A Maidan shooter with an un-marksmanlike stance 20 Feb
Friday marks the first anniversary of the Nebesna Sotnya—the Heavenly Hundred murdered on Maidan and nearby Institutska (though the term includes those murdered previously, mainly on 18 February on Institutska and during the assault o nthe burning barricades. But there continues to be uncertainty about who did the shooting, though in reality it is clearly the regime that was behind it. The deliberate clouding of the events began almost immediately after the mass murder when Russian disinformation outlet RT began putting out its ‘versions’ of what happened according to their ‘experts’. This continues and has picked up intensity as the anniversary approached.
Regime sniper 20 Feb
In a bizarre twist that gets unfortunately too much credit on the Internet, former SBU State Security of Ukraine chief Oleksandr Yakymenko (a regular for some time in early 2014 on Russia’s RT) blamed Ukraine’s interim post-Maidan government for the shootings from 18-20 February, claiming it hired snipers. As the regime was killing its people on the 20th, the Presidential Administration said the protesters were ‘…working in organised groups. They are using firearms, including sniper rifles. They are shooting to kill.’ The truth was precisely the opposite.
As the first anniversary of the shootings approached, the Russian disinformation apparatus went again into full speed to try to show that it was anybody but the regime that was responsible. They got some probably unwitting help from BBC, of all things, with a story filed on 12 February 2015 by one of their reporters who sometimes covers Ukraine, but mostly deals with North Africa. He got the ‘untold story’ from an unnamed person who somebody put in contact with him, who said he was a sniper in the service of Maidan on the 20th. This source claimed he had been recruited by somebody on Maidan he did not know weeks earlier, and a day before the shootings had been given the bizarre choice of using either a shotgun or a Saiga. He chose the latter, though it is not clear which Saiga model, since there are many ranging from shotguns to hunting versions of the Kalashnikov. Bizarre choice though, since he allegedly was given a spot on the roof of the Conservatory along with another unknown sniper and was either told or allowed to shoot at Berkut on top of the semi-circular roof of the Globus shopping mall below the Ukrainia Hotel, and at Berkut on the hill by the October Palace (which since the 18th housed police). These are long shots of 150 metres or so, though not super long range, but certainly not something that could have been accomplished with a shotgun, so that supposed choice of weapon was rather odd.
BBC item on mystery shooter
He claimed he started shooting at about 7 AM, but only shot at their feet since he did not want to kill anyone. But the ‘confirmation’ to the story was supplied by then opposition Rada Member Andriy Shevchenko, part of the Maidan movement, who said he received a phone call from the head of Berkut on Maidan, who told him that somebody was shooting at his guys from the Conservatory. Shevchenko had Maidan ‘Commandant’ Andriy Parubiy check it out, which he did supposedly with some of his men, who he claims found nothing. Shevchenko said he got more panicked phone calls from the Berkut chief who said that he had three or five wounded and one dead and that he was ‘pulling out’, advising that ‘I do not know what will be next’. The other ‘confirmation’ came from Ukrainian photographer Evgeniy Maloletka who had taken two photos in the Conservatory of one guy on one of the lower pillars aiming toward the October Palace direction with a simple rifle that looked like either a scopeless small caliber hunting gun or, as had often been seen since a month earlier, a pellet gun. His firing stance, like other pictures taken on Maidan on the 20th showing protesters with simple hunting rifles, indicated he was certainly not a professional marksman. Another seen inside the building seemed to have a very small bore broken-down shotgun in his hands. The phantom shooter, in any case, after having been allowed to ‘work’ for 20 minutes or so, was allegedly then stopped by some unidentified men (more of these), told he was finished, and then had his weapon taken away and was driven somewhere outside of Kyiv and unceremoniously dropped off in order to try to find his way back home. So he was allegedly recruited, armed (with something), set up (though apparently not instructed to shoot at anything in particular), stopped, and driven to nowhere by some different bunches of anonymous people. The BBC piece then indicated correctly that the regime began firing in earnest later, but sowed the seeds of doubt as to who might have started the whole thing. Naturally, Russian disinformation outlet RT picked up this story and ran with it before the day was out to ‘prove’ their assertion from nearly a year earlier that Maidan shot itself.
