Serhiy Hrabovs’kyi on Political Violence in Ukraine – December 26, 2013

Ukrains’kyi tyzhden’, 26 December 2013

Translated by William Risch

Serhiy Hrabovs’kyi, “Are ‘Titushki’ Brigades Becoming ‘Death Squads”?”

Information about attacks on Euromaidan activists or the burning of their cars is coming in almost every day, and only after summing it all up do you begin to understand the scale of these events. 

So, attention:  here are the dates, names of victims, and places where the crimes had been committed. 

–          On November 22, 2013, right after thousands of Ukrainians had gone out to Euromaidans, there was an attack in Feodosiy on Serhiy Mokreniuk, an organizer of local protests there.  Then on November 27 his automobile was damaged in Simferopil’.

–          On November 23 and 28, the editor of the Zhytomyr newspaper, Twenty Minutes, Vlad Puchych, was assaulted by unknown people.

–          On November 25, a group of several dozen people attacked Eurointegration activists tent city set up in the center of Dnipropetrovs’k.  Co-organizer Serhiy Romanenko and six other protestors were wounded during the attack.  Policemen at the incident did not intervene. 

–          On the night of November 29-30, Maksym Kytsiuk, co-organizer of the local Euromaidan in Ivano-Frankivs’k, was brutally beaten by unknown assailants there.  He suffered a skull fracture and several leg wounds. 

–          On November 30, local civic activist Volodymyr Khanas was beaten up by unknown assailants in Ternopil’. 

–          On December 15, the head of the local Freedom (Svoboda) Party headquarters in Zhytomir, Viktor Brokariev, became the victim of an attack there. 

–          Over the night of December 20, the headquarters of the Kharkiv branch of the Enlightenment (Prosvita) Society, where the local Euromaidan headquarters were temporarily housed, were destroyed. 

–          On December 21, assistant head of the Kharkiv Region organization of the Fatherland (Bat’kivshchyna) Party, regional  council deputy, and Euromaidan activist Ivan Varchenko claimed that an attempt was made on the lives of himself and his family members; before going on a trip, he saw that five bolts had been removed from the front wheel of his car. 

–          On December 21, around 23:00, in the area of Shevchenko Square in Kyiv, Volodymyr Moralov, a Road Control organization activist, was attacked. 

–          On December 22, in Zhytomyr, Dmytro Tkachuk, head of the local Democratic Alliance branch there, was attacked in the stairwell of his own home by unknown assailants.  In general, since the Euromaidan protests began, unknown assailants have damaged seven automobiles in the city belonging to local protest activists. 

–          On December 23, in the Donets’k Region, in the town of Torez, city council member Vasyl’ Bondarenko and two “Cossacks” beat up activist Oleh Halaziuk, who had drawn graffiti against Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions in the center of town.  The assailants threw him to the ground, fractured his skull, and broke his finger. 

–          On the evening of December 24, Dmytro Pylypets’, co-organizer of protests in Kharkiv, was attacked by unknown assailants in downtown Kharkiv; he suffered several stabbings during his fight with attackers. 

–          On the night of December 25, on the road near Borispil’, Tetiana Chornovol, a well-known journalist and public activist, was beaten up with particular brutality. 

I tried to make as complete a list as possible of the   most serious cases of aggression against Euromaidan activists.  And this probably is hardly all of   them.  But even these cases lead to the   conclusion that this isn’t about spontaneous acts by small-scale hoods, but   about a campaign of violence against the Maidan, where some law enforcement   are “covering up” actions through groups of “hired thugs (titushki)” or even   take part in them.  These “unknowns”   are way too elusive.  They act way too   professionally and way too often without facing punishment.  Over the past month, besides beating people   up and frightening them, they’ve also burned down or set on fire, in   different regions of Ukraine, not less than a dozen automobiles and minibuses   belonging to protest organizers and participants. 

Foreign Models

Now my thoughts turn to Latin America at the beginning   of the 1960s.  A fierce armed struggle   took place in many countries back then.    Communist guerrillas fought dictatorial regimes; Cuban anti-communist   émigrés fought Castro’s regime; right-wing militants tried to break up   democratically-elected governments; laborers with rifles fought estate   owners, and estate owners cracked down on laborers; drug cartels and criminal   groups, relying on the “bottom” of urban society, fought against everyone… In   addition, even in those countries where the struggle for power took place   relatively peacefully, they also had very, very disquieting times.  In this situation, too, illegal and   semilegal armed groups seeking power started to emerge.  These groups were made up of what would   seem to be strange combinations of people:    officers and reserve sargeants, low-class intellectuals and recent   ex-cons who decided to seek a “roof” in the state.  These groups’ members had to be free from   moral “superstitions” and without reservations carry out any of their   commanders’ orders; in exchange, they received very good pay, some of which   came from estate owners, some of which came indirectly from the state   treasury.  The work they got well paid   in involved frightening, kidnapping, and secretly destroying those who were   seen as dangerous to the state – be it an authoritarian regime of oligarchs,   or that of a military dictatorship. 

