VOICES OF THE REVOLUTION: “We are people too, it’s our job” – Interview with Berkut

“We are people too and we’re just doing our job.”
Interview with riot policemen injured during clashes in Kyiv.

Interviewed by Ilya Azar (Kyiv)
14:34, 28 January 2014
Translated by Vo Lya


Injured and hospitalized MIA special forces Berkut policeman. Photo by Pyotr Shelomovsky / Lenta.ru

Ukrainian special forces are ready to crush Euromaidan on the order of authorities, and this was feared to happen as early as Tuesday morning before the opening of the Verkhovna Rada [the Ukrainian Parliament] session. Berkut [special forces riot police] policemen don’t think protesters are people, but just a paid mob, loafers and hobos, says an injured special forces policeman during our interview at one of the hospitals in Kyiv. Unlike special forces policemen, soldiers of the internal troops, placed as a barrier between Berkut and the opposition, are beginning to stir up. They are being continually persuaded to join people and though they still keep at a neutral distance, at least another draft soldier whom Lenta.ru interviewed at the hospital, won’t be shooting to kill and is ready to join the opposition.

Because of their extreme cruelty during clashes with activists, Berkut special forces of the Ministry of the Interior (MIA) are strongly hated among protesters who took over Kyiv streets. Military soldiers of MIA who stand as a live barrier between Berkut and Maidan protesters have more respect from protesters on the other hand. People continue trying to convince soldiers to join them with no success yet. Our reporter talked with two injured law enforcement officers, a Berkut and a soldier. Both of them say that authorities ordered to use force, but their views on the situation in Kyiv are different.

Semyon (name changed), a soldier of internal military troops, confessed that if a conflict between authorities and the opposition takes a military turn, he will join people and refuse to shoot at them as his friends and former colleagues are among those people. Roman, a Berkut policeman, who also asked not to reveal his last name, says he would rather shoot protesters as he thinks they are just drunks and hobos.

None of them likes Maidan saying its leaders are too soft. But their thoughts about Yanukovych are different. While Berkut ideologically supports the government, internal military soldiers are dreaming of just coming back from the army alive.

Maidan activist Mikhail Havrilyuk, well-know from a shocking video where he is tortured by Berkut naked, shares his thought on the dispersal of protesters as well: “Sometimes, three guys (from Berkut police) just plainly kill a person.”

Roman, a Berkut policeman, lives in Sumy, his left ankle is injured.

Lenta.ru: How were you injured?

Roman: In the morning of January 22 we stood as a block [on Hrushevskoho street]. We held the line behind our shields when they [protesters] attacked. A rock hit my leg so hard, I couldn’t walk. There were no orders [at that time] to storm or start hitting anyone. We just stood there and didn’t bother anybody. As soon as I arrived, I was burnt [he was hit with a Molotov cocktail], but firefighters got to it on time.

Do you justify the cruel actions of your Berkut colleagues?

And do you think it’s OK when policemen is lit on fire?

Or when policeman is shot dead? [it was reported later that the murder is in no way connected to Maidan, – Lenta.ru], and two more were captured and restrained [also not confirmed, – Lenta.ru]. And you call those protesters peaceful? Now, in 2004 [during the Orange revolution] people went on the streets with flags and guys stood in a block as well, but people brought them flowers, not Molotov cocktails. We are people too and we are just doing our job. Everything should be accomplished peacefully. Use your heads, not force.

I don’t support Berkut policemen who ran after people and beat them up. But when their lives are at stake, this is [OK].

Protesters arrests during clashes on Hrushevskoho street. Photo by Alexandr Ratushnyak / AP

Protesters arrests during clashes on Hrushevskoho street. Photo by Alexandr Ratushnyak / AP

It seems Berkut policemen are angry with attacks on Hrushevskoho street and demonstrate inappropriate and uncontrolled behavior as a result.

Have you read that [the nationalist party] Svoboda suggested to pick up knives and kill Berkut policemen, their mothers and children? Is this right? I fear not for myself, but for my family.

They say bullets were found at the Ukrainian House. Obviously, police didn’t leave them. We always take everything with us and this was done on purpose. Most news channels show only one side – Berkut are bad, they have beaten couple people. And how many did they beat?

But people died and none of them was a Berkut.

According to law on police, we have a right to use firearms in dangerous situations. Only rubber bullets were used, and traumatic weapons are not lethal even when fired at point blank. They were using traumatic weapons as well, but theirs were more powerful, with metal pellets.

People say we use live ammunition, but our policemen don’t have assault weapons. Maybe other side was shooting and got one of their own. It’s a complete mess over there, they have no specific goal, it’s absurd.

VIDEO link: http://lenta.ru/articles/2014/01/28/meninuniform/
A farewell to fallen Maidan protesters in Kyiv

Protesters insist that you tie bolts and nuts to tear gas grenades.

No, our grenades are just tear gas, but the other side loads them with bolts. I shared a hospital room with a guy whose legs were severely damaged by a home made grenade, which exploded right under his feet. To make one you need a powerful petard and you tighten screws in. And later they complain about getting hurt by their own grenades that are thrown [randomly] all over.

Why did Berkut beat up women and children and students on Maidan on November 30? [subsequent protests against president Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign EU Association Agreement grew exponentially right after. Lenta.ru]

You can be a student at ages 27 and 47. You say we beat up children? I’m someone’s child too, children are different. Why are the children on Maidan being paid? I can say that those people who oppose Berkut are paid $300 a day.

Where did you get your information about paid activists? Online or from your commanding officers?

We find it online. Our superiors don’t tell us anything as they don’t know anything. We take orders, they tell us what to do and we do it. They don’t tell us what to do, we do nothing.

Some orders can be criminal. Will you follow such orders?

Criminal – of course, not.

For example, aren’t orders to shoot people criminal?

Depends what kind of people. Do I have a right to use firearms when five people were burned alive? Or when I’m wounded and know I’ll be killed if I don’t shoot? Like one of our men was beaten up, poked with prods and now his leg has almost 3 inch long cuts. Luckily, he had his vest on and it protected his liver and kidneys from punctures that were inflicted.

I’m certain that most protesters are unemployed. My parents work and can’t travel here. Why should [they] work, when they can get money for beating up a policeman? So, they [protesters] wish to get into Europe. Have you seen how they disperse protesters with rocks in Europe? If you dare to touch a policeman, you can be shot.

A spokesperson of Kyiv police, who was present at the interview, also added that police have instructions to shoot if approached closer than 16 feet. “But we don’t have guns so that doesn’t happen,” he said.

You throw rocks and Molotov cocktail in return. Is it approved by your command or this is your own idea?

I, personally, didn’t have a chance to throw anything. But if, for example, a Molotov cocktail happens to land at my feet and the bottle doesn’t break. Do I have to wait till it explodes and both my partner and I will be lit on fire? I better throw it aside with my foot or hand. It’s just that the camera catches a policeman, when he throws a cocktail aside.

Everybody says that you use snipers.

Berkut unit has snipers, and they need 10 seconds to get one person. They can shoot 6 people in a minute. And people say that a sniper works all night. So how many people can a sniper get within this time? Not a single sniper shell was found, just one hunting 12 mm bullet.

Your rifles are 12 mm.

Our rifles can fire at 164-197 miles distance maximum and if hunting ammunition is used, the barrel will blow up. Those rifles can be used only with rubber bullets, you can even see a distinct hole pattern.

A Berkut policeman with loaded rubber bullet rifle. Photo by Yefrem Lukatskiy / AP

A Berkut policeman with loaded rubber bullet rifle. Photo by Yefrem Lukatskiy / AP

Many protesters lost their eyes because of your bullets.

Maybe because of slingshots. They run around randomly, they have no structure. One runs, the other follows him with a slingshot. The first one turns around, runs back and is hit with a rock. And really, what do they want? They take district administration buildings. But now do you hear from them that they want to enter Europe? No. Our president gave them an opportunity to join the government and they didn’t except it for some reason. Three Maidan leaders are not capable of doing anything. I think we’ll soon have looting.

Peaceful protesters seized hotel with foreign reporters [actually, Svoboda party took Hotel Ukraina which is located near Independence Square/Maidan and under its protection, – Lenta.ru]. Do you know why? And it’s so insulting to watch what Channel 5 [owned by the billionaire and opposition MP Petro Poroshenko. – Lenta.ru] says about us. I’d quit my job, if I believed it. Other channels show the truth.

Is it true that you aim your fire at reporters?

I didn’t see that. A reporter from Channel 5 complained about his damaged camera. But rubber bullets can’t even break your glasses! They just pinned a hole in camera and pushed a pellet in.

One of my colleagues was severely beaten by Berkut. Do you know why?

There are different kinds of reporters. Some have bright vests with a PRESS sign on them. But some wear glasses, masks and helmets. How can I know who they are?
Maybe it is a protester who is about to throw a grenade under a bus.

The spokesperson from Kyiv police adds that sometimes on Hrushevskoho street, people attack in a group of three men: a person with a camera in front and two men with Molotov cocktail behind him. “And your journalist friend was beaten up because he was in a car that was watching Berkut. And everyone in those cars have been caught as well,” the policeman describes the events.

Why do you need to kick people lying on the ground? Isn’t it an excess of power?

Many don’t want to go in the vans and fall on the ground. And how can we make them get up? With a whip or drag them in by their feet. And when we drag them, they get additional bruises. Sometimes, we have to use force so that they get up and walk on their own. During dispersal of students on Maidan, we asked them to leave repeatedly, 3 or 4 times. An animal understands quicker. They say we beat up the students, but I saw how they pushed a burning log under the visor of a Berkut policeman and lifted him up. I saw that this very policeman has no skin left on his face [anymore].

Hospital where injured special forces officers and internal troops soldiers of MIA receive their treatment. Photo by Pyotr Shelomovskiy / Lenta.ru

Hospital where injured special forces officers and internal troops soldiers of MIA receive their treatment. Photo by Pyotr Shelomovskiy / Lenta.ru

So you are saying that the police doesn’t use excessive violence?

I think so. Sometimes, they [Berkut] just plainly kill a person. But, please, understand that we are constantly a target – they hit, humiliate, burn us and spit at our faces. A person in the police line catches on fire and falls and they just smile. I’m not wishing ill to anybody, I just wish their own kids join the army and get the same treatment. I’d like to see their reaction and who would they support them then. Clearly, their sons.

If an order to disperse Maidan is given, how long will it take? Or will they push you back?

In 20 minutes, maximum 40, Kyiv will be clear after the order is given. They can’t do anything, they lack unity and strategy. They are just a mob, they can only throw rocks and make noise. Many policemen will be hurt on the barricades, but once we get past them, Kyiv will be clear.

Do tires burnt by protesters bother you a lot?

We have zero visibility and can’t breath. Masks don’t help much. Really, look what they did to Kyiv. Wash your flags at least, if you are such patriots. They called a policeman a fascist, when he just took a flag off a car. And who is a real fascist here? Everyone knows that they [protesters] came from western Ukraine. They took down Lenin monument. Why did western regions greet the Nazi with bread and salt? How can you call them patriots after that? A true patriot gives his life for his country and what kind of patriot breaks up the country and seizes buildings?

Ok, lets assume we leave and they take the ministry building. What are they going to do next? They’ll trash the building, sleep there and destroy the whole country. I went to Maidan in civilian clothes to feed my curiosity and saw lots of drunks and loads of trash. Be it during summer, we’d have epidemic for sure. I don’t think there are any normal people there. Only hobos. Normal people come for 30 minutes just to take pictures.

Do you support President Yanukovych?

Yes, of course I support the government, I work there. Even if I didn’t work there, I wouldn’t support the opposition. I respect [Vitali] Klitchko as a boxer, but an athlete should stay an athlete and not go into politics. How many years was he punched in the head? Look at the way he talks.

Do your colleagues agree with you? I understand you are all united. I watched as Berkut were yelling “crazy Maidaners, your place is in prison” at the protesters.

We understand they are people too, but we have little respect for them. I can hardly call them decent. And yes, we are united. It’s not a friendship, we are ready to risk lives for each other. People call Berkut evil, but they didn’t call us good when we arrested three ex-convicts who raped a girl [This story is unrelated to Maidan. Lenta.ru]. Her mother later came to us and was practically kissing our feet. So what if we hit somebody with a stick, nobody dies from that!

Aren’t you afraid what will happen to you if the revolution does happen?

If they find anything criminal, they can put me in prison. They won’t touch us. A new government will be brought down by the same crowd, if there is no Berkut. This crowd is unstable. They [a new government] won’t dare to eliminate Berkut. I hope it will be a peaceful process.

Are you displeased that there is still no order to disperse Maidan?

Kyiv is a beautiful city and right now it’s unpleasant to be here. Yes, I’d like it cleared out, so that order can be restored.

“I’m 300-500% sure that none of our men will shoot”

Semyon, an internal troops soldier, lives in Odessa. He has a concussion and combustion fumes intoxication.

Injured soldier in the hospital.

Injured soldier in the hospital.

Lenta.ru: What has happened to you?

Semyon: I’ve been on blockades basically from the beginning [of the protests]. On December 1 I was in the first rows on Bankova street [when hundreds of protesters tried to get to the presidential administration building. Lenta.ru]. In the morning of January 19 [the day when harsh confrontations began on Hrushevskoho street. Lenta.ru] they brought us to the Verkhovnaya Rada [Parliament] building, then took us down to the Dinamo stadium and established a blockade. Our task was not to let people get to the Verkhovnaya Rada building. At 4pm they [the radicals] started to throw Molotov cocktails and my fellow soldiers were catching on fire, I was on fire as well. Rocks were hitting our heads.

Mild concussion and carbone monoxide intoxication. I don’t know what kind of substance they threw at us, but my face was flaky for two days and had huge lumps of scurf coming off.

Wasn’t it your gas?

No, definitely not ours, because I was out as well, I lost consciousness. Friends say my helmet was cracked and face all wet from either acetone or gasoline. At 2:30am ambulance took me to the hospital and I was unconscious for 1.5 days.

What do you think about being used as a live barrier between Berkut and protesters?

We had our orders. I’m in the military and have to follow my orders or face imprisonment. They blame Berkut for everything and we, draft soldiers, suffer instead. Lots of soldiers ask what’s our fault.

So here I am, in front, and they push buses towards me. We are ordered to put our gas masks on and, as there are five lines, the back of the lines heard the order, the front ones didn’t. And there are smoke flares, gas and Molotov cocktails flying in front of us.

So, you aren’t even allowed to put a gas mask on without an order?

You aren’t allowed to do anything without an order. Our task was to hold our ground and protect the perimeter. People were not allowed to pass through us and get to the Verkhovnaya Rada. At any cost.

When rocks started flying, a group of people, around 10 of them, ran to us and began to just beat us up. Vitali Klitschko was there and even he couldn’t stop them. He was hit too. I couldn’t understand why they were hitting us. We are not a threat without an order.

Were you waiting for the order to attack?

We all had our bulletproof vests on, rubber batons and shields. We were the fence. Bars, Yaguar and Berkut [special MIA forces Bars and Yaguar also participate in riot duty, but are less known. Lenta.ru] are the units that take response actions. Representatives from the public prosecution office came to question us, I identified many people who were in front of me and were pulling on our shields. I identified those who I saw and remembered, why not. But again, without an order, we don’t do anything bad.

Isn’t it insulting that they hate Berkut, but you are the ones getting hurt?

Of course it is. Actually, we serve border patrol and officially shouldn’t be there. Bars and Jaguar should have been there. We are in Kyiv, that’s why they put us there.

Protesters encourage you to join them. They say you sworn in to the people of Ukraine, not to the president. What do you think?

Of course, I gave an oath to the Ukrainian people, but I’m not sure what it means now. It’s upsetting, but an order is an order. Oath didn’t mention the president or my commanding officers. The oath was to the people of Ukraine. If my command gives an order, I’ll follow it. But if this drags for a long time, I’ll drop everything and join the people. I just can’t bear it anymore and I have been enduring it for two months. I’m 20 and I want to have a family, kids and now I just can’t do that. I have 3 months left to serve, I have a job, parents and a girlfriend who loves me.

Is there a point of no return for you? Many thought that you’ll give in when people died.