Disinformation academic article on Maidan shooting itself
As the anniversary approached, countless leftist and rightist and generally pro-Russian blogs began re-publishing bits from an academic paper published back in October 2014 by Professor Ivan Katchanovski from the University of Ottawa in Canada. Now, he hails originally from Ukraine, but like people such as Yanukovych and Zakharchenko, can hardly be considered a real Ukrainian given his obvious loyalties. And those loyalties were quite clear in his paper The “Snipers’ Massacre” on the Maidan in Ukraine. Though some of his information is factual, he twists a lot of it to fit his theory that it was Maidan snipers who were firing from the top of the Hotel Ukraina, working in the fact that as of about 0900 on the 20th, the hotel was in the hands of Maidan and that only those with a key were allowed in. Obviously, in his world, this meant Maidan had full control of it and had nothing better to do than use all its security manpower to immediately sweep all 373 rooms of this vast towering hotel just in case snipers would be shooting from it (which had not yet started in any case, so was initally not an issue). The key assertion is also ridiculous, since once shooting began, the lobby—which was really the only part under actual Maidan control—quickly became a busy place turned into a morgue and medical centre. The hotel was also home to countless journalists, including a number from Russia’s disinformation outlet RT and its Ruptly video service.
Indeed, one of the great propaganda pieces was done there by RT, which filmed some alleged Maidan self-defence toughs in one room (masked of course), with one in an old Soviet army helmet (as used by some on Maidan) holding a fairly small-calibre rifle of some sort without scope, who casually walked to the window and fired off a shot from a standing position. Given that those shot and killed on the actual square were mostly hit with shots to the head, neck, or heart from skilled marksmen, the random standing small-calibre shot was clearly a made-for-TV propaganda item as usual. Not to mention, why would it be that some Praviy Sektor or other Ukrainian nationalist fighters shooting people would allow a Russian state TV crew to film them doing so. This was fake, but as usual, far too many are willing to believe the RT fantasy. In all likelihood it was simply staged using some of RT’s own people on the scene or some fellow travellers. The other one they believe is the stories in general, and from his hotel room on the 20th, of RT correspondent Aleksey Yaroshevsky. He did a dramatic report in front of his Maidan-facing upper floor room windows, showing where a shot from Maidan had just earlier allegedly hit one of the windows, though he stood at the open window for some time doing the report, seemingly oblivious to the mortal threat. Amazingly a number of more respectable news outlets often referred to him as a native Ukrainian doing a normal reporter’s job, without mentioning he represented one of Putin’s main disinformation mechanisms. However, it has to be noted that some footage Ruptly shot from the upper floors clearly showing Berkut firing automatic weapons at unarmed protesters was of value in showing who indeed was responsible for the massacre.
Professor Katchanovski takes extreme liberties with the truth, such as claiming the Maidan protesters shot on Institutska were not hit from Berkut positions up the street, but shot from the hotel roof—obviously by some kind of Maidan snipers. This, however, is not borne out by clear video evidence which shows them being hit from the Berkut barricades, and his photographic evidence in fact showing a tree full of bullet holes and his claims that this was indicative of (Maidan) shooting from the direction of October Palace is blatantly false. I know this tree quite well in fact, having documented the spray of 5.45mm AK-74 fire in it when I was on Maidan again in May 2014, and it was clearly a shot group originating up the hill by the Berkut barricade, as were all of the many bullet holes I documented there. Yet his ‘academic’ study has gained a lot of proponents who keep proliferating it.
10 Apr 2014 German ARD Monitor conspiratorial programme on shootings
But the ‘truther’ collection has been growing almost from right after the battle, with a 10 April 2014 report form the German ARD TV Monitor programme trying to show much the same—that the people on Institutska were shot from Maidan snipers on the upper floors of the hotel—that is, from the rear. Their sole evidence is a supposed eyewitness, some slow-motion video of shooting victims (they could apparently not get over the fact that they had incredibly been shot through the metal shields they were holding, not realising that the thin former police shields used would not stop anything but the smallest pistol bullets), and some supposedly intercepted Berkut communications indicating the police snipers were surprised by the presence of other snipers on certain rooftops. This latter point was also used by Katchanovski, though if the communications are in fact true, they just show that there were indeed various groups of snipers at work, including probably some with the express goal of inflicting losses on both sides, and from various agencies (it is known that Alfa, Omega, and Berkut employed snipers, and possibly some Russian FSB imports who may have been added to the mix). Plus in such a situation, chaos is a major element. One last point is that Monitor has for decades been an unabashedly extreme left-wing German programme noted for trying to spread dirt on the US, NATO, the German government, and anybody except Russia (or the Soviet Union back in the day). Hardly serious in anything it has done, and I have watched its weekly fabrications for many decades.
And let’s not forget the intercepted phonecall from Estonian Foreign Minister Paet and the EU’s Catherine Ashton on 26 February which RT and Russian channels widely used. The conversation took place on 26 February after Paet returned to Estonia from a trip to Kyiv. Paet, for whom English is very obviously a second language, was talking with Ashton, telling her what a doctor named Olga told him in a Kyiv hospital. He said she told him that the demonstrators shot their own people as well as some police, and said the wounds were all from the same caliber weapons and bullets, and that the new government did not want to investigate the sniping because they knew they were behind it.
