David Marples

On October 17, at a symposium on “Negotiating Borders” organized by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, Ivan Katchanovski, an Ottawa-based scholar, presented a paper on “The ‘Snipers’ Massacre’ on the Maidan in Ukraine.” He argued that leaders of the Maidan gained power as a result of a massacre organized by their own supporters, using as evidence video footage, TV and Internet broadcasting, and radio intercepts, as well as bullet holes, in trees and other places.

The paper was received rather coldly. Indeed Bohdan Harasymiw, one of the organizers of the conference, ignoring the usual politeness one might expect would be accorded to a guest speaker, derided the paper as having neither theory nor analysis, while another participant from the host institution, Taras Kuzio, dismissed Katchanovski personally as an anti-Ukrainian, noting that his opinions mirrored those of Vladimir Putin and Russian propaganda organs.

On the other hand, after the appearance of this paper on a Facebook site, Volodymyr Ishchenko, who offers analysis on Ukrainian politics from a leftist perspective, described it as an important study, commenting: “This is the most documented and coherent interpretation of Feb 20 events I’ve seen so far…. And, of course, if it was proven that the incumbent government came to power in [sic!] the result of a huge bloody provocation, it must have political consequences.”

A reading of this 29-page paper would therefore seem warranted. As preliminary comments, one notes some oddities about this paper. On three occasions the author refers to it as an “academic” study. It is not. It is an unpublished research paper that has not yet been peer reviewed. That is evident from its layout, which is a chaotic listing of facts, one after the other, often in a very confusing manner. An editor would have asked the author to highlight the important facts and say why they are significant.

An editor would also have suggested the removal of passages that are completely off topic, such as the author’s allusion (p. 28) to Nazi, OUN, and UPA-led crimes in the Second World War, which are compared directly, without the addition of a single date, to deaths in Odesa and the Donbas in 2014.

Moreover, the paper appears politically driven, i.e. it sets out to prove that the change of regime in Kyiv last spring was illegitimate and that a democratically elected president (however corrupt) was forced out of power by a rightist-orchestrated coup. The conclusion is a veritable jumble of illogical reasoning and statements that do not seem warranted by the findings, which are themselves confusing, as will be noted below. Here is one example:

The seemingly irrational mass shooting and killing of protesters and the police on February 20 [2014] appear to be rational from the self-interest based perspectives of rational choice and Weberian theories of instrumentally rational action.

What these Weberian theories are, the reader is left to ponder.

Katchanovski declares that the massacre of protesters and police “represented a violent overthrow of the government in Ukraine and a major human rights crime” (p.29). After denouncing the “violent overthrow” as the root cause of all that followed, he makes another remarkable statement. While the evidence shows that both the Maidan opposition and the “far right” were clearly carrying out the killing of the 100-plus innocents in the square: “the involvement of the special police units in killings of some of the protesters cannot be entirely ruled out based on publicly available evidence” (p. 29) [my italics]. So were they involved or not?

The meat of the paper is a long chronicle of who was shooting from where and at whom. But it is very difficult to follow and the blurry photographs included do not help very much. At one point the author notes that the pro-Maidan snipers were holed up in Hotel Ukraina. On page 7, for example (lines 1-3) we read that, based on video evidence, two protesters were shot from this direction, one with 7.62mm bullet, and one wounded “in his backside.” Further, on page 25 (lines 1-2), there is a firm statement that “The types of guns and ammunition used and the direction and type of the entry wound among both protesters and policemen also confirm that the shooters came from the Maidan side” (p. 25).

Yet on page 26, the author cites a parliamentary commission report that the police on the Maidan were shot by firearms and ammunition that protesters stole from the police after raids on various arsenals in Western Ukraine. So how is it possible to determine the perpetrators if both had access to the same types of weapons? They could indeed have been members of the Right Sector. They could also have been police agents. We have no names or identities.

