What this is

A personal blog devoted to the experiences of those who have gotten short shrift in the process of becoming legal residents and citizens of the United States. Perhaps by sharing stories and increasing public awareness of the issues, we can bring an element of humanity into the functioning of our immigration system while still preserving its essential requirement to enforce the immigration laws of the United States.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Snipers of February

On February 20th, 2014 I watched live video streaming from Kyiv that depicted in all its horror the toll taken by snipers against the protesters of Euromaidan. 

Today's Internet is abuzz with rumors that the snipers that killed dozens in Kyiv on February 20th, 2014, were in fact working for the very Euromaidan protesters that they were murdering. My previous blog post "Truth is the First Victim" discussed how this rumor came to be and how it is a deliberate misinterpretation of facts that prove nothing except that confirmation bias, i.e. the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or assumptions, is very much at play in the world today - as it always has been.

So what is the truth about the Snipers of February 20th? What evidence is available to help us see for ourselves what happened on that bloody day in Ukrainian history? Can the evidence clarify who was involved, both as predators and victims? With those and other questions in mind, I began to collect what information I could from the Internet.

Afterwards, as recorded videos began to be posted online, I started collecting links to the events of February 20th. My wife and I felt we were watching history happening before our own incredulous eyes, and we wanted to keep a record of these terrible events we saw unfolding on live stream that day and in recorded videos uploaded later by participants and observers to the action.  By no means are these all the links to be found for this incident, but they are the ones I have located to day.

To these video links I also added links to news sources that contain information relevant to the sniper story. For the reader's convenience I am posting these various links here, with clarifying information where necessary. Note that I have in no way altered or modified the videos listed here and the links direct the reader to the original sources on Youtube or other identified sites.


1. Link to Radio Svoboda video of snipers shooting at Euromaidan protesters from a vantage point next to the International Center of Culture & Arts of the Trade Unions of Ukraine ("ICC" for short,) on Instytutska Street as it runs south, and roughly due West from the south end of Maidan Nezalezhnosti. This video is important because it gives a relatively clear view of the police and snipers as they retreated from the Maidan, shooting at protesters on the way. It may be seen that some of the men doing the shooting have either "Berkut" or no markings on their black uniforms and some wear yellow ribbons on one or both sleeves, an apparent aid to identification for this sniper/security force that day.
(Note, where possible I have tried to embed the actual video as well as provide a link, but in the case of this Radio Svoboda recording, I was unable to do so due to limitations set by the blog site.)

2. Link to a very long video that serves to tie together events on Instytutska Street that day. At over 41 minutes in length and exceedingly graphic in its depiction of wounding and death of dozens, it is important because it provides the best single overview to the events encompassing most of the sniper actions against demonstrators in Kyiv that day. The video begins by showing protesters as they try to ascend the banks towards the hill where the ICC serves as a backdrop. As they fight their way up the hill, uniformed security forces are seen shooting down on the protesters with weapons ranging from shotguns to assault rifles. An number of these uniformed men are dressed identically to the snipers seen in the first video. As the security force and snipers retreat south on Instytutska Street, they are boldly chased by demonstrators. Then these or other snipers take up positions higher on the hill south of the ICC and begin to again take their toll on advancing protesters. The video seems to have a gap in the recording after about 10 minutes and picks up again as protesters rally as the move south and approach the top of the hill where Instytutska Street meets Olhyska Street. The final half of the video shows protesters being shot and rescued by teams of medics and volunteers while their comrades attempt to build hasty barricades and light tires in an effort to blind the snipers who are apparently sited on tall buildings at the top of the hill.

3. Link to a video apparently shot from a room in the Hotel Ukraina, overlooking Instytutksa Street from a direction roughly south-southeast. Telephoto lenses bring the action close to the viewer as we see effect of snipers from the top of the hill where Instytutska Street meets Olhyska Street. From the snipers perspective, they would be shooting downhill and north, likely from tall buildings at the top of the hill. The security forces had used several trucks to form a barricade on Instutskya Street at the top of the hill.

4. This is a screen capture I took while watching online live streaming video of one of the snipers hiding behind the trucks as he looks north and downhill at the protesters coming uphill on Instytuska Street from the south.
 As can be seen in the screen capture, there is a military type BTR-70 or BTR-80 armored transport vehicle parked on the other side of the trucks sheltering this sniper. This view will make more sense after the reader has seen a video to follow.

5. A very intense and personal perspective taken by a very brave camera person, of the protesters trying to find shelter along Instytuska Street as the snipers continued to take their toll. This events in this video and in the one listed in #3 above, seem to occur in part during the gap noted in video #2. Thus videos #3 and #5 represent events which occurred on Instytutska Street fairly early in the sniping events on the morning of February 20th.

6. Fairly long at 13 minutes, the next video recording is important because it shows the morning's action from the perspective of security forces at the top of the hill where Instytuska Street intersects Olhynska Street. In the video we see men in uniform, some marked plainly as Militia, some as Berkut and others with no visible markings. Several wear the yellow ribbon armbands identified earlier in the action closer to the Maidan. Their weapons vary from pistols to AK type assault rifles and several varieties of military-grade sniper rifles, some with bipods for enhanced stability and accuracy. Only highly trained snipers would be normally be assigned such weapons. The video shows security troops sniping from behind the trucks noted in the screen capture above in #4. If the viewer looks closely, ejected shell cases can be seen on the street, indicating where a shooter positioned himself to fire. Also visible is a security officer dropping off several cans of what appear to be military rifle ammunition. Finally, the video also shows one of the security force BTR armored transporters being driven around, stopped and entered by a man in a Berkut uniform.

7. Although I have been unable as yet to get a formal English transcription of its contents, the next link is to a recording purportedly made of radio transmissions by snipers which were intercepted and recorded on February 20th. My wife speaks Ukrainian and Russian and confirms that the speakers were talking in Russian with no particular accent. (Note: I would welcome assistance from any volunteer willing to provide an English language transcript of the dialog in this recording, and once available, it would be posted here.)

8. This video is a follow up posted on February 24th from BBC Newsnight and shows reporter Gabriel Gatehouse as he interviews investigators from the United Kingdom who were invited by the new government in Kyiv to examine the forensic evidence left by the snipers who killed so many on February 20th. In it we get a clear view of some of the evidence left by bullet marks and bullet holes as the snipers picked off protesters in the videos previously listed here.

  9. To wrap up I have added a link to this story from Kyiv Post that describes how members of the Yanukovych regime planned in detail for a final assault on the Maidan protesters. The information was apparently contained in documents in the possession of a Rada member and revealed the details of an attack which was to include a large number of special operations snipers who would have orders to shoot protesters with their sniper weapons. It appears that the events of February 20th prevented this attack from happening but it also seems from the evidence that at least some of the sniper teams were in place and had weapons and authorization to use them against the protesters. The outcome of those sniper attacks is now an infamous part of Ukraine's history.

Admittedly, that is a lot of information for even a highly motivated seeker of the truth to sit through, especially considering the heart-breaking anguish that the videos elicit from the viewer as they watch unarmed protesters being cut down by snipers just out of sight of the cameras. But if so many died that day for the cause they believed in - a democratic and independent Ukraine - then many of us are willing to pay the comparatively minor emotional cost of enduring such videos, if in viewing them we are brought closer to the truth of what happened on February 20th, 2014.

And what truths do you, the reader and viewer, see revealed in these videos? Speaking for myself, I see men and women with courage that defies explanation, standing up to professional killers who had not a single lick of mercy running in their cold blood. I saw men in uniforms bearing a variety of military grade automatic rifles and sniper rifles, often in the act of shooting at protesters who were for the most part (from available evidence) themselves carrying nothing more lethal than a stick. I saw uniformed men with no markings in their uniforms, others bearing Berkut or Militia on their back and some wearing yellow ribbons on one or both sleeves. I saw these same rifle-armed men intermingling with men in clearly marked militia or Berkut uniforms. Judging from the behavior I saw in the videos, the presence of these rifle armed snipers and sharpshooters was not a threat or a surprise to the policemen and Berkut who walked among them. In fact, there seemed to be, if anything, a camaraderie between these uniformed men, armed or not, that made it clear to me that they were indeed on the same side and cooperating with one another in carrying out orders that have yet to be fully revealed.

The final determination of facts about the February 20th killings will doubtless be made by the new Kyiv government once their investigations have been completed and reviewed. Having seen these videos, I invite the reader to make his or her own conclusions as to what the outcome of that investigation is likely to be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The First Victim

It is often said, “In war, the first victim is truth.” It applies just as much today and perhaps even more so given the many means technology now provides us to seek and find information. The information is then problematic because it is increasingly difficult to sort truth from lies, distortion from disinformation, half-truths from wholly fabricated falsehoods.
Perhaps no better example of this is the recently leaked audio recording of a conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union.

The recording is being claimed as proof that Kyiv’s new “Euromaidan” government itself hired the snipers who killed dozens in Ukraine in February. If true, this would be a world-shaking revelation. But is it?

What does the audio recording reveal to us, actually? Here are some observations:

1.       Even diplomatic meetings are today subject to unauthorized interception & retransmission. This not only threatens the freedom of diplomats to freely exchange views and information, it also makes it easy for third parties to use the released information and present it out of context. In the recording, Paet is asked by Ashton about his impressions upon returning from Kyiv a day or two after the snipers killed many in Maidan. Paet tells Ashton how he spoke with people there, including “Olga, the chief Doctor” and he then goes on to say later how “Olga” claimed that there was evidence that the snipers killing victims on both sides, were actually the same people and it was her theory that these snipers were hired by the Maidan activist government. Paet does not tell Ashton that he believes “Olga’s” claims to be true, only that they should be looked into.
2.         Many people unfamiliar with how diplomacy actually works are not aware of the subtle language and elaborate protocol diplomats use to signal each other about information that they might otherwise be able to convey directly.  In the above phone call, for instance, Ashton responds to Paet’s comment about “Olga’s” claims by stating it should be looked into. Ashton did not say she believed the claim to be true or was confirmed.
3.       For many reasons, diplomats dance with words and ideas because often they cannot reveal their personal opinions and must instead represent what their role as national spokesperson restricts them to. In this recorded phone call, it is evident to me that neither diplomat was taking the rumors being reported as being on their face true, but merely indicative of feelings and information being passed around in Kyiv during Paet’s visit there.
4.       The need for such careful language was especially driven home in the community of professional diplomats by the leaked recording of an early February intercepted phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, in which Neuland infamously made the comment “F_k the EU.” Taken out of context, this information was distorted and presented by opponents of US and EU policy in Ukraine for their own purposes.

There is so much propaganda and misinformation being put out by individuals and governments today that it is increasingly difficult to sort out lies from facts. But any person interested in the truth and finding the root causes and potential answers to world problems has to dig hard and use some logic to separate truth from fiction. 

Here’s another example of what I mean. Hundreds of videos have been posted on the Internet showing protests in Ukraine over the past few months. Some showed protesters who opposed the corrupt Yanukovych regime. Others showed people opposed to the Maidan protests. Later videos showed protests opposing the new government that the Maidan revolution eventually created in Kyiv.

But who are these protesters? Many were no doubt sincere and we know this to be fact. But we also have proof that some “protesters” were in fact agitators who have made it their business to show up in multiple places with multiple identities. Like this woman, for instance:

In the case of the woman appearing in multiple instances before the camera in several roles at different times in different places in Ukraine, one can safely conclude that she has an agenda and it most likely is not to represent a true picture of her role and identity. In other words, she is an “agitprop” actor working on behalf of someone. Who? Given her acting role, I would say it is a safe bet she was hired by either the Yanukovych regime as a sort of media “titushki,” or she is employed by the Russian intelligence services in Ukraine. This person is no amateur but she is instead a professional disseminator of distortion and falsehoods.

When stakes are high, as they are in Ukraine today, the players obviously have much to lose or gain. Who are the players in Ukraine? Here are some to consider:
1.       The ordinary people of Ukraine. They represent views all over the map, but generally most just want peace and order. The question is, whose peace and whose order? They mostly want to be left alone to live comfortable, safe lives with a regular paycheck and safe streets.
2.       The elites: government employees or elected officials who stand to personally profit from either their own position in government, or from their cut of someone’s corrupt practices. This include present and past governments of Ukraine.
3.       The protesters: those activists who take to the streets to show their support or disapproval of whoever is in power. These are energized people, often very emotional about their case. They can be swayed but generally are loyal to one particular side or the other.
4.       The fanatics: these are like activists on a real mission. They are often willing to resort to violence to meet their goals. They may be willing to sacrifice their own lives and perhaps those of other people. They also tend to be unpredictable and hard to control as a group.
5.       The uniformed professionals: Police, militia, Berkut, army - whatever you call them, they mostly swore and oath and are paid to defend it. Depending upon whom it is they work for, they might be law-abiding, honorable and trustworthy, or corrupt total enemies of law and order possessing a total disdain for public safety and human rights.
As viewers of events, we generally have to look through a lot of material in our search for the basic truths of what is happening and who is behind it. How do we do find the truth? As a general rule, my professional experience in over 31 years in the American justice and military professions taught me that Occam’s Razor is a good place to start: basically it means “the simplest of competing theories is to be preferred over the more complex.” In our context it means: look for the simplest logical answer to the question “Who benefits the most from this situation?”

Let’s apply that rule to the situation in Ukraine and Crimea: Who profits and in what way?
1.       Ukrainians profit if Ukraine possesses a free, independent government which observes the rule of law and human rights, with justice and honor, and without corruption.
2.       Putin profits if Ukraine’s new government is destabilized and overthrown and one sympathetic to Moscow is reinstated.
3.       Ukrainians profit if they are given time to allow them to hold free elections and to determine who will best lead their country in the transition period.
4.       Putin profits if the Kyiv government is seen as being dangerous and run by fanatics/Nazis/anti-Semites.
5.       Ukrainians profit if they can reduce or eliminate the influence of extremists in their midst who would want to limit the rights of minorities and Russian speaking citizens of Ukraine.
6.       Putin profits if he can use Crimea as an excuse to intervene directly with military force in Ukraine.
7.       Ukraine profits if it can retain its sovereignty over Crimea and its people since it is rightfully a part of Ukraine under agreements that Russia signed in the past.
8.       Crimean extremists profit if, by cooperating with Putin, they can lay claim to the spoils and run Crimea after it is successfully partitioned from Ukraine.
9.       Ukrainian citizens in Crimea profit if they are free from harassment, intimidation and threats made by zealous fanatics seeking partition of the region from Ukraine.

I hope that by presenting some ideas and facts, I may assist the reader in devising useful tools to help them sort through the morass of confusing and contradictory information that is going around about Ukraine and Russia and Crimea today. No one’s interests are served by ignorance; similarly, someone’s ignorance serves only those others who would to use it to control them.

I just located this video of Dr.Olga Bogomolets dated February 20, 2014 in which she describes in details the sniper killings and associated wounds sustained by Maidan victims. It is interesting that she makes no mention of any claims that the new Maidan backed government was behind these killings.

