I don’t know if it’s anything to do with Russian agents of influence or an informational fifth column, but after reading Reuters and Der Spiegel, Ukrainian's black and white perception of the things that happened in their country may be influenced by some vague and ambiguous views. And doubts are a terrible thing.
An article published in October 2014 entitled “Special Report: Flaws found in Ukraine's probe of Maidan massacre” by Steve Stecklow, a senior correspondent for Thomson Reuters, is about the criminal case against a commander of the Berkut [Ukraine’s ministry of interior task force] unit Dmytro Sadovnik, a suspect in the murder of 39 activists. In his publication, Mr. Stecklow writes about biased, “politically influenced” investigation, and weak evidence – or a lack thereof. In short, the article tells of the hard fate of law enforcement officers who fell under the iron fist of Ukrainian justice.
But the facts noted in the article are very selective, while others are ignored completely. For example, the journalist noted a picture appearing in the case that depicts Sadovnik at Independence Square [the Maidan] on February 20, where he is holding a gun with both hands. But Sadovnik actually only has one hand, says the investigative journalist – hence, as per the conclusion voiced by the suspect’s lawyer, all the charges are nothing but a political game.
Curiously, a publicly accessible video (also attached to the case), which recorded Sadovnik aiming and shooting with his left hand while resting his Kalashnikov assault rifle on his right, prosthetic hand, is not mentioned at all.
The publication ends with a quote of a threat made to Sadovnik’s wife, “Hey you, [obscene language], Berkut,” it says, “A terrifying death awaits you and your family. Glory to Ukraine!”
The next article that attracted my attention was an extensive research publication called Red Square (Der rote Platz) published in Der Spiegel. The article is about the events of the Euromaidan and is written by a group of journalists - Moritz Gathmann, Christian Neef, and others. In the nine-page text there is an attempt to reconstruct the 96 hour standoff on February, 18 and February, 21, 2014.
The journalists see their task as searching for answers to the questions: “Is it only the troops of President Yanukovych who opened fire at the Maidan? Were the Europeans voluntary instigators of a “coup d'etat”, as Moscow puts it? Was there a threat to the life of President [Viktor] Yanukovych?” After having carefully read the article, one could get the impression the first question concerned the authors much more than others.
The article is based on the results of the journalists’ interviews with three dozen participants in the events. Among the interviewees was the former head of the Interior Ministry, who certainly impressed the reporters: “Zakharchenko hosts a four-hour meeting at a Moscow restaurant, specially closed for this occasion, accompanied by half-a-dozen aides and guards.”
The article describes the events in chronological order, alternately changing locations –Independence Square, the Ministry of the Interior, Institutskaya Street, the Building of the Trade Unions, the Conservatory, the Presidential Administration, and the German Embassy.
The scenes, names and facts, mostly well-known, are described, but in a styel specific to the author. Andriy Parubiy – “the commander of the Maidan, a man in his 40s, balding, a nationalist”; Parasyuk - “an impatient young man with an incomplete education, a nationalist, though not a member of the notorious “Right Sector”; and Yatsenyuk – “a veteran politician.”
As for law enforcement officers, apart from the ex-Minister of the Interior, Timur Tsoi, a colonel of the Tiger special forces unit, is featured in the story. He was branded “Zaharchenko’s man at the Maidan.” He's one of the witnesses who testified that weapons were used by the protesters. According to Tsoi, on February, 18, he lost two of his men - one shot in the neck, between his helmet and body armor, by “a 16-mm cartridge suitable for a hunting rifle. Such firearms were used by a lot of fighters on the Maidan.”
The issue of armed “Maidan fighters” is further elaborated on by Zakharchenko, who says that the radical demonstrators kept an arsenal of firearms in the “seized Trade Unions Building.”
Describing the intertwined events, the journalists from Der Spiegel reach the morning of February, 20 on the Maidan, where “unnoticed by the demonstrators, the shooting at police officers from the Conservatory begins.” A commander of the Dnipropetrovsk unit of the Berkut, Andriy Tkachenko, calls the opposition MP Andriy Shevchenko, furiously warning that if the shooting at police doesn’t stop, they [the Berkut] will bring in their snipers. Photographer Yevgeny Maloletka takes pictures in the Conservatory, where one can see a man in a gas mask with a hunting rifle, while the other picture depicts a man with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
The next location is “Independence Square and Institutskaya Street, at around 0900. The commanders of the Berkut decide to withdraw their troops away from the square. Hundreds of activists chase them, and besides sticks, there are firearms in their hands.”
Thus, the figure of an “activist with a gun” prevails through the entire narrative. There is no way for the reader to suspect there is something wrong with this picture.
As a consequence, the German journalists make a logical conclusion, “the course of events of these days (February, 18-20 – author’s note) indicates that the bloodshed was the result of a shootout between the law enforcement officers and the protesters.” Nothing more, nothing less. So, it appears that it’s not cold-blooded murder, not a pre-planned special operation, not a deliberate crime, but just a shootout, and it’s not clear who started it anyway.
In Der Spiegel, as in the article by Steve Stecklow, there is a mixture of accents when it is not clear who the executioner is and who is the victim. As a result, there is “whitewashing” of those who opened fire and gave the orders, and there is anindirect accusation that the Maidan activists provoked an armed conflict.
But this is not all. This is followed by conclusions of a more global nature. If the Maidan is in some way to blame for the bloodshed in Kyiv, the new Ukrainian government is responsible for destabilizing the situation in the whole Europe, “Due to the victory of the protesters on the Maidan, war has returned to Europe.” In this case, can Ukraine count on Germany, France and other countries as reliable allies if public opinion favors those who believe that the Maidan brought war to Europe, and not freedom to Ukraine?
Probably researchers of Euromaidan history will be interested to hear about Zakharchenko’s final version of his last conversation with Yanukovych, which he told the German journalists from Der Spiegel”
On the morning of February, 21. “Interior Minister Zakharchenko calls the President twice. He says that on the Maidan there are about ten thousand people, and the opposition plans to attack a government building.
“What do you think about this?” asks Yanukovych. Zakharchenko says, “If they really attack, we can shoot with live ammunition in compliance with the law.” He adds, “However, during these days you haven’t given orders to shoot, so now it doesn’t make sense at all. It will not solve the crisis.”
“Give me 40 minutes,” Yanukovych answers. He hesitates and slips out as he has been doing quite often lately. “And ... and” is his survival strategy.
Zakharchenko calls Yanukovych again. The president asks him once more, “And what do you think is necessary?” The Interior Minister replies, “If we are going to shoot, then a lot of blood will be shed. I suggest to order the withdrawal of our troops from the city.”
Yanukovych says, “I agree. There is no alternative.”
Zakharchenko says goodbye with the words, “See you in Donetsk.”
Andriy DeMartino, is Head of Media and Public Relations Department of the General Prosecutor's Office.