3 Years On: No Justice
Three years after the EuroMaidan Revolution prompted President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia, Ukraine’s leaders have not punished the killers of 100 demonstrators. Nor have they made progress in prosecuting Yanukovych-era crimes or recovering billions of stolen dollars.
Volodymyr Holodnyuk has spent the last three years hoping to find out who killed his 19-year-old son at the height of the EuroMaidan Revolution that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from office three years ago.
All he knows is that it was a 7.62-millimeter bullet that took the life of Ustym Holodnyuk, one of the 48 protesters killed on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv on Feb. 20, 2014.
Three years later, only one person – Azeri-born Aziz Razim Tagirov – is behind bars for crimes against EuroMaidan protesters. He was given a four-year sentence last year for assaulting demonstrators.
The rest of the 35 people convicted for EuroMaidan crimes so far have been given fines or suspended sentences. Another 185 suspects are still facing trial, but most of these cases have seen little progress.
Meanwhile, cases against the suspected organizers of the EuroMaidan murders have not even been sent to court.
These include Yanukovych, ex-Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, Yanukovych’s chief of staff Andriy Klyuyev, ex-Security Service head Oleksandr Yakymenko, ex-Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and Stanislav Shulyak, former head of Interior Ministry troops.
The multibillion-dollar corruption of Yanukovych’s regime also remains unpunished. Only one Yanukovychera top official, ex-Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, faces a trial on graft charges and no assets allegedly stolen by Yanukovych allies have been recovered.
Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has admitted that the cases had been sabotaged under previous prosecutors general -- Ukraine has had four of them since the revolution -- but argued that he was speeding them up.
Seeing the impotence of the coun- try’s law enforcement system, the families of slain activists have started taking matters into their own hands.
“I don’t even need to know who exactly pulled the trigger… I want justice… all of them should be held to account,” Holodnyuk says. He spends most of his time searching for new evidence and communicating with prosecutors and pro-bono lawyers.
One of the lawyers for slain protesters, Vitaliy Tytych, believes EuroMaidan murder cases have little to no chances to be solved in Ukraine.
“Only some low-level suspects might be punished,” he said.
The lack of progress has been attributed to both law enforcers’ incompetence and intentional sabotage.
Many of the judges who persecuted EuroMaidan activists are now hearing cases against other judges and police officers who cracked down on the protesters. These judges are unlikely to convict the suspects because that would be tantamount to self-incrimination, Roman Maselko, a lawyer for the AutoMaidan protest group, told the Kyiv Post.
There are no jury trials in Ukraine, even though the constitution allows for empaneled citizens to decide guilt or innocence.
Moreover, hearings in EuroMaidan cases are constantly delayed and blocked by courts.
Another problem is that “the Interior Ministry is protecting its employees suspected of assaulting protesters and abuse of power and refuse to fire or suspend them,” Yevhenia Zakrevska, a lawyer for the murdered demonstrators, told the Kyiv Post.
Sending cases against former top officials and riot police officers who are hiding in Russia to court would lead to their collapse because the current law on trials in absentia is at odds with international law, including the ban on selective justice, Sergii Gorbatuk, head of the department for trials in absentia at the prosecutor’s office, and the lawyers of the slain protesters have argued.
Legislation has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada to improve the current law on trials in absentia but this legislation does not remove pro- visions that contradict international law, Gorbatuk and Tytych told the Kyiv Post.
Tytych said authorities ignored proposals by protesters’ lawyers on how to change the law. “They’ve just deceived us,” he added.
Gorbatuk said, however, that Lutsenko had asked him to voice his proposals on the bill several days
ago, even though he had already made his proposals last year, and they had been ignored.
The key suspect, Yanukovych, has been charged with organizing the murder of protesters, stealing Hr 220 million ($8.8 million) and treason.
In November, Yanukovych testified to a Ukrainian court for the first time via a video link from Russia. He appeared as a witness, though Tytych says this contradicts the law because he is also the suspected organizer.
Yanukovych spent four hours answering the questions, but giving no specifics on the events of the winter of 2013-2014. He said he didn’t give orders to law enforcers to use firearms against protesters.
Ukrainian lawyer Markiyan Halabala believes that questioning Yanukovych won’t shed much light on the investigation. Halabala says there’s a chance to send the cases against some organizers to trial, but only those where there’s testimony of lower-level co-organizers.