However, the version that RT put out, which has been rebroadcast and amplified all over the anti-Western blogosphere already as though it is the truth, was, as usual, taken totally out of context. They only ran a portion of the conversation, where he was in the middle of saying what this Olga had told him, and was isolated enough as to make it sound like these were his own thoughts. This has been rejected by the Estonian Foreign Ministry, which while admitting the conversation was real, notes that this was just what he had been told by this person. The Ministry also voiced its disgust that its Minister’s conversations had not only been intercepted, but made public. RT, for its part, said the call was intercepted by some Ukrainian SBU security service officers loyal to Yanukovych and uploaded, though this is another lie, as the conversation did not take place in Kyiv, but after Paet had returned to Tallinn. It almost certainly was the work of the Russian FSB.
It turns out that the Olga here was a doctor treating many of the wounded in the hotel—one Olga Bogomolets—who said she had not told Paet that policemen and protesters had been killed in the same manner, since she had no access to the police. ‘I was a doctor helping to save people on the square. There were 15 people killed on the first day by snipers. They were shot directly to the heart, brain and arteries. There were more than 40 the next day, 12 of them died in my arms. Our nation has to ask the question who were the killers, who asked them to come to Ukraine.’ Paet’s assertion that an opposition figure was behind the Maidan massacre was not one she agreed with by any means, and in any case, his remarks were taken out of context by the FSB recorders and RT, as usual
In sum, the reports of Maidan sniping itself to give a reason for overthrowing the government in a ‘coup’ is nonsense first promulgated by and constantly reinforced by RT, one of Moscow’s top disinformation channels. While there certainly were a few armed people on Maidan on the 20th, which was in response to the shootings the regime had inflicted on the 18th, all evidence to date shows a few people with pistols and some small-calibre hunting rifles (usually without scopes), and none seen firing could be remotely described as having been a trained marksman. Surely some of these did inflict some wounds on the police and probably a few fatalities, but there is no evidence of Maidan having had special trained snipers at work shooting either Berkut or the protesters themselves. None whatsoever.
Regime troop with SVD sniper rifle on Institutska 20 Feb
But early on the morning of the 20th of February, regime snipers did began firing on Maidan from at least three elevated positions. The main site was the upper floors of the towering Soviet-construct Hotel Ukraina overlooking the square, but in the direction of Maidan (not up Institutska). Another site was on the west, from positions atop the westernmost wing of the building attached to the burned-out Trade Unions building, and a third was from the roof of the building at the extreme westernmost apex of Maidan, housing a hostel among other things. From these elevated sites, snipers could cover virtually all of Maidan. They began to methodically pick off individuals, usually hitting them with head or heart shots. The main medical clinic to deal with the wounded and to sometimes collect the dead was ironically (given the snipers in the upper floors of that building) in the lobby area of the Hotel Ukraina, which was staffed by volunteer medical and other personnel who were genuinely taking care of war casualties. The regime had succeeded in spreading real fear throughout the square, since nobody could know who might be the next victim, or from which direction the deadly shots might come. Still spirits remained high, anger increased, and numbers continued to swell.
My Russian journalist friend who I again met up with on Maidan in May gave an emotional account then of his day in hell there on the 20th of February, pointing out where the snipers were firing from, and noting that there was really only one place on Maidan where you would have cover from all three directions—that being the front of the central post office with its heavy stone colonnades. He and many others spent a lot of time there that day listening to the shots and watching select people die, noting he has never felt fear and helplessness like that in his life.
On the ground though, Maidaners marched on police with shields and Molotov cocktails, and forced them to retreat up Institutska, though Ruptly and other videos clearly show Berkut in front of the October Palace firing with AK-74s directly at clearly unarmed protesters. In the evening, Radio Free Europe published videos of police shooting protesters with Kalashnikovs and sniper rifles, adding to the mountain of fast-moving evidence on social media that this was indeed the case.
My photo of planter at Institutska metro station
Dead and wounded at planter on Institutska
Yet some of the bloodiest battles would take place once again just up the hill on Institutska, as Maidan managed to push the police back and regain the ground lost on the 18th. This appears to have been done deliberately to entice the demonstrators into a killing zone, and happened up the street before the junction with Bankova, where over the previous day the regime forces had brought in some heavy concrete barriers to construct a massive barricade. The government forces were set up initially just west of the intersection of Institutska and Bankova, the scene of the violent 1 December clashes. From these barricades, Berkut and other unidentified uniformed forces were firing at targets down the hill on that street, in the direction of the Khreshchtyk metro station and Hotel Ukraina.