On page 19, one reads about gunfire from the Kozatsky Hotel and from the Trade Union building, as well as from the Main Post Office (p20). On this same page, the author cites a statement by an “unidentified intruder” to Internal Troops that people were “aiming a rocket propelled grenade launcher into the Hotel Ukraina from the 6th floor of the Trade Union building.” Assuming one wants to accept this statement as “evidence, were they shooting at their own snipers? And hotels are rather large places; it seems unlikely that either side would completely occupy or control a building as large as Hotel Ukraina. The author informs (p. 15) us that ABC News reporters were based here, for example. There are other apparent anomalies. If the massacre and subsequent events constituted a coup by the Right Sector, then why are its supporters not in power today? One recalls their unceremonious eviction from the Hotel Dnipro on April 1, 2014 ( Can one have a successful coup that does not result in a takeover of power by the perpetrators?

If these events constituted simply a violent overthrow of a democratically elected regime, other things need explaining too: the subsequent holding of presidential and (forthcoming) parliamentary elections; and the explanation of why former President Yanukovych had been preparing for several days (if not weeks) to leave his residence, as evidenced by the fleets of vehicles moving his goods from Mezhyhirya. It was not a sudden departure forced by the threat of his capture. Central Kyiv after all is 12 miles away.

Not all of Dr. Katchanovski’s findings should be dismissed. He has raised some new evidence that suggests new investigations into the sniper massacres are much needed. The official version of events is indeed deeply troublesome and his gathering of new material is commendable. His paper does provide evidence that there were several separate groups of snipers, including anti-government ones.

The problem is that while the paper is not devoid of analysis—Bohdan Harasymiw’s comments were unjustified in this respect—it appears to be based on preconceived conclusions, all heavily weighted against the supporters of Maidan and the current government of Ukraine. In short it reads less like an academic paper and more like a polemic that addresses its findings in an unsatisfactory and unconvincing manner.

Virtually anyone interested in Ukraine with access to the Internet watched live feeds of the unprovoked police violence of November 30 and December 1, 2013, which in the eyes of many Kyiv locals transformed the protests from “Euromaidan” to a “Revolution of Dignity.” As subsequent election results corroborated, peaceful supporters of Euromaidan heavily outnumbered the violent activists of Right Sector and other forces. The protests and the attempt to form a more democratic government based on popular support must be given their due before any analysis of why events turned so violent.

That statement in no way implies that the new government was universally popular, or that Euromaidan was welcomed in all parts of Ukraine. Nor does it suggest that right-wing forces were not growing and problematic.

The author’s depiction of such groups seeking to benefit from the mass protests and use them as a means of taking power, even to the point of killing their own fellow demonstrators on the square, is an important issue. But the paper doesn’t debate this question; it simply assumes it as a given fact, in a Conclusion that seems somewhat divorced from the rest of the paper.

It would have been advisable for the author to focus on his findings and offer some preliminary assessments as to what they might mean. If the reader discerns that the apparent purpose of a paper is to discredit and malign the current government, then it ipso facto becomes a political tract (and moreover one that appears to fall closely into line with the RT version of events disseminated in the Russian Federation), which then leads to suspicions about its methodology. A more objective approach is needed. Without it, even the most startling revelations will not receive serious attention.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta


  1. It’s hard to understand why, after such a thorough thrashing, you stick in a paragraph like this:

    Not all of Dr. Katchanovski’s findings should be dismissed. He has raised some new evidence that suggests new investigations into the sniper massacres are much needed. The official version of events is indeed deeply troublesome and his gathering of new material is commendable. His paper does provide evidence that there were several separate groups of snipers, including anti-government ones

    None of this seems warranted. Just what is this new evidence, then? Just what is this evidence that there were “anti-government snipers” — which then would tend to justify the whole paper in the first place?

    Which indeed doesn’t seem justified, from every other point you made.

    The Kremlin propagandists continue to make hay with all this, and distort the facts and interpolate their own distorted telephone intercepts and so on.

    So really, there should be this much-discussed independent investigation. When? And by whom? And how? A lot of the trail is cold now. But it should be performed anyway.

    Perhaps even a credible Ukrainian human rights group could get started.

    The doctor who examined the patients and who was then involved in the intercepted conversation then ran for election, which was disappointing because I wish that as important as the parliament is, that some people would remain outside of it and attend to this and other very important human rights investigations like that of the Odessa fire.

  2. Full Videoproof of Maidan snipers killing Ukraine Civilians Shooting From Behind! GRAPHIC !

  3. Nena Jocic-Andrejevic

    David, thank you for the analysis. Unfortunately, it will take at least a decade if not more to unravel the real truth of the events that occurred that fateful day in Kiev. Remember the cluster bombs that killed so many people in a market in Sarajevo? Here we are twenty years later and “Who Done it” evidence is still being picked apart by the Hague Tribunal. In incidents like these, the truth is eventually unearthed, justice eventually done, however much too late. By the time the guilty are revealed, the world has changed. The initial orchestrated public opinion prevails, and it is what the public remembers. Despite the fact that the evidence absolves those initially accused, the stigma continues to hold the public opinion. Hence, the evidence that is uncovered in the legal proceedings is often left for the academics to analyse and reveal the truth to the public. However, by the time everything is brought to light, the public has forgotten the incident, the media no longer pays attention and the world has moved on. And those in power, who have been the initial perpetrators suppress this truth as it does not serve to maintain their position of power. Unfortunately, it is left to the historians to offer us the truth a half a century later, and by that time, those that have changed our history in the process of that half a century, have deprived us of the real “timeline”, a timeline where we could have addressed such untruths in real time, and lived different lives. If that were possible perhaps we would never have experienced WWII, or the war in the former Yugoslavia. Bottom line, it is hard to see who is orchestrating your history when you are in the middle of it all, when one is faced with so many impassioned opinions – no one wants to hear the facts.

    The Maidan massacre and “Who done it” will pit historians against one other just like in the case of the Holodrom. Or for that matter many, many, historic events around the world.

    • I am sure you are right, Nena. Ukraine can learn a lot from the experience of the former Yugoslavian states. All the best to you and thanks for the comment.

    • I don’t see that in this day and age with so much social media recording events and 24/7 mainstream media that we have to wait 20 years. There’s no reason not to start now. There are good human rights groups in Ukraine that could do a study even if a formal government investigation is delayed.

  4. You can’t ban neonazi Marilyn Justice…?

  5. Catherine Fitzpatrick : “So really, there should be this much-discussed independent investigation. When? And by whom? And how? A lot of the trail is cold now. But it should be performed anyway.”

    Why do you think a thorough investigation has been delayed? There are people in the Kiev government who stand to lose if the true facts emerge. Pravey Sektor was involved in the sniper attacks… these allegations are not ‘Kremlin propaganda.’ Pro-Kiev battalions composed of neo-Nazi and ultranationalist recruits have been used to terrorize towns and villages in eastern Ukraine – the Aidar and Azov battalions to name two.This demonstrates that there are people in Kiev who have no scruples or limits whatever when it comes to what they are prepared to do in order to drive their agenda.

  6. I reject all the claims here.

    There is no evidence that Pravy Sektor is involved in shooting its own fellow Maidan demonstrators.

    It is known that Yanukovych ordered the firing on the demonstrators of the troops under his command at the time, which was related to Russian intelligence. Regrettably those with confirmation of these facts are not publishing them.

    No one has presented any credible evidence whatsoever that Right Sector or any other group fired on their own people as provocation. The KGB and its successors may think in these terms; social movements in Ukraine don’t.

    As for the claim that battalions “terrorize towns,” this is utterly false. The people who terrorize towns are the Russian-backed militants. Whatever Right Sector activity you could find in Ukraine in towns like Ternopol, where Maidan people took over the prosecutor’s office, for example, after Maidan, this is utterly dwarfed by what happened in April: Russian-backed militants took over more than 100 administrative buildings in dozens of towns all over the southeast. This is all very well documented.

    As for the much ballyhooed Aidar and Azov battalions, they are a magnet for leftwing journalists and provocateurs and Kremlin trolls.

    Yes, Amnesty International documented…three cases of kidnapping by Aidar. They had hearsay about possibly a dozen more. You’d be hard put to find any more than they have, and believe me, they tried hard, as the narrative of the liberal groups in the West has also, like Moscow’s, been “Ukrainian fascist junta.”

    But contrast this with the UN High Commissioner of Human Right’s report which documented *812 cases* of kidnappings, rape, torture and murder *by the Russian-backed separatists.* Again, whatever neo-Nazi fascism you find on the right in Ukraine is utterly dwarfed by the ultranationalist Russians causing mayhem in southeastern Ukraine.

    I won’t put all the links here because some systems automatically block or delete such posts as spam. But Google the key words, they are all easily found.

    The crimes of the right-wing battalions are real, but small in number. We’ve reporeted on them. The crimes of the Russian-backed separatists are far, far greater. They are the ones who took over the Donbass. The Ukrainian military is defending its territory, and receding.

    It started with the sniping in Maidan, for which Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow bear the full blame.

  7. David, I think you’ve caused a lot of mayhem by being a credible source seeming to criticize Katchanovski’s report, yet allowing a few sentences into your otherwise severely critical analysis to concede to him some legitimacy of “new evidence,” while not providing any independence of your own to back up this claim:

    Please do so.

    “His paper does provide evidence that there were several separate groups of snipers, including anti-government ones.”


    If you can prove independently and credibly of him that there were “several separate groups of snipers, including anti-government ones,” then do so.

    He is not credible.

    If indeed some credible evidence is brought forward that there was some kind of anti-government set of snipers, then one would have to ask critically:

    1. Are these a false flag by Russia or the Yanukovych regime?
    2. Are these battalions Maidan activists that knew of the order to shoot and believed they should attempt self-defense and counter-action?
    3. If 2, can it be proved that they deliberately, or even accidently, shot and killed demonstrators?

    The provision of evidence that there is an “anti-government group of snipers” isn’t enough here. It would also have to demonstrate that they either deliberately or even accidentally shot at demonstrators and not the government’s own snipers..

  8. Hi Catherine…

    You say: “As for the claim that battalions “terrorize towns,” this is utterly false.”

    Here’s a link to the Amnesty International page that documents the crimes and abuses of the Aidar battalion – you’ll find a little more than three cases of kidnapping.

    The Amnesty report includes this paragraph:

    “Members of the Aidar territorial defence battalion, operating in the north Luhansk region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.”

    Also do you have any idea what the Azov battalion got up to in Mariupol? Even mainstream German media that has been for the most part anti-Russian lambasted the neo-Nazi beliefs, regalia and tactics that Azov makes no secret of. Here is a link to a YouTube video from a German broadcaster (with English subtitles) that shows Choco King Poroshenko handing out awards to the “heroes” of the Azov battalion. It also includes footage of Azov fighters in action looking for all the world like WW2 German soldiers on the eastern front.

    You claim: “…whatever neo-Nazi fascism you find on the right in Ukraine is utterly dwarfed by the ultranationalist Russians causing mayhem in southeastern Ukraine.”

    These are Russian-speaking ethnic Russians on their own soil who never backed Maidan and whose political rights, culture and tradition was targeted from the word go by the unelected junta in Kiev. They have a full right to stand up for their tradition, rights and security.

    The 50 or so pro-Kiev battalions that operated in eastern Ukraine aren’t exactly a footnote in the conflict. They and their allied organizations are now threatening to overthrow the government in Kiev because they suspect a betrayal is in the works.