Chief Military Prosecutor Anatoly Matios said on Feb. 20 that the treason case against Yanukovych would be sent to court on March 14. It includes a photocopy of the statement in which Yanukovych urges Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine dated March 1, 2014.
Tytych dismissed the case as a public relations stunt, saying that it had little chances of success due to the legal problems of the law on trials in absentia.
Five Berkut riot police officers are currently on trial on charges of gunning down protesters on Feb. 20, 2014. It is seen as the most successful case just because court hearings are regular and more than 100 injured protesters have testified already. However, the lawyers warn that there won’t be any verdicts in 2017 because the court still has to question about 1,000 witnesses and that the trial may drag on for years.
As many as 14 of the 23 wanted former Berkut officers suspected of the killings have now received Russian citizenship while Berkut riot police commander Dmytro Sadovnyk fled the country after Pechersk Court Judge Svitlana Volkova released him on bail in 2014.
Tytych and Zakrevska suspect that Sadovnyk could only have been released with the approval of top Ukrainian officials because his testimony could have compromised them. Fingers have been pointed at President Petro Poroshenko and his loyalist, then Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema, who deny the accusations.
The case against Volkova, who is accused of making an unlawful ruling, has seen no progress whatsoever, Gorbatuk said.
Another investigation rumbles on regarding the events of the morning of Feb. 18, 2014, when the police cracked down on protesters near the Verkhovna Rada building and on Instytutska Street. However, courts have released six of the riot police officers from detention facilities, with one of them roaming free and five placed under full or partial house arrest. This could make it much easier for them to flee.
The other cases have been less fortunate.
There’s no progress in investigation of the killings of Armenian native Sergiy Nigoyan, Belarussian Mykhailo Zhyznevsky and Ukrainian Roman Senyk on Jan. 22, 2014. The prosecutors said the shots had been fired from a distance of up to three meters and the shooters are yet to be identified. Not a single notice of suspicion has been filed yet in the cases.
Moreover, 82 traffic police officers are on trial for persecuting AutoMaidan car-based protesters. However, potential sentences against many of them are likely to be canceled because the deadlines for the cases expired in December, Maselko argued.
Nor do prosecutors have much of a desire to pursue cases against judges involved in the persecution of protesters, Maselko said.
Only 11 judges are on trial for such crimes, and one of them, Vladyslav Lysenko, has been acquitted. “They botched the investigation (against Lysenko). They sent it to trial knowing that it would collapse,” Maselko argued.
A major obstacle is that are just four investigators working on the cases against judges, investigators and prosecutors accused of persecuting EuroMaidan activists, Gorbatuk said.
Out of the about 300 judges allegedly involved in the persecution of protesters, only 33 have been fired so far under the lustration law.
The High Council of Justice argues that it had no legal framework to fire the rest of the 300 judges until early January but Maselko says the council has been dragging its feet and blocking the dismissals. Deadlines for the firings are already expiring, though Maselko said some of them would come in March to May.
Lutsenko, the nation’s top prosecutor, said last year that some of the EuroMaidan cases could be sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But lawyers say the ICC is unlikely to accept the cases. One problem is Ukraine’s failure to sign the Rome Statute, the court’s founding document.
Meanwhile, in 2015 the ICC opened a preliminary investigation in Ukraine’s case but said the murders of EuroMaidan protesters did not qualify as crimes against humanity, which are investigated by the court.
A mother of killed EuroMaidan protester testifies in Svyatoshyno District Court during the hearing of the case of former Berkut riot police officers in Kyiv on Sept. 27. (Volodymyr Petrov)
Rays of light reach for the heavens near Maidan Nezalezhnosti on Feb. 20 in honor of 100 protesters killed during the EuroMaidan Revolution from Nov. 21, 2013 to Feb. 22, 2014, when President Viktor Yanukovych fled power and sought asylum from his...
People commemorate slain protesters killed three years ago on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in central Kyiv on Feb. 20. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
Medics help a wounded activist in Kyiv’s Zhovtnevy Palace on Feb. 20, 2014. (Anastasia Vlasova)
Azerbaijan native Aziz Razim Tagirov is the only one to receive a sentence for EuroMaidan crimes. He’s serving a four-year sentence. (5th TV Channel screenshot)