In the wake of Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan revolution, the country’s General Prosecutor’s Office undertook a major investigation into the violence. This expanded into 89 criminal cases – covering murders of protesters and police officers, the violent dispersal of demonstrators by riot police, accusations against former president Viktor Yanukovych and the passing of so-called “dictatorship laws” in January 2014.
For example, in Kyiv, a week doesn’t go by without court hearings into the shooting of protesters on the city’s central Instytutska Street on 20 February 2014.
In the courtroom, relatives of the victims sit on the right, while those of the accused on the left. The defendants in this particular case are 26 ex-members of the Berkut riot police unit (the unit was dissolved after 2014). Twenty one of them escaped to Russia and received Russian citizenship - only five people are in the dock. They are accused of killing 48 people and wounding 80 during events on Instytutska Street.
For almost four years, these five men - Serhiy Zinchenko, Pavlo Abroskin, Serhiy Tamtura, Oleksandr Marinchenko and Oleh Yanishevsky - have sat in the same order at every court session. But in the summer of 2019, Judge Serhiy Dyachuk changed the measure of restraint for one of the accused men, Serhiy Tamtura, to nightly house arrest. Now when he attends the sessions, he sits beside the defence lawyers, while his former colleagues are enclosed in a glass cage.
Oleh Yanishevsky, the ex-deputy commander of the unit (commander Dmytro Sadovnik fled Ukraine in 2014), makes a statement at every hearing, including addressing the judge. Yanishevsky follows politics. But he is the only defendant to speak – the rest remain silent and take notes on their large note-pads. The Instytutska Street shooting case is now examining defence witnesses, most recently former and current MPs Serhiy Pashinsky and Andriy Parubiy.
But investigations into other crimes during the Maidan revolution have been stopped. According to the law governing the State Bureau of Investigations (a special agency which investigates cases against state officials and law enforcement), on 20 November this year all of these cases were transferred from the Prosecutor’s Office to the State Bureau of Investigations. Roman Truba, the Bureau’s director, has set up a special internal department to head these investigations, but is still yet to appoint investigators - who are supposed to be chosen via a recruitment process.
Lawyer Evgeniya Zakrevska, who represents many families of people beaten and killed during Maidan, does not agree with this decision, and on 21 November started a hunger strike in protest. Zakrevska wants the investigators working for the Prosecutor’s Office continue their work.
Other Ukrainian lawyers support Zakrevska’s position. In particular, they have proposed a special amendment to the legislation governing the State Bureau of Investigations. This change would allow the investigators who have spent six years working on these cases to continue their efforts. Otherwise, new officials will be appointed – people unacquainted with the case who will need to spend several months, and in some cases years, struggling through the 5,000 case volumes.
The Ukrainian Parliament could have solved the matter on 15 November, but MPs rejected the proposed amendment. In response, Evgeniya Zakrevska proposed that MPs hold an extraordinary parliamentary session. Parliamentary speaker Dmytro Razumkov, however, argued that there could be no such session, as much of MPs will be busy with their committee and constituency work.
Razumkov then announced that the amendment would be put to the vote on 3 December. Zakrevska is against this idea, believing that the General Prosecutor’s Office has already started pressuring the investigators. She also believes that the case files, which have now been transferred to the State Bureau of Investigations, could be used against the Maidan victims themselves.
At the price of her health, Zakrevska is calling on MPs to take a position on the Maidan investigations. Her amendment could be passed by a single political party, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People, which has a parliamentary majority. During the vote on 25 November and later, not a single MP from former President Petro Poroshenko’s party expressed their support. And Poroshenko himself, who became president in the aftermath of the 2014 revolution, has also failed to express his support for the Maidan investigations.