A lawyer who represents families of activists killed during Maidan protests in Kyiv in the winter of 2013 to 2014 has gone on a hunger strike. Evgeniya Zakrevskaya is protesting what many Ukrainian activists fear may be a collapse of investigations into Maidan-related abuses.
Six years ago, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine following the government’s unexpected decision, announced on November 21, 2013, to suspend plans to enter into a political and trade deal with the European Union that would have advanced Ukraine’s integration into the EU.
Marches and rallies continued peacefully until, on the night of November 30, riot police violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) using excessive force. After that, tens of thousands of people joined the protests. In January and February, violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement in Kyiv killed more than 120 people, including over 100 protesters, and injured hundreds.
Justice for the abuses, including the killing of protesters, have remained elusive and marred by constant procedural delays.
As of last week, all ongoing cases into those crimes were effectively suspended when most Maidan-related investigations were passed from the Prosecutor General’s Office to another body, the State Bureau of Investigations. This transfer of pretrial investigations was part of a broader overhaul of the prosecutor’s office, which retains its oversight function.
In their appeal to senior government officials, activists and lawyers representing Maidan victims expressed concerns about this development because no specific unit within the bureau has been tasked with dealing with the Maidan investigations. The removal of investigators who have for years worked on the colossal volume of evidence in these cases would mean a great loss of continuity, knowledge, and understanding. Activists have warned of the cases’ “imminent collapse.”
Ukrainian authorities should take steps to ensure that the investigations continue and none of the work already done on Maidan-related cases is lost. The government should establish procedures to allow investigators who had been working on these cases to stay involved.
Families of victims of Maidan-related crimes should not have to wait this long for justice only to have it jeopardized by bureaucracy.