Multiple outlets reported that police were armed with AK-74 assault rifles, and published photographs of that objective fact. Former Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Hennadiy Moskal speculated that the troops wielding AK-74′s could be Alfa Group units. Berkut veteran organization head Vladimir Krashevsky said that the armed police in black with yellow armbands were a unit of Berkut, and had been deployed to help evacuate the interior troops.
The truth was very different, as shown by the videos of the day, especially those taken over more than a half hour behind the regime lines by Ukraina TV. These showed groups of Berkut and other uniformed personnel repeatedly moving up to the heavy cement barricades and carefully taking aim with AK-74s, sometimes with the assistance of another person pointing out targets to the other, and firing off several aimed shots. Unlike the panicked tone the Berkut commander had reportedly told opposition Rada member Shevchenko an hour or so earlier, where he said his men were under fire and they were having to retreat, the police in this video were all rather cool and collected, even to the point of joking around, and seemed to have only one thing on their mind as they took turns moving around the corder to the massive barricade—killing and maiming protesters coming up the hill.
Video from Regime side of Institutska shooting
Other personnel moved up to firing positions carrying SVD and the new TS-308 M .308 calibre sniper rifle, which is a copy of the Swiss B&T APR rifle produced by Ukrainian company Tactical Systems and has thus far been provided only to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry per the manufacturer—specifically for security at the UEFA-2012 football event. These were seen being carried by troops wearing unique woodland camouflage, though accompanied by police in riot gear carrying AK-74s and bearing the Militsiya (Police) logo. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. Berkut had been the main riot control and assault force to date, and they were well represented there with AKs. Normal police (Militsiya) do not typically have a special weapons mandate and mission, though some are seen here with AK-74s, SVD sniper rifles, and this new TS-308 M sniper rifle. There is also the fact that the reporter tried to engage a couple of times in conversation with the Berkut and police, though was usually pushed aside with few comments except that the other side was shooting at them with ‘bullets’. During these ‘interviews’ and during the overheard conversations of the troops there, the thing that was noticeable is that all were speaking in Russian, and mostly non-accented, though some could have been from the North Caucasus.
Berkut in front of October Palace 20 Feb firing AK-74s
Regime troops and sniper on Bankovoa and Institutska 20 Feb
Also of interest was the way the troops moved forward toward the barricade. They moved tactically, hiding for cover behind the large trees or other obstacles, as if they were being fired upon. This is possible, also in that the TS-308 M sniper from the corner of Bankova seemed to be looking over the barricade toward the Hotel Ukrainia, surveying for possible snipers there. However, this could have been just prudent overwatch, or looking for possible Maidan targets in the windows (the back of the hotel was, per reporters there, hit with quite a few rounds fired from up Institutska), or would have probably been the snipers in the employ of the regime, whose job according to Hennadiy Moskal, a former top SBU official, was to shoot at people from both sides to provide a pretext for heavyhanded police actions. This had been, according to him, part of long-prepared plans to stoke violent clasnes in these situations, and would also go along with some statements from doctors treating the wounded who said the wounds were caused seemingly by weapons of the same calibers (whereas all photos of the few Maidaners with rifles showed them to be .22 caliber or slightly larger, but not 7.62mm or .50 caliber). What is odd though is that while the police and Berkut were seen moving tactically, an apparent police photographer with them with his mobile phone was moving around nonchalantly as though there was no danger at all. Also some people coming up from the direction of Maidan were either walking in the open or moving at a jog pace, apparently not fearing for being shot from behind.
AK-74 burst in Institutska tree
AK-74 rounds and one SVD round in Institutska lamppost
There was also a disturbing image on the video—a PKM 7.62mm belt-fed squad machinegun at the barricade, which is hardly a riot control device. Partway through the video a van pulled up (again oblivious to any potential gunfire from the hotel), and its drivers disgorged a couple of green metal ammo belt magazines for the PKM onto the pavement. The PKM was not seen in this particular video being put into action, though it was obviously there for a reason, and had hundreds of rounds of ammo available. At certain points a police BTR-80 was also seen, and this time with its heavy 14.5mm machinegun (not an antipersonnel or crowd control weapon by any means) mounted in the turret.