    • These videos of Azov or Aidar with their scary Nazi-like insignia are constantly produced as proof of something because they “look like” Nazis. But while no decent person can justify such insignia or viewpoints, you have to ask the question: and what atrocities can you prove they have done? “By their fruits ye shall know them,” not by their insignia.

      By contrast with those other fascists, the Russian fighters who started this and keep it going are documented as committing worse atrocities. Yes, that includes shelling civilian areas as well, just as the Ukrainian armed forces have. So the answer is: far, far less when it comes to analyzing actions with deliberate intent. And you can find many videos, pictures, and web sites of the Russian fascists if you’re willing to read Russian — they get less coverage by Western media.

      Let’s start with the People’s Liberation Movement whose two cadres were killed in crossfire in battle along with Russian state photographer Andrei Stenin, after filming the torment of a Ukrainian POW:

      Prosyolkov, evidently killed in a ultranationalist faction fight:

      Pavel Gubarev training with the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity organization run by Aleksandr Barkeshov:

      There’s Aleksandr Dugin’s and Edward Limonov’s fighters, too, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky has also sent aid to the millitants in southeast Ukraine:

      How about all those far-right and neo-Nazi parties that keep showing up to help Putin “observe” elections?

      David Marples would not dispute any of this and knows it is true.

      I’ve read the Amnesty report 10 times because it is constantly flogged. Read it again yourself. There are three cases there that they can actually document with direct eyewitnesses or victims. They refer to *hearsay* about the rest (perhaps a dozen).

      Meanwhile, read the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights where *812* kidnappings are cited — they have an office in the region and thorough researchers:

      Also read Human Rights Watch, on torture and murder by rebel forces:

      Far. far more cases than in the Amnesty report about Aidar — where they really strained to make the “fascist Ukrainian” point and failed, even with considerable help from certain leftist Western media and of course Russian state media.

      And these reports are from the summer — there have been more cases since then. Recently, the OSCE confirmed that there are 3 graves with a total of 9 persons in them outside of Donetsk that they believe are Russian POWs or civilians killed by Ukrainian battalions. Meanwhile, Ukrainian military has found a mass grave in Slavyansk with 14 victims, including the 4 Protestant men who were kidnapped and torture and killed, and their cars stolen. And they have not finished with other graves there.

      Compare and contrast the stories of journalists detained and tortured by the Russian-backed separatists, or killed. Versus the stories of Russian journalists detained and tortured by Ukrainians. I’ve covered both sides. The Russian separatists are far worse:

      Would you rather have the experience of this cartoonist who mocked Strelkov and the other DPR commanders?
      Or the experience of “Streamer Vlad” who ran livestream video of the separatists?

      Both are wrong, one is worse. And there are many more — Russian and Western journalists like Simon Ostrovsky, detained, beaten, hung by their arms on the wall, forced to face mock executions.

      And so on. The crimes committed by the Russian-backed militants *are far worse*. They are *far greater in number*. That someone like you who obviously backs one side and flogs propaganda in comments like these isn’t a surprise that you willfully remain blind to the obvious. But reporters from Western media who are supposed to have more investigative skills and impartiality don’t have an excuse. Yet we keep getting articles on Aidar and “fascists” — when their crimes *are dwarfed* by the separatists.

      This idea that there was some sort of threat to the Russian language and Soviet culture that people cling to in this region is absolutely absurd. The much ballyhooed language law that Kiev was going to enforce instead got withdrawn – but even before that it was conceded that *the regions could have any official language they wanted* and obviously Russian was untouched. The reason I can easily find out about this war which I cover every day is because everyone speaks Russian including in Kiev, including pro-Kiev battalions, including Ukrainian officials. Hello!

      And Kiev continues to subsidize the region and pay pensions to numerous retired people in the region — and deal with self-induced debts — of the $1.5 billion electricity bill that the Russians demand paid before they will let gas flow again, more than $400 million comes in unpaid bills by the Donbass. Russia should pay it, for starting the war.

