Yanukovych Denies Ordering Euromaidan Shootings; Kyiv Announces Treason Charge
RFE/RL November 28, 2016
Exiled former President Viktor Yanukovych has told a Ukrainian court via video link that he never ordered police to fire on protesters during Euromaidan demonstrations that roiled the country nearly three years ago.
The statements -- from Russia -- mark the 66-year-old Yanukovych's first testimony to a Ukrainian court over the deaths, which helped fuel the unrest that ousted his pro-Moscow administration in February 2014.
It came as Ukrainian prosecutors used a pause in the proceedings in Kyiv on November 28 to announce that they have launched formal treason charges against Yanukovych.
"From the very beginning till the very end, I stood against bloodshed," Yanukovych told the Ukrainian court. "I am not capable of giving such orders."
The former head of state was testifying as a witness in a trial of five former Berkut riot policemen accused of carrying out the shootings.
Many Ukrainians are angry that Yanukovych isn't facing trial himself.
Yanukovych had been scheduled to testify on November 25, but those proceedings were postponed after protesters from the nationalist Right Sector group prevented the transfer to a Kyiv court of the five defendants, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Right Sector activists had vowed not to block the rescheduled court session.
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko told the court on November 28 that Yanukovych has been formally charged with treason.
"You are suspected of treason, complicity with representatives of Russia's authorities with the aim of changing Ukraine's borders, violating Ukraine's constitution, and unleashing an aggressive war," Lutsenko said.
More than 100 demonstrators were killed during three months of street protests and other unrest that reverberated from Kyiv's Independence Square after Yanukovych spurned closer cooperation with the European Union late in 2013 in favor of Moscow.
Weeks after Yanukovych fled Ukraine in late February 2014, Russian troops took control of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and began backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, sparking a conflict that has claimed more than 9,600 lives.
Yanukovych, who is now living in the Russian city of Rostov on Don, is already being investigated on suspicion of mass murder.
Yanukovych told the court on November 28 that the shootings on Independence Square were part of a "planned operation" to topple his government.
"The Maidan violence was a pseudo-operation to change power," Yanukovych was quoted as saying by Russia's state-run TASS news agency from a courtroom in Rostov on Don.
The Euromaidan protests began in November 2013 after Yanukovych abruptly announced he was suspending a planned trade deal with the EU following pressure from the Kremlin.
Lutsenko has said the Kremlin has allowed Yanukovych to be cross-examined merely as a public-relations stunt, pointing to Russian insistence the testimony coincide with the third anniversary of the protests.
Moscow claims the Euromaidan uprising was orchestrated by the West and questions the legitimacy of the post-Yanukovych leadership in Kyiv.
With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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