And now regarding this same Dr. Bogomolets, we have the following breaking development:
In an interview on 3/5/2014 with a UK Telegraph reporter, Dr. Bogomolets no longer maintains she has any verified information about the identity of the snipers who killed so many in Kyiv, nor does she speculate upon who was behind them:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Out of Hell, a new hope for a proud people

Like many of you, our friends, my wife and I have been literally rooted to our chairs as we watched events in our beloved Ukraine roll out, ever since those terrible days in Kyiv last November when Ukrainians began to die because of the brutality of Yanukovych’s Berkut. Since then, many, many more innocents have sacrificed themselves to protest injustice, tryanny and corruption. Ukrainians have been incredibly brave throughout all this. They have withstood freezing cold, Militia attacks, titushki beatings, kidnappings, torture, murder, Berkut Molotov cocktails and finally, an ultimate horror, the cold-blooded, merciless snipers of their own government’s security forces: 


While parts of the beautiful city certainly suffered too, with burned out buildings and ruined streets, for the most part protesters showed restraint and extraordinary care for property and especially for human life. Perhaps you too have seen the live stream images or video recordings from the battlefield of Maidan and Dynamo Stadium, where medics and priests risked their lives to rescue others and save lives. Maybe you thrilled with us as we watched ordinary citizens use their very bodies to block the advance of robotic Berkut troops, keeping them from the defenseless still huddled around the stage at Maidan. Hourly we listened to the stirring sound of a thousand or more voices singing the anthem of Ukraine in the face of those who would deny them a say in their own future. And also like us, you may have sat shocked and with tear-filled eyes as you witnessed Yanukovych’s armed thugs killing defenseless protesters by the dozen as events reached their awful, bloody climax earlier this week.

One little known fact most Americans are not aware of is that Ukraine’s 40 million citizens legally possess more than 2 million private firearms: 400,000 of them are in Kyiv alone. And yet, even in the face of murderous provocation and killings by the police and Berkut, very few of those privately owned firearms were ever raised in anger, even against their tormentors: the ratio of citizens killed to police casualties was over 10 to 1. It tells us that Ukrainians are a people possessing extraordinary restraint and respect for life, because if every private gun in Ukraine had been fired in anger, the dead would be in the many thousands by now. But Ukrainians are not ordinary people. With few exceptions, they are gentle, friendly, kind, loving and welcoming to strangers. They understand firsthand what it is like to suffer at the hands of others. In short, Ukrainians define what it means to be a civilized people. They paid for this label with the endurance and restraint they demonstrated even as they suffered injustice after injustice.

And what do we have to show for all this suffering? A series of events that amaze us and leave us feeling like we are witnesses to history: Yanukovych flees Kyiv like the coward he truly is, leaving behind gold bullion, incriminating documents and unfed animals in his private zoo. Then we see the Rada grow from a collection of squabbling yes-men into a focused deliberative body intent on changing their country before it is too late to save from riot and ruin. We watched as Yulia Tymoschenko, weakened by 30 months of confinement as a political prisoner, wheeled out triumphantly into freedom, then whisked away to lay flowers at the site where so many brave people died for their country in Kyiv. Finally we listened to her words of love, comfort and encouragement to the people she once wronged, and now wants to do right by. We think she deserves another chance. For who else is there in Ukraine that has even a remote chance of uniting the country in this difficult time?

There is still so much to be done: the ex-president to be impeached, prosecuted and brought to justice for his many crimes against his own people; buildings, streets and lives to be rebuilt; new laws to be passed and new independent, fair and incorruptible judges and prosecutors appointed to carry them out; an economy to be rebuilt virtually from scratch; bodies, minds and hearts to be mended…indeed the list of tasks ahead for Ukrainians to tackle is as daunting as it is long.

But we have absolutely no doubt that Ukraine will rise from this chaos and bloodshed to be the country that it always was meant to be: a reflection of the superb people who live there and who deserve so much better than they have been dealt in the past. Now, for the first time in years, they have the keys to their own future in their hand. We wish them well with the confidence that Ukrainian men and women can do ANYTHING that they set their minds and hearts to.

I am proud beyond words, of my Ukrainian wife and family and I am blessed to claim even a small share of this vibrant and blessed country and its extraordinary people.    

