“He writes like a god, it’s 10 heads above any judge,” one of the prosecutors in the case of the Maidan shootings, probably the most important case in modern Ukrainian history, commented on the verdict of Judge Diachuk in an interview with a journalist from Slidstvo.Info

On 18 October, a jury headed by presiding judge Serhiy Diachuk sentenced the former deputy head of the Kyiv special forces ‘Berkut’, Oleh Yanishevskyi, to life imprisonment for the shooting of 48 people and the wounding of 80 others, followed by 15 years in prison for the fighters of the special forces, Pavlo Abroskin and Serhiy Zinchenko, and 5 years in prison for another fighter, Oleksandr Marynchenko. The court acquitted the 5th soldier, Serhiy Tamtura. However, after the court’s verdict, no one was physically imprisoned. Now, both prosecutors and lawyers of the ‘Berkut’ officers are appealing against this court decision.

Slidstvo.Info spoke to Judge Serhiy Diachuk and explains why we have witnessed a historic trial.

Judge Serhiy Diachuk


The Sviatoshynskyi District Court, chaired by Serhiy Diachuk, has been considering the case of the shooting of 48 people on Instytutska Street since 2015. Five former members of the Kyiv ‘Berkut’ special forces were in the dock.

During the trial, the parents of some of the murdered died and never lived to see the verdict, one of the prosecutors in the case found his childhood love in the United States and moved there, another prosecutor went to war with the start of the full-scale invasion, as did one of the victims’ lawyers, some witnesses also went to war and some of them have already died. During this time, one presidential election took place, Ukraine and the rest of the world experienced covid, and then the beginning of a full-scale invasion, one of the judges died, and the case still continued. 

A journalist from Slidstvo.Info is asking Judge Diachuk, after he and the jury have delivered a 1700-page verdict, how he measures this time. 

“My youngest son went to the first grade after the Maidan, and now he is finishing school. I promised him that we would finish the case while you were at school, and it would not go to university with you. Because he knows everything,” Diachuk says of his own countdown.

However, the biggest blow to the establishment of justice in this case was not Covid, not the war, not the deaths of some participants in the trial and the absence of others, but the events of 29 December 2019, when President Zelensky agreed to exchange the ‘Berkut’ officers accused of shooting for Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. 

In early 2020, two of the defendants — Tamtura and Marynchenko — returned to Kyiv and continued to participate in the hearings. 

In the end, the court fully acquitted Serhiy Tamtura and sentenced Oleksandr Marynchenko to 5 years behind bars, which he had already served during the trial. 

The parents of those killed on Instytutska listened to the verdict in the silence of the cemetery. “What did our relatives die for?” the mothers of those killed on Instytutska repeated after Diachuk finished reading the last words.

“I support their dissatisfaction,” says Serhiy Dyachuk about the emotions of the victims’ relatives. “In the language of Telegram, what kind of nonsense is this: first they let them go, then they try them. Of course, for a normal person, there was some kind of violation of logic. Why then let him go and then try him?”

In such circumstances, it was a priori impossible for the verdict to reach its result. Since the persons who were sentenced have already left, they will not return.” 

When politics intervened in the trial at the end of 2019, Diachuk refused to agree to any compromise with the authorities to change the preventive measure for the ‘Berkut’ officers from custody to personal recognizance. The authorities needed this formality to exchange the accused for captured Ukrainians. Not only Judge Diachuk, but also the prosecutors in the case did not agree to this. The then-Prosecutor General Riaboshapka had to change the prosecution within hours, and the ‘Berkut’ members were released by the judges on appeal. Three of the defendants have not yet returned to the government-controlled territories. 

President Zelenskyy commented on his decision at the time: “I respect everyone who lost their loved ones on the Maidan. Unfortunately, we will not return the dead, but we could return the living.” 

Back in 2019, during the exchange, Judge Diachuk said that he was preparing a verdict for the spring of 2020, the case was nearing completion, and after the verdict and justice was done, an exchange could be arranged. But it did not happen that way.

The 1,700-page verdict was written during the full-scale invasion, with blackouts and air raids. 

The most important thing that is written on these 1700 pages is that it was not Russian or Georgian snipers or some other unknown third party who shot at the protesters. Ukrainian citizens were shot by Ukrainian law enforcement officers.


Imagine you are firing bursts from your Kalashnikov into a crowd of people, you are in charge of other people with similarly armed assault rifles, and you see through the sights of your rifle people in plastic construction helmets and wooden shields falling one by one. One of your group of men in black even shoots the one crawling with a stretcher to save those your group had already shot earlier. Your results are better than in some kind of shooting range — in just two hours, almost fifty killed, 80 wounded, and you are constantly moving and slowly retreating, after two hours of such “work” you go behind the concrete blocks. You set up your men, take up observation positions and… call your wife. This takes many seconds. What are you talking about?

Screenshot of the video reconstruction of the shooting of the Heavenly Hundred

This is really unknown. What did Lieutenant Colonel Oleh Yanishevskyi talk about with his wife two hours after the shootings of the protesters on Instytutska Street? Neither he nor his wife testified in court. But the court found that he spoke to her — for many seconds. 

We, having telephony (printouts of phone calls — ed.), found out that at that particular moment there was a call from a number belonging to Yanishevskyi. This number was located within the radius of the Zhovtnevyi Palace during the shooting of people. The video shows a man in camouflage making a call at the exact second when the call to Yanishevskyi’s wife was recorded.

The shooting on 20 February 2014 on Instytutska Street was broadcast by many cameras: CCTV, journalists, eyewitnesses’ mobile phones or even those who lived in the Ukraina Hotel. There were bullets in the bodies of the victims, and it would seem that it would not be difficult, we just need to investigate everything thoroughly. 

However, the ‘black company’ of ‘Berkut’ that shot the protesters, all but the commander, wore black uniforms and balaclavas.

Shot: in its verdict, the court found that the man in camouflage was police lieutenant colonel Oleh Yanishevskyi / Screenshot from Hromadske video

Later, law enforcement officers could not remember anything from the events of that day during interrogations. The commander of one of the Kyiv ‘Berkut’ companies, Dmytro Sadovnyk, helped the investigation. In the video, among the men in black who are shooting at the protesters, there is one man in the same uniform who is holding an assault rifle in a very specific way, as if he had something wrong with his hand. It was Dmytro Sadovnyk who was missing a hand. 

He was detained along with the soldiers Abroskin and Zinchenko in April 2014. But Sadovnyk was helped to escape: the judge changed his measure of restraint from custody to round-the-clock arrest with the protection of the new Ukrainian police, and so Sadovnyk fled to Russia. 

Someone stole the assault rifles assigned to the ‘Berkut’ fighters, cut them up and threw them into a lake on the edge of Kyiv, and they were found at the end of 2016. 

The rest of the special forces from the ‘black company’ managed to escape to Russia in the summer of 2014, when an operation to detain them was planned. Someone from the security forces warned the police a few days before the arrest. In the end, in 2015, only Yanishevskyi, Tamtura and Marynchenko, who had already fought in the ATