The Ukraine war has its roots in the events of February 2014 when the country’s pro-Russian government was overthrown and replaced by a pro-Western government. One of the key events in the ‘Revolution of Dignity’, as it became known, was the massacre of police and protestors on the Maidan.
The official narrative is that the protestors were killed by snipers from the Berkut (a special police unit loyal to then-President Viktor Yanukovych) and/or by unidentified Russian snipers. Yet Ivan Katchanovski, a Ukrainian-Canadian academic, maintains that they were killed by snipers from the Ukrainian far-right – as part of a false flag operation to bring down Yanukovych’s government.
Some of the evidence Katchanovski cites in support of his argument comes from the trial of five Berkut officers who were charged with the murder of protestors. For example, 51 out of 72 wounded protestors who testified at the trial stated that they were shot from buildings that were under the control of Maidan forces or that they witnessed snipers in such buildings. Most said they were shot from the Hotel Ukraina, and as Katchanovski notes:
Videos show that the Maidan forces not only controlled the entrances and exits to Hotel Ukraina before, during, and after the massacre of the protesters, but also that armed Maidan groups were on the same floors that protesters and journalists identified as locations of snipers around the same time … The far right Svoboda party, a Maidan Self-Defense commander in the hotel, and the hotel staff stated that the Hotel Ukraina was seized and guarded by the Maidan forces since the end of January 2014 … In its official statement, Svoboda stated that its activists took Hotel Ukraina under their control and guard on 25 January 2014.
On 18 October, almost nine years after it began, the trial finally reached a verdict: three of the Berkut officers were found guilty of murder, a fourth was found guilty of abusing his office, and the fifth was acquitted.
Interestingly, though, none of them will serve any prison time. The officer found guilty of abuse-of-office has already served his full five-year sentence while in custody during the trial. And the three found guilty of murder were released from custody in 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas.
For his part, Katchanovski attributes the conviction of the three Berkut officers to “fabricated forensic ballistic examination”, noting that “the specific time and direction of shooting by Berkut policemen did not coincide with the killing of specific protesters”. In fact, even before the verdict was reached, he had written that the trial would be unlikely to weigh the evidence impartially due to “political pressure and far-right attacks”.
It’s interesting, then, that the verdict states as a “categorical conclusion” that “persons with weapons, from which the shots were fired, were in the premises of the “Ukraine” hotel”. In other words, it acknowledges the presence of snipers in the Hotel Ukraina – something that had previously been dismissed by proponents of the official narrative as a “conspiracy theory”.
(As an aside, the court document is around 1,700 pages and 1 million words in length. It’s also written in Ukrainian. Katchanovski was kind enough to direct me to the relevant parts, and I translated them using Google.)
In addition, the verdict states that for eight killed and twenty wounded protestors, “the involvement of law enforcement officers has not been proven, and other unknown persons cannot be ruled out”. In several of these cases, it even states that the individual was shot from the Hotel Ukraina or other territory that was “not controlled by law enforcement agencies at that time”.
The “unknown persons” could, in principle, be Russian snipers. Yet according to the verdict, any “Russian trace” was “not confirmed”. In particular, “all cases of crossing the border zone by FSB officers into Ukraine, their movement around Kyiv and the region, the time and place of their stay, as well as the dates and ways they left the territory of Ukraine were investigated”. And there was “no participation in the events on the street”.
It’s worth noting that the trial itself only dealt with the shootings of around half the protestors who were shot in the massacre. The other half were determined before the trial even began to have been shot from areas where no Berkut officers were present – and the five defendants were not charged with their shooting. So even if some protestors were shot by Berkut officers (something Katchanovski admits as a possibility) there are still dozens of unexplained shootings.
The trial verdict will not be the final word on the Maidan massacre. But it does lend support to several of Katchanovski’s claims: there were snipers in the Hotel Ukraina and other Maidan-controlled buildings; many of the protestors could not have been shot by the Berkut officers; and there is no evidence that Russian snipers were involved.