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.

WARNING - GRAPHIC CONTENT FOLLOWS - NOT FOR CHILDREN OR FOR THE SQUEAMISH.

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.
http://www.radiosvoboda.org/media/video/25270710.html
(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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSvj8F_Br4M&feature=youtu.be

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.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fns42rViXlA

video


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.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg9fjOfPZyE
video


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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8TmEZAYj4I
video


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.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeq8Pq-l1uI
video


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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urdXJbtnuV4&sns=tw
video


  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.
http://www.kyivpost.com/content/politics/moskal-yanukovych-was-planning-bigger-bloodbath-337844.html

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.

 UPDATE:
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.
video


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: