Privately commissioned “Berkut”

On 17 October at around 5 in the afternoon, several dozen men from the "Berkut" Special Forces stormed the premises on Gorky St and detained all those present, including some who had nothing to do with the protest action underway. As reported already, the protest was over the seizure of the premises which the human rights organization Institute "Respublica" has occupied since 1997.  According to the statement issued by Volodymyr Chemerys, Member of the "Respublica" Board, the people were detained in a rough manner with foul language being used.

In all 27 people were detained, with no accusations being put, and all were released within two hours. Those detained included seven journalists.

According to Mr Chemerys’ information, the police refused to write reports about alleged violations, not only criminal matters, but even administrative. A "Berkut" officer told him during a private conversation that they had carried out orders from the management to storm the premises, but tat none of them had wanted to.

As reported two days ago, this is the fifth attempt to seize the Institute "Respublica"’s premises, apparently initiated by National Deputy (Party of the Regions) and "laureate" of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s "Thistle of the Year" anti-award for 2007 for systematic violations of human rights. Mr Hrytsak is a lobbyist for the contentious private concern SSAPS [Single State Automated Passport System]

During the night from 14-15 October several dozen members of a private security firm forced their way into the disputed address on Gorky St, together with Vasyl Hrytsak and bailiffs

As reported at the time, the building in 2000-2001 was the headquarters for the movement "Ukraine without Kuchma" and has become something of a centre for civic society. Last year the Kyiv City Council in breach of the Law "On leasing State and communal property" handed the premises over to National Deputy Hrytsak. The Institute "Respublica" is appealing about this decision in the courts however without awaiting the outcome, Hrytsak and certain members of the enforcement structures whom he has "motivated" have throughout 2008 been trying to seize the premises. It is clear that if Hrytsak’s plans succeed, then instead of the present building, a high-rise can be expected at this address.

This is one of a number of encroachments on non-commercial structures occupying premises in the centre of Kyiv.  Chemerys says the seizures are being supported by certain people from the Party of the Regions (Yanukovych’s party]

Following this, the civic organizations involved decided to enjoy their constitutional rights under Article 39 of the Constitution and hold a protest against the seizure of the property. The authorities were notified as required.

The protests arrived around 4 p.m. and neither the security guards nor the head of their company made any objections to the protest involving coming into the corridor of the premises on Gorky St.  Some of the people went in while others remained on the street.

Chemerys writes: "We of course had the right to go there since the premises are the property of the Kyiv community to which we also belong. Furthermore, the building contains other civic organizations, as well as the public reception office of Deputy Hrytsak which anyone is entitled to go into. People were coming to "Respublica" both day and night".

"The protest had been going on almost an hour without any conflict when suddenly we saw unidentified armed people running towards the building. Most of the demonstrators had remained on the street and they were detained by the police simply for being there. Five of us, together with the guard were in the corridor and shut the door before these unknown assailants.

It later transpired that they were "Berkut" men. A telephone call to emergencies was received about t the seizure of the premises and the Deputy Head of the Kyiv Police Onishchenko gave the command to take the "Berkut" officers off protecting the courts [in connection with the political crisis, see the text here) and brought them himself to Gorky St.  Chemerys is certain that a request was received from retired police general and Deputy Hrytsak.

When asked by a police head what the police were supposed to do in that situation Chemerys writes: "As a member of the MIA Public Committee on Human Rights Issues, I took the liberty to give him some advice. I think that first the police should have sent their representative to the place and the person would have easily understood that there was no seizure of the building, but a lawful peaceful gather. Yet even after the arrival of the police nobody even tried to ascertain what people were doing on Gorky St."

Chemerys tried to speak first to Onishchenko, then to the Deputy Minister of the MIA Oleksandr Savchenko. The latter promised to get to the bottom of things, but when Chemerys had this passed on to Onishchenko, the latter apparently said where Savchenko could go, and gave the order to storm the building.

Participants in the demonstration have lodged complaints against the police actions with the Prosecutor, alleging violation of Articles 340 (unlawfully obstructing the holding of rallies and demonstrations), 170 (obstructing the lawful activity of civic organizations); 171 (obstructing journalists in their work); 364 (abuse of power) and 365 (exceeding power and official authority) of the Criminal Code.

A picket is planned of the conference of the Party of the Regions", with the name "Hrytsak and Kalashnikov [who assaulted an STB TV crew in July 2006) – the faces of the Party of the Regions?

Based on a report by Volodymyr Chemerys

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