I thought it’s all over. I don’t want people to die. We are all the same. Lets replace the president and all authorities, but the question is: if it’s someone who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t see where it’s all going, won’t it make things worse? What will these [opposition] MPs will do with their power, if they can’t even stop their own [radical nationalists]?

Medical workers transport a wounded protester. Photo by Yevgeniy Feldman / AP

Medical workers transport a wounded protester. Photo by Yevgeniy Feldman / AP

Will you shoot?

I, personally, will refuse. I won’t shoot. I’m 300-500% sure that none of us will shoot because they are our friends and people we know.

Standing there in a blockade with your shield, you can see your friends on Maidan. If there is an order to push forward and go against people, I won’t hit my friend. It won’t happen, we went to the same school. We all saw our friends, our cousin sisters, our brothers. Some of us even said they won’t go to Maidan and took on an extra duty so they won’t go, as they knew that their parents were protesting on Maidan. It’s not scary to go and stand in a line, the most scary thing is to go against your friends and this order [to attack] can be given on any day.

So, do you understand that people protest on Maidan, not some provokers?

I understand it fully. There are about 20-30 provokers on Maidan, the rest is regular people, just like us. They see a bunch of pricks [attacking police], so why not stand and watch as everything unfolds. We are blamed for everything, but let them also count how many of our guys are in hospitals. One guy had only 2 days till discharge and now he has a broken leg and dislocated jaw. Ambulance brought him to his parents. The guy next to me was repeatedly hit in the face with his own bulletproof vest. Why? He is 18, he was ordered to stand in line and he pretty much doesn’t even understand why.

Do you ask your superiors questions?

Yes, but what can they say? Officers say they receive orders just like we do. We stood there on January 19 and wondered when it will end. But nobody knew anything, they said: “Wait, wait. Everything will be alright.” but in the end, it wasn’t alright. Nobody knows anything and nobody says anything.

My parents called me in the morning and I said I was fine. To be honest, I just want to go home. My mom, grandma, dad are all waiting for me. And I follow orders, but I don’t want to get hurt too, because my goal is to stay safe for my family. I’d go back home if I could. I wouldn’t be on Maidan, it’s not for me.

What do you think about present authorities and opposition?

I’m happy almost with everything. People get what they get and the change of government won’t make things better. What does opposition want? So, let’s say they will remove Yanukovych, who are they going to replace him with? Do we have anyone better?

My mom says that Odesa has its own Maidan now. I understand why it’s happening here – to overturn the government. But why do they need it in other cities? If they remove somebody from town hall, it won’t change anything.

My opinion is that it doesn’t matter how long this will go on, Yanukovych just doesn’t care about us. He didn’t do anything for soldiers then and he, for sure, won’t do anything at all. He is just afraid. I’m waiting for an adequate command either to leave or to break up protesters but without beating them. Or he can just leave his office indeed. What’s the point in making people like me, my parents, you suffer? I also understand people – they’ve been there a month, they are getting sick and they are dying. I feel sorry for them as well as my buddies. I’m not heartless. They need to give an adequate order. And I don’t want to hurt anyone.

And do you interact with Berkut? Seems like they have a different attitude towards protesters.

For a Berkut policeman it’s not an army service, it’s a job. Where else can he go, if he can’t do anything besides hurting and shooting people.

Doest it hurt when fireworks hit you?

It’s unpleasant, when they hit you. Loosing your buddy is what’s scary. Let me say – in case they think that we are not scared – we are very scared. I’m a human being too and I’m scared. I’m also scared when I’m on area patrol, because nobody likes police. When they threat you with a log and say “Die, bitch!,” my 18 year old buddies are horrified.

What did you feel while standing on Bankova street and were hit by radical protesters, but didn’t respond at all and held the line?

The scariest part was when a bulldozer was coming at us. 200 people got hurt on Bankova street. Some ended up in intensive care. But this information is kept secret. Later, their parents had to fight to move most of them to private clinics. When generals arrived to the hospital, parents asked how can it be that their kids are suffering and nobody tells anything to their parents.

Men haven’t made their mark yet, and were wiped out from this earth during a peaceful time.

Mikhailo Havrilyuk, a Euromaidan activist, resides in Chernovitzkaya region. Berkut policemen arrested him on Hrushevskoho street and they beat, stripped him naked and tortured him including jumping on his head.

Lenta.ru: How do you feel now?

I feel great, never been better. That’s because I’m among Cossacks [same day he was released from a police station, Havrilyuk came back to Maidan and now lives near one of the barricades. Lenta.ru], they radiate a glowing and healthy spirit. And it came to me and slowly helps me to boost my spirit and my health.

Tell us what happened to you.

I was captured on Hrushevskoho street. During retreat, I was helping the injured and the last one was seriously wounded, he was knocked out by the blast and unconscious for several minutes. I dragged him through snow and when he woke up, showed him where to run. I was slowly retreating and, as it turns out, wounded run very fast. (He is laughing). Titushki, I call them jerboas, were behind me. These morons pulled me down. Then, Berkut joined in and began their dirty work. And they do their work very well, they began beating and kicking me right there, those sick bastards. After that, they picked me up and dragged me to their lair while hitting me on the way.

There they continued to beat me up and then some idiot decided to take my clothes off. They stripped me naked, beat and jumped on my head in the snow. And as that wasn’t enough for them, took pictures with their feet on my head. Later they got an idea to cut my forelock off, so they picked me up, all curled up like a fetus, from the ground, pulled my arms apart and one of them began cutting my forelock off with a knife.

Good thing it wasn’t your dick.

They would not do that! Thanks goodness, of course, this didn’t happen, because such Cossacks as I should reproduce, so there are many men like that. A man’s dick is his utmost joy! (He is laughing). Sooo.

After they cut off my forelock, they beat me a bit more and sent me to their police van. There, one of the detainees, a guy just like me but with his clothes on, gave me his coat and padded pants. I was so beaten up and useless that I was taken right to the hospital from the police station. I took a bath in my hospital room, slept for three or four hours, finally managed to open my eyes as they were swollen shut, noticed the exit door, took unclaimed army boots and a jacket and decided to go back to Maidan.

Did the thought to go back home cross your mind?

Go home and what? Will somebody put a victory in my lap? Or while sitting at home, will I achieve anything? That’s not right. My brother Cossacks are here and I’ll just lay in bed at home? That’s not the way of a Cossack. Such a thought didn’t even occur to me.

What’s your view on Berkut actions?

I think they were excessive and inadequate. When we captured Berkut policemen, we didn’t take their clothes off, instead we made them tea and let them go [a clear exaggeration, they treat captured titushkas on Maidan much worse and that involves heavy beatings. Lenta.ru]. That’s the way we treat our captives, and Berkut’s way is just not right.

So, you will be harsher with them now?

This won’t get us anywhere. They should feel bad already. I can say only one thing – those sinners will answer when a judgment day comes.

Do you think that throwing rocks at police is OK in general?

And is it OK for police to shoot at peaceful people and throw grenades at them? Because of their actions 7 people are dead now. 300-400 handicapped and over 3,000 injured. Is it OK what they are doing? (he is angry and starts screaming) Why do you ask such questions? Don’t you get it? Men who died didn’t even leave a mark on this earth, and they have been wiped out during peaceful time! Is this OK? Don’t other guys throw rocks as well?

This is a mutual process.

Mutual process? Their titushkas do all that shit, they hired them to provoke Berkut to start hitting common citizens. I’m 100% certain about that. [actually, radical nationalists from Pravyi Sektor, one of the blocs that make up the backbone of the opposition, took responsibility for clashes with police.] I know who throws rocks. It’s titushkas! They do it because they are paid.

In your opinion, what is the way out of this situation?

Victory will be ours! The president will voluntary resign with the rest of the gang. Deep in his heart, Yanukovych is already thinking of where to move.

If dispersal starts, can you resist police?

Do you know how many of us are here? Thousands will be here in seconds if needed. This is not Russia or Belarus, lots of people will join. They tried this once, but our response was peaceful then.

And this time it won’t be peaceful?

(slyly) You’ll see.

This entry was posted in "Voices" in English, English, Maidan Diary, Pictures, Video, Voices of Revolution and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to VOICES OF THE REVOLUTION: “We are people too, it’s our job” – Interview with Berkut

  1. chornajuravka says:

    Reblogged this on Follow the Ukrainian protests.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.