Ukraine Officials Hold 12 Former Riot Police Officers Over Kiev Violence

Ukrainian officials have detained 12 members of the country's now defunct riot police, saying they may have been responsible for the deaths of anti-government protestors during the worst days of violence in Kiev. 

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Ukrainian officials have detained 12 members of the country's now defunct, but much-feared riot police force, Berkut, saying they may have been responsible for the deaths of anti-government protestors during the worst days of violence in Kiev.

According to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, three of the former police officers have already been arrested on suspicion of mass murder. Acting Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitsky added that among those detained was the head of a specialized unit of the Berkut known as the "Black unit," which stands accused of handing out weapons to be used on protestors. "The police officers of this company were trained for special operations including the killing of people. They were overseen by the presidential administration," Makhnitsky said.

The official announcement is a result of an inquiry into reports of snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev from February 18-20, when 76 people were killed in the deadliest demonstrations in the country's 22-year history of independence. More than 100 people were killed in February overall, during protests which ultimately led to former president Viktor Yanukovych's ouster. Avakov issued more details of the inquiry findings during a press release, according to the BBC:

Woman in Kiev, February. REUTERS

Most of the demonstrators were killed on Instytutska street near the main protest camp on Independence Square - widely known as the Maidan. Mr. Avakov gave details of one particular episode where he said the inquiry had established that eight of those killed were hit by bullets from the same machine gun.The minister also showed a number of slides and photos illustrating where the alleged police snipers were firing from. He said that a number of shooters had already been identified.

It seems those held are not the only ones who could be charged with murder over the incident:

The New York Times reports that Yanukovych was involved in planning that instructed the elite force to open fire on demonstrators. Russia, too, has been implicated in the deaths, per the Times:

Valentyn Nalivaichenko, the new head of the Ukrainian Security Service, the country’s successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., also said that Russia had supplied the Ukrainian special services with training, explosives, weapons and equipment during the street protests, which lasted for several months before Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia in February. He did not immediately provide evidence to support the charge.

A special commission will hear the results of the preliminary investigation later today.

While Ukraine's disbanded police unit undergoes scrutiny, Russian troops in Crimea are also receiving a second look, but for their surprisingly professional operation. The New York Times reports:

Past Russian military actions have often showcased an army suffering from a poor state of discipline and supply, its ranks filled mostly with the conscripts who had not managed to buy deferments or otherwise evade military service. Public drunkenness was common, as were tactical indecisiveness and soldiers who often looked as if they could not run a mile, much less swiftly. Not so in Crimea. After a Kremlin campaign to overhaul the military, including improvements in training and equipment and, notably, large increases in pay, the results could be seen in the field. 

The Times also noted that the Russian military "overwhelmed Crimea with minimal violence," which is much more than can be said for Ukraine's old police force.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.