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Helpful links for more information about Ukraine's "Euromaidan" protests

I get a lot of requests from friends who ask how they can become informed and follow the current protests in Kiev and the rest of Ukraine. Accordingly, I put together this list of sites that may help you get started if you want to know more, watch and support the brave people of Ukraine as they try to unseat their parasitical, incredibly corrupt President Yanukovych, who has stolen billions (yes, BILLIONS) of dollars from Ukraine's treasury and destroyed the nation's economy since he took office in 2010.

Payback time for Yanukovych family - where the graft money goes:

Yanukovych financial holdings exposed:

Good essay describing why Ukraine matters:

Fine article explains why Ukrainians protest in freezing weather:

Ukrainian journalist publishes addresses of overseas homes and businesses owned by government officials:

Excellent News site in Ukrainian with live streamed news, often translated into English:

Best English language web site covering Ukraine developments:

Radio Free Europe, corporate site formerly run by CIA but now widely regarded as independent and  credible news source:

Here's a site that is a sort of social media aggregator focused on Euromaidan events:

This site has recordings of actual Berkut riot police radio broadcasts during 11/30 unprovoked attacks on demonstrators and press:

Very moving takeoff on musical Les Miserables by Ukraine Canal5 TV, made to honor Ukrainian protests; you don't need to understand the words to comprehend and be moved by the images:

Collection of aerial views of Maidan protests:

Amazing HD views (with sound) of Maidan protest as seen from small helicopter drone:

Live streams worth following but not always on air:

Another live stream to check out:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How I came to be Persona Non Grata at the age of six

I was born in the Free Territory of Trieste, a city East of Venice, Italy. After World War II, the city was contested by both Italy and Yugoslavia. It was occupied by US and UK troops pending a plebiscite (popular vote) that would determine which country the city would join.
My mother was an Italian citizen who met and married an American GI who was in Trieste as part of TRUST (Trieste United States Troops).
In 1953, my parents and I left for the United States. About the same time, Trieste voted to become a part of Italy.
In 1954, my parents filed papers to have my mother and I become permanent US residents. My mother's application was accepted. Mine was not, because the US Immigration authorities determined that I was a "stateless person" because the place I was born in (The Free Territory of Trieste) no longer existed. Despite the desperate appeals of my parents, who were permitted to remain in the USA, at the age of 6 I was declared by the United States to be "Persona Non Grata" and ordered deported (by myself) to Italy, where I would doubtless be placed in an orphanage.
Needless to say, this was unacceptable to my parents. My father finally determined that a position was available for him at a US Army post in Italy, if he submitted to a voluntary reduction in rank from Sergeant First Class to Sergeant, a step backwards in his career. To preserve his family, he did so and the three of us returned to Italy.
My father's military career never recovered from this setback, however his subsequent efforts to enlist the assistance of US Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri did eventually result in the latter's passing a bill in the US Senate by which I was declared a "war orphan" and permitted to return to the US and reside there permanently on that basis. It is an irony of political necessity that I was neither born during the war, nor was I an orphan, but one cannot look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say.
The lesson I learned from this encounter was that the US Immigration system and its courts are deeply flawed in the sense that they seem incapable of regarding any issues other than the letter of the law. Humanitarian concerns (such as separating a child from his parents) are irrelevant to them. I find this philosophy to be alien to the spirit of the United States that I came to know in the following years. Now a citizen, I find the hairs on the back of my head standing on end when I read similar stories of ordinary people caught up and mercilessly spit out by the findings of the US Immigration Service and its Courts.
I therefore devote this blog to those who have gotten short shrift in the great American Immigration Game and I welcome their stories and the support of others who may sympathize.
I in no way encourage illegal immigration or violation of US laws or the Constitution. However, I do think that in a society where much is made of "human rights," we could afford to maintain a bit of humility and flexibility when it comes to the actions of our own bureaucrats and public servants.