The Times West Virginian

April 4, 2014

Ukraine: Yanukovych ordered snipers to shoot

By Maria Danilova
Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s interim authorities on Thursday accused fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych of ordering snipers to open fire on protesters and getting help from Russian security agents to battle his own people, but they provided no evidence directly linking him to the bloodbath in Kiev that left more than 100 people dead.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov also accused his predecessor, who was in charge of police, of recruiting gangs of killers, kidnappers and thugs to terrorize and undermine the opposition during the monthslong protests.

The inquiry revealed by Kiev’s new leadership examined the months of anti-government protests that culminated in the bloodshed that peaked on Feb. 20, just days before Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Avakov said police snipers shot at demonstrators near Kiev’s Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, as they walked toward the government district. He said 17 people were killed by snipers positioned at the October Palace cultural center and that one sniper alone killed as many as eight people.

Security officials then moved to cover up and destroy evidence “to ensure that any investigations would be impossible,” Avakov said. “Clothes were burned, weapons discarded and documents destroyed.”  

Ukrainian Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko charged that Yanukovych himself ordered the killings.

“What was planned under the guise of an anti-terrorist operation, and which was in fact an operation of mass killing of people, took place under the immediate and direct leadership of former president Yanukovych,” Nalyvaichenko said. He did not elaborate on where he got his information.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Yanukovych firmly denied that he gave  orders to shoot demonstrators, saying that members of his inner circle even criticized him for his reluctance to use force during the monthslong protests.

Nalyvaichenko also said there was evidence that Russia’s FSB security service, the successor agency to the KGB, assisted in attempts to suppress the anti-government protests. He said FSB members were deployed at a Ukrainian security facility — 26 in December and six in January — and that they took part in planning and implementing anti-protest measures. He said the Russians even interrogated the Ukrainian security chief.

Nalyvaichenko contended that in late January, when peaceful protests turned into bloody street clashes with police, Russia sent planes to Kiev carrying explosives, arms and crowd control devices “to organize executions and the extermination of our protesters on the Maidan.”

Russia’s FSB swiftly dismissed the claims, telling the state news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday that the allegations should “rest on the conscience of the Ukrainian Security Service.”

Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitsky said 12 members of an elite riot police unit called “Black Squadron” have already been detained on suspicion of shooting protesters.

The identity of the snipers believed to be responsible for most of the deaths is the subject of bitter disagreement.

Opponents of Ukraine’s new leadership deny that only police were to blame, contending some snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up outrage.

The new health minister, Oleh Musiy, who previously served as the protesters’ top medic, has said he treated both protesters and riot police with similar types of sniper wounds.

On Thursday, officials skirted a question on whether snipers also shot at police. Avakov said establishing who was responsible for the deaths of law enforcement officers would be part of the broad investigation that is still ongoing.

Avakov also detailed what he described as overwhelming evidence linking former Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko, who was in charge of police during the protests, to a person coordinating hired thugs who beat and intimidated opposition activists.