Carnage on Institutska
Match this to some of the videos taken a couple hundred metres down the hill by the Khreshchtyk metro station and it all fits nicely, albeit bloodily. This is the main spot where Maidaners were being mowed down in a horrific fashion. Some with shields were hit, since the thin wood or metal was not nearly sufficient to stop bullets. There were numerous head shots in the videos, indicating they were targets of snipers. There were also many AK-74 round impact points visible when I visited there in May. Interestingly, during the hours when I surveyed the signs of carnage there, it was apparent that all the rounds had been fired from up the hill—that is, from the government lines and barricade, and judging form the angles of some, from the roof of a light blue building near the barricade. This included a couple of obvious .50 calibre rounds. It may well be possible that the police lines had been shot at from snipers in the Ukraina Hotel, but this was not evident in the video or in damage to the trees, planters, and lamp posts as viewed a few months later.
TS-308M sniper rifle on corner of Institutska and Bankova 20 Feb
Regime troops on Institutska barricade with AK-74s
The indications that Russian government-provided snipers were at work there are mostly circumstantial, but it seems possible. All the troops in the videos were speaking Russian, with most speaking standard Russian and not eastern Ukrainian accented Russian. Regular police (Militsiya) do not typically have a SWAT role—that is for Berkut and other special units like the SBU’s Alfa, but there were many Militsiya present with AK-74s and various sniper rifles. Perhaps they were Russian FSB operatives put into Militsiya uniforms for camouflage purposes? The jury is still out on their presence. Lastly, as noted and as seen in numerous photos, the Berkut and other troops were all wearing yellow armband ribbons or yellow shoulder squares for identification. But this was hardly a mission to ‘extract’ police under fire—it was a pure major operation against unarmed protesters.
Those murdered on Institutska and further down the hill on Maidan itself stood little chance. Once hit, those trying to come to their aid also often became gunshot victims themselves. Yet the medical crews performed admirably under these horrific conditions. As noted, many wounded and dead were brought into the lobby of the Hotel Ukraina, but from the other side of Maidan the victims were often brought up the hill to St Michaels Monastery and Cathedral, where the cathedral was once again turned into a busy operating theatre and place for some of Maidan’s Heavenly Hundred to depart this life. Central Kyiv was a war zone.
One of the semi-mysteries of the day is the involvement of the Russians in the whole affair. Certainly there had been reports over the previous month of FSB advisers arriving in Kyiv, or planes with riot kit landing to aid the Berkut forces. But in the evening on the 20th at 19:40 a fairly large Russian delegation landed at Boryspil airport outside Kyiv, headed by Vladislav Surkov. He was definitely a very major visitor, having been Putin’s Deputy Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2011, and was considered the ‘architect of the Ukraine scenario’ and was the architect of Putin’s ‘managed democracy’ and has been characterised as the engineer of ‘a system of make-believe’, ‘a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements’. His role in Russian politics was to manage perceptions and sow confusion. He had been officially out of government for a couple of years, but had become the aide responsible for relations with Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, and in mid 2013 had Ukraine added to his portfolio. The timing, when Putin and Yanukovych were preparing to turn their backs on Europe and increase their mutual ties, indicates Putin needed his main political BS frontman to stage-manage what was to come. Surkov is also, importantly, the master of the lie, even beginning with his own name, as he is actually a Chechen whose real name is Aslambek Andarbekovich Dudayev.
Surkov was officially there to attend a conference in Kharkiv on the 22nd which would bring together separatist-minded political and social movement personalities from Crimea and parts of eastern and southernUkraine. He did attend it and had his talks with those leaders of the upcoming ‘popular’ revolutions in thos areas, but he likely had other meetings with top officials in Kyiv, including naturally Yanukovych. Surkov was certainly no stranger to the city, having been there in early February and a couple other times after Maidan had begun. He was accompanied on the flight by some high-powered security people as well, the highest ranking being and FSB General-Colonel (3-star). Just in time to set in motion the next phase—the invasions of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It is not clear whether it is their arrival on the 20th or the mass murder of Maidaners that was the reason, but the initial operation day on the Russian medal for ‘the return of Crimea’ is listed as 20 February.
Russian medal for return of Crimea, with starting date 20 Feb
The violence of the day on the 20th resulted in about 68 killed that day, mostly from sniper fire, as well as some 184 others shot, 17 of whom died over the following days from their wounds. (This, on top of the couple dozen murdered on the 18th.) Berkut and other police also were killed, though the details of the deaths have never been made clear, and some could have been fictional. Clearly on the 18th several probably died in the failed BTR attack on the barricades which ended in a mass assault by Molotov cocktails. Some may have been shot by Maidan shooters (the few who had hunting rifles), though given the firing stances seen in photos of the day, most of them would have been rather lucky to have hit anything with accuracy.
Regime troops on Institutska with TS-308M sniper rifle and AK-74s