      The Ukrainian battalions you fret about are among those who speak Russian. And the idea that they’re going to “overthrow” the government is absurd. They have had a few demonstrations which the Russian state media gave more airtime to than their actual size. They do not have a significant presence in parliament now. Sure, they will rightly go on protesting because it seems indeed, they’ve been fed to the Russian invasion as cannon fodder at times. I’m confident if we tune in six months from now we will find they are no further in “overthrowing” the government.

      The ultranationalist Russians are, were, and will be the problem in this region, starting with Putin who manipulates them, turning them on and off as suits.

  9. Many people cite the Amnesty report without ever reading it, or read it rapidly without really analyzing it, despite the numerous times it have been mentioned by various Western newspapers. I’ve actually seldom seen such a flimsy report making sweeping pronouncements without facts — and likely it could get more facts, but hasn’t — Amnesty has found that even a hint of allegation will get massive press coverage and no one will ask for more. Let’s go over it, and you’ll see why I speak of only three documented cases:

    First, Amnesty makes this sweeping claim:

    “Members of the Aidar territorial defence battalion, operating in the north Luhansk region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.”

    Possible executions — when we have documentation of actual executions by the separatists.

    So, during a 2-week fact-finding mission, AI spoke to “dozens of victims and witnesses of the abuses, as well as local officials, army commanders and police officers in the area and representatives of the Aidar battalion” and “documented dozens of cases of abuses allegedly committed by members of the Aidar battalion.”

    Surely, with such “widespread” abuses, AI could come up with a longer list of names, or if people refused to give identification, victims they could label with numbers.

    But even they write “allegedly” — and here’s what they came up with: three actual cases of abduction they could document.

    o On 25-27 August, Aidar battalion members abducted 4 miners from Novodruzhesk, a small town north of Lysychansk.

    Note that they say “4” but only come up with facts on two of them?

    (1) ” One of the men, “Andriy” (not his real name), undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer, told Amnesty International that he was outside his home at 3pm on 27 August when a group of Aidar battalion fighters arrived in a minibus” — and he describes how his jaw was broken.

    He describes “There were about 12-15 other detainees there.” — but we don’t know who they are or what was done to them — that’s hearsay.

    (2) “Family members of two of the other detained men, seeking information on 28 August at Severodonetsk police station about their whereabouts, told Amnesty International that police and soldiers in Lysychansk told them about a secret detention facility in Severodonetsk etainees were forced to recite the Ukrainian national anthem and beaten if they failed.”

    So what about the other two? Names? Places?

    Here’s the third case:

    (3) “On 25 August, at around 4 p.m., members of the Aidar battalion abducted Yevhen a 31-year-old local businessman, near the TV tower outside of Starobilsk.”

    A there’s a fourth case — which in fact isn’t an abduction because these Nazi monsters are convinced not to take the grandson of an old lady:

    “Olena told Amnesty International that the armed men searched the house, and wanted to detain her grandson, accusing him of being a separatist. She managed to convince them not to take him away, but they took some money.”

    Many people are still detained, or missing, when they end up in the hands of Russian-backed executioners like Igor Bezler.

  10. A couple of points, David…

    You write:”hotels are rather large places; it seems unlikely that either side would completely occupy or control a building as large as Hotel Ukraina”. Surely the question to consider is — who controlled access to the building, and security within it? Who would have had the ability to detain a person shooting from its windows, if that person wasn’t one of their own?

    You ask: “Can one have a successful coup that does not result in a takeover of power by the perpetrators?” The answer is yes, one example being the May 1958 coup in France. It was an armed revolt, whose leaders such as Jacques Massu succeeded in telling the country’s parliament what to do; but Massu and his associates didn’t become the rulers of France. Instead they gave the presidency to a man who had been president before: Charles de Gaulle.

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