At first thsese groups have different names.  Then they get a very apt name “attached” to   them – “death squads” (in Spanish, los   escuadrones de la muerte). 

Such organizations operated very actively in a number   of Central American countries.  For   instance, in Guatemala, in just five years, from 1970 to 1975, about 15,000   people disappeared.  Most of them are regarded   as having been victims of “death squads.”    In the 1980s, during the civil war there, the main victims were Mayan   Indians.  It is an accepted fact that   as a result of actions by the army and pro-government death squads, over   75,000 Indians were killed, and around 50,000 Mayans had to flee to   Mexico. 

In neighboring El Salvador, a network of semi-legal   military organizations was established at the beginning of the 1960s. There,   death squads fought not rebels (because this would have been dangerous to   do), but engaged in the intentional destruction of “undesirable elements”   among the civilian population.  Such   “undesirable elements” included Social Democrat and Christian Democrat   activists and union leaders.  Then   dozens of Catholic priests suspected of not being loyal to the state or being   involved in “anti-state” (that is, anti-government) activity were put to   death by death squads.  

Death squads in Brazil set up at the end of the 1960s   had their own particular history.  Its   military regime could not counter the mafia through legal means; the bosses   of the criminal world had stable ties with corrupt bureaucrats, judges, and   police, and thus the law could practically not touch them.  Thus death squads, made up mostly of army   officers and security agents, emerged to fight them. 

They acted just like people from the criminal   underworld:  they terrified people,   they blackmailed them, they tortured them, they executed them without trial,   and they took them as hostages.    Operating more brutally and more professionally than criminals, death   squads could change the situation:     leaders of criminal groups deemed it better to be arrested and face an   official court than become victims of extrajudicial attacks.  But once they had broken the criminal   underworld, death squads did not stop: using the same methods, they went   after communists, Social Democrats, homosexuals, and so on.  In other words, their actions went out of   control, and to no small degree, they led to the complete discreditation of   the state, despite their aim to strengthen it. 

Domestic   Equivalents

Today, except for two or three countries, the death   squads are history in Latin America.    It’s a dirty, bloody history.    But are they being re-created in our local conditions – today, right   now, in front of our eyes?  Are there   special “commands” going out right now against Euromaidan activists? 

Moreover, death squads abroad mostly operated against   the political opponents of oligarch and dictatorial regimes first through   intimidation – threats made over the telephone, beatings, setting buildings   on fire, destroying cars.  Only later,   when these methods of struggle against the political opposition wound up   being ineffective, did the death squads resort to more radical means, thus   earning them the name… Is Ukraine really to expect this? 

And the temptation for the current state to resolve all   its problems through illegitimate means is very great.  Moreover, in neighboring states with   authoritarian regimes – Russia and Belarus – such groupings already operate.  So there is someone these people can share   their experiences with, and if necessary, teach them something “useful.”  Original death squads, made up of officers   from law enforcement structures, function in the Northern Caucasus   region.  In recent decades, they have   kidnapped and killed hundreds of local residents, mostly Salafi Muslims,   including those hardly connected with the terrorist underground.  There just had to be the slightest   suspicion, and a person would disappear, and his or her body would be found   later… Well, in Belarus, too, experts believe that such groups were active   there 10-15 years ago, when opposition politicians Iuriy Zakharenko and   Viktor Honchar, the journalist Dmytro Zavadskii, and still others critical   toward the current regime became their victims. 

In addition, as the Latin American experience shows,   death squads do not necessarily have to be formed directly by state leaders   or protected by them.  You just need a   general atmosphere of disorder among the people and no restraints placed on   people in power and their lackeys in the country, as well as similar actions   by middle-ranking state functionaries and police.  And then it takes off – regional aces look   at what their neighbors and colleagues are doing, and then they want to do   the same thing.  Moreover, the police –   as events in Vradiivka and the crackdown on the Kyiv Euromaidan indicate –   have enough types ready to do anything.    Or almost everything.  But   social and political processes have their own logic:  people who without consequences burn   automobiles and apartments, beat journalists and opposition figures, those   people, if they are not stopped, will inevitably turn to kidnapping people   and killing them.  That is, of course,   unless you stop such people in time, and firmly. 

And one more lesson from Latin American history:  death squads that emerged in part from   police structures often slipped away from the state’s control and themselves   began attacking the state, especially locally.  Thus their victims often included those who   at one time had called on the dictatorship’s fanatic (and well-paid)   defenders to commit their dirty, bloody actions in the first place.  Such is one of history’s logical paradoxes…

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