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.
(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.
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.