malice what can be put down to incompetence.” But sometimes that’s very difficult, and in this case I can’t imagine any good reason why someone writing supposedly scholarly articles about the identity of Maidan snipers would fail to mention that the forensic examination of this bullet shows it is consistent with having been fired from a particular type of sniper rifle seen in Government hands on that day, instead stating that “this forensic expert level evidence” supports – rather than greatly undermines – his claim that a protester fired it.
But let’s move on to the supposed .30-06 projectile:
[The judge, reading the forensics report] (03:27:27): […] The specified length, in general, corresponds to the circumference of 17.3 at the same distance from the tip of the picket shell bullet of a hunting cartridge of .30-06 SPRG caliber, etc. Due to the significant number of the types and kinds of the ball and hunting cartridges of 7.62, .30-06 SPRG, .308 Win type, etc., and the significant deformation of the fragment, it is not possible to expressly establish the type of the cartridge of the part that was investigated, the bullet fragment.
In other words, it was probably another 7.62 NATO round, although once again with caveats.
The problem here is that Katchanovski publishes almost exclusively in the English language for a predominantly non-Ukrainian speaking audience, but there are hours and hours of court proceedings – besides reams of other evidence – which are only available in Ukrainian. Having had just 15 minutes of court proceedings translated into English, and having found in that tiny sample some troubling misrepresentations of fact by Katchanovski, my conclusion can only be that there would be many other similar examples to find.
Angles of Attack
Katchanovski then moves on to forensic ballistics – an even more specialised field, but one which he feels confident to step into, being a political scientist. He mentions a number of cases, although due to the language barrier it’s practically impossible to assess all but a few of them. This fact renders much of his writing quite useless from the perspective of any non-Ukrainian speaking reader who isn’t willing to simply take him on faith.
The only cases we can reasonably discuss are the three that were reconstructed by SITU Research in the US, as reported on by the New York Times. For these, we have translations of the Ukrainian medical reports, but also the ballistics reports prepared by a U.S. expert and reconstructions available at the SITU reconstruction website. The reports prepared by SITU were used in evidence in the trials of some Berkut police officers in 2016.
Katchanovski disputes the trajectory of the bullets in these cases, saying these didn’t come from the relatively flat angle (~10°) and direction of police and military forces (some of whom were recorded shooting at protesters during this time) but from rather more elevated and angled ‘sniper’ positions in the surrounding buildings.
Before we delve further, I’ll quote the firearm forensics expert whom I consulted:
Lay people don’t understand how terminal ballistics [i.e., impact/penetration ballistics] are extremely complicated.
One of the misunderstandings that people have is that they assume bullets travel in a straight line through the human body. To illustrate this problem, here is an example of the track from a 7.62×39mm round fired at a roughly flat trajectory into ballistic gelatin (designed to mimic human body tissue), showing the round entering the gel at roughly 3″ above the bottom of the block, tumbling and deviating after about 5″ from the entry point and exiting the bottom of the block at about 16″, giving an overall deviation of ~10.5°. If the bullet had been fired from about 100 yards away, and if we assume (as Katchanovski always does) that bullets travel in a straight line in the human body, this exit angle would suggest that the shooter was at about the fourth or fifth floor of a building – rather than at the same height as the gel block, in this example.
This is complicated still further by the fact that human bodies are not homogenous like ballistic gel, but composed of different media such as muscle, fat, bone and fluids, which all (to a greater or lesser extent) cause deviation in all three dimensions; and besides which, and as the expert I consulted said, “human bodies can twist and turn”. And of course every bullet has its own unique ballistic characteristics, with some bullet types being more unstable than others.
In researching this, I reached out to Knox & Associates, the U.S. firm commissioned by SITU Research to do those three ballistics reports. Despite being a firm of forensics experts, they weren’t willing to comment on their ballistic reports, because their ballistics expert Michael Knox has since passed away. The point is that this is not an area that a complete novice should feel confident discussing, and while Katchanovski is willing to make firm judgements here, he has no scholarly or even journalistic basis for doing so: he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
Igor F. Dmytriv
The first case is that of Igor F. Dmytriv, killed on February 20th by a 7.62×39mm round (not the same as the 0.308″ cartridges discussed above, having a slightly larger diameter of roughly 0.311). This is a calibre of round – used in variants of the original AK-47 rifle, among others – that Government forces were recorded as firing at protesters from their barricade at exactly the same time. It is more specifically identified in the medical report as a steel-core 57-H-231C ball round – a standard military type, so quite unlikely to have been fired by a protester (something Katchanovski doesn’t mention).
Contrary to the ballistics report (based partly on the Ukrainian medical report), in his 2017 article and in a video appendix Katchanovski asserts that instead of this round originating from the Government barricade in front of Dmytriv: “the wound direction points to the top of the Hotel Ukraina, Bank Arkada, or Horodetskoho Street buildings.”
In this, Katchanovski leaves himself vulnerable to criticism, since the Hotel Ukraina is behind where Dmytriv was crouching, while Horodetskoho Street is to the right, and Bank Arkada to the right front of Dmytriv. An uncharitable person might draw attention to the fact that the “wound direction” cannot point in three separate directions encompassing a nearly 180° arc, while a charitable person might suggest that – at the very least – Katchanovski isn’t quite as certain as he would like to make out.
However, he does revise his position in his 2021 paper: he’s now decided that the bullet came from the Bank Arkada, a building he says was controlled by protesters (and I’ll discuss the important question of who ‘controlled’ certain buildings later). For this, he dismisses the medical evidence suggesting Dmytriv was hit by one bullet that first passed through his right arm before entering his chest, instead choosing to assert that there were two bullets, only one of them (the fatal one) entering Dmytriv’s chest. But to establish precisely what Katchanovski is disputing, the SITU report includes the following image in which the trajectory of the bullet is based on the initial arm injury. The arm injury was a straightforward through-and-through, with the bullet not hitting bone (an important factor), thus giving a good idea of its origin. The red line indicates the calculated trajectory, and not the locations of the chest wounds (as Katchanovski seems to assume).
Katchanovski has created a modified illustration showing the rough locations of Dmytriv’s chest entry and exit wounds, with the thick red line indicating Katchanovski’s estimated trajectory.
The precise location of the chest entry wound is important, with the medical report seeming to place it not quite to the side but rather between his arm and his chest, in a location (based on the crouched stance) where it would probably have to have passed through his arm first. There is also the problem that the above images don’t show the locations of the other protesters, who were crouched in close proximity to Dmytriv. Here is an image of the moment he was hit, with Dmytriv just to the right of the person in light blue at the top.
It seems to me quite unlikely that Dmytriv’s chest wounds could have been caused from the direction Katchanovski asserts without having hit the protester to Dmytriv’s right.
As regards the seemingly steep angle of the chest wound track, with the exit wound 20.5cm lower than the chest entry wound along a 33cm track (which, based on its length, was almost certainly not a straight track), given that the bullet first hit a metal shield in front of Dmytriv before passing through his arm and likely yawing and tumbling into his chest (the size of the chest entry wound perhaps indicates some ‘keyholing’), and given Dmytriv’s very crouched position (the angle of which I believe to be somewhat under-represented in the computer-generated images), and also given the bullet hit two ribs on the way through, SITU’s analysis seems very credible. However, even if the trajectory were as Katchanovski suggests, it doesn’t explain why he was hit with a ‘military’ 57-H-231C ball round – unless the neo-Nazis just happened to be equipped with military-type ammo too. Nor does it explain why rooftop snipers would be using 7.62×39mm rounds, rather than 7.62×54mmR or 7.62 NATO rounds that would fit the sniper role.
Things are a little simpler in this case, since the victim was hit while standing nearly vertically, the only complication being that he was wearing 3mm of steel plate armour through which the fatal 7.62×39mm bullet passed before transiting his chest. The fact that the bullet made it out of the back of his chest indicates it was another (possibly steel-core) ball (or ‘military’) round. The deformation of the steel plate led the forensic pathologists to suggest that the bullet deviated (i.e., in a downwards direction), but Katchanovski takes no account of this and simply draws another straight line from entry to exit wound (the thick red line).
There doesn’t seem to be any comprehension that an angled steel plate (never mind body tissue) could affect trajectory – or even stop the projectile entirely. And while 6mm of steel plate armour is usually considered the minimum needed to stop a 7.62×39mm round, this is not the case when such a plate is hit at the roughly 40° downward angle suggested by a naïve assessment of the medical report, in which the exit wound is stated to be 17cm lower than the entry wound. Modelling this in Ansys Explicit Dynamics (and yes, it’s ‘only a model’) produces the following result:
The round is almost completely stopped, and in this model couldn’t have passed through the victim’s body – as in fact happened. If we were to introduce the additional variable that the hypothetical sniper position on top of the Bank Arkada was at a roughly 30° sideways angle, the output of the model would be even more unfavourable to Katchanovski’s theory. Yet again, it is inconvenient for Katchanovski that the victim’s chest exit wound was directly behind the entry wound, which – in his school of ballistics – ought to have led him to conclude the round came not from a sniper position to his right, but rather from directly in front of him. Where the Government forces were. With AKMS rifles firing these non-sniper type rounds.
Based on these known firing positions of Government forces, I think the presentation of the steel plate was probably at around 20° from the normal. This is because Government forces were firing at a roughly 10° downwards angle (due to the road rising above the protesters), and Dygdalovych was standing at roughly 10° from the perpendicular (he’s wearing the camo jacket):
This suggests the entry wound was caused by a bullet which was left with a residual speed of about 220m/s after passing through the steel plate, having deviated as a result of the impact and now tumbling very markedly. At this kind of speed, the effects of the bullet’s interaction with human tissue (including, as in this case, the ribcage – leaving a fractured rib) become quite dominant. These effects would be hugely more difficult to model in software, and perhaps couldn’t even be realistically modelled with ballistic gel, so I’ll leave this topic by simply adding that the bullet was found with its final orientation being at 90° to the direction of the wound track – a further indication of significant deviation – which leads me to conclude there is no strong reason to dispute SITU’s analysis.
In this case, the medical report showed entry and exit wounds in the victim’s parietal lobe, as depicted here by SITU, with the trajectory and acoustic analysis indicating a gunshot from a Government truck, from behind which police were firing.
In disputing this finding, Katchanovski dismisses the medical report because he doesn’t think it matches the bullet holes in the orange hard hat worn by Parashchuk, suggesting that one should prefer his analysis based on the holes in the hard hat he claims to see. In his video, he shows what he thinks is this hard hat three times, although on the third occasion the image is taken from an unknown video in which a hard hat has been positioned next to a memorial (very likely taken at a later date or at least time, and not properly established as Parashchuk’s hard hat), and on the first occasion it’s not clear whether what is being shown is a hole in the hard hat or a piece of mud. So the clearest view we get is in the following still image.
The back of the hard hat is pointing upwards, and (despite Katchanovski’s subtitle) this shows what would clearly correspond to a front-to-back injury slightly to the left side of the parietal lobe, corresponding with the medical report and SITU’s analysis. For reference, here is the location of the parietal lobe.
Katchanovski makes other claims about Parashchuk’s killing that I don’t think stand up to scrutiny, but his analysis is so poorly presented and incoherent that it would require a lot of verbiage to unpick what I believe is quite obviously a meritless case.
Who controlled what, when?
Given the number of killings in 2014 and all the associated evidence, there’s doubtless a lot to occupy amateur forensics experts for years. But what if Katchanovski is correct that some protesters were killed from the Bank Arkada or the Hotel Ukraina? The other plank of Katchanovski’s argument is that these buildings (and others) were “controlled” by the Maidan protesters, so if it could be established that protesters were killed from one or more of these buildings, he reckons it should automatically follow that other protesters (i.e., neo-Nazi ones) must have been responsible. But he never provides any real evidence that these buildings were ever controlled in any meaningful sense by protesters, despite asserting it repeatedly. As others have pointed out, the Hotel Ukraina is a very large building with a number of floors, rooms and entrances, and even if some protesters got into the ground floor of the building on the February 20th (which they did), there’s simply no way to tell who was firing from any of the hundreds of rooms in that building. The protesters simply weren’t going room-to-room establishing ‘control’ of the building; but even if they had been, we know that ‘control’ of a hotel doesn’t prevent someone using it to wreak havoc.
In respect of the Bank Arkada, this was in fact behind police lines as they retreated back from the protesters on the morning of the February 20th, and in front of Dmytriv, Dygdalovych and Parashchuk when they were killed, so it seems quite unreasonable simply to say it was “controlled” by protesters when at the same time only the bravest of the protesters were advancing in that general direction, towards the Presidential Palace – let alone that protesters had somehow managed to reach the roof carrying rifles, as he claims. This is especially so, given that Horodetskoho Street – to the other side of the Bank Arkada – was also apparently under Government control at the time. Of course, there’s no video evidence of any protesters approaching the Bank Arkada carrying rifles; and on the contrary, it seems to me that if there were snipers on the roof of the Bank Arkada, they would have been Government ones.
Trust Me, I’m a Doctor… of Political Science
In closing, I’ll note that there are a lot of other dubious claims made by Katchanovski that I haven’t addressed. For example, he takes seriously the claims of some Georgian ‘protesters’ who supposedly ‘confessed’ inside Russia – to Russian authorities – that they were the snipers. He also repeatedly claims – while vaguely referencing untranslated medical reports, invoking a lot of hearsay and treating as gospel various statements made by those indicted for these crimes – that the majority of protesters were killed from elevated or ‘sniper’ positions.
Unfortunately, and as I’ve noted previously in respect of pro-Russian propaganda, this isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. It’s the ‘bullshit asymmetry principle’, being the principle that it requires a lot less time, energy and knowledge to make false claims than to refute them. But it’s inherently unreasonable for a political scientist to claim to be writing scholarly works centred on forensics, when as far as I can see he hasn’t even talked to people in that field or even attempted to teach himself the most minimally-acceptable baseline of amateur knowledge to work from. This is especially bad when he wants us to adopt radical and far-reaching political views as a result. So I’ll end with a statement made by an audience member in response to Katchanovski’s first conference presentation in 2014:
[He] is not a forensic specialist, nor does he claim a great knowledge of physics. […] Forensic science calculates bullet trajectories […] and blood spatter evidence provides other forms of evidence. He maintains that he did an independent investigation in these areas but he is not qualified to do so.
Stop Press: Ivan Katchanovski came out with a statement today that seems eerily like a response to this article.
I can only suggest that if – as seems likely – Dr Katchanovski feels that his expertise and scholarship haven’t attracted the level of respect that he considers his due, that he might be willing to defend his position rationally. That is, unless he considers that his position as a Doctor of Political Science puts him above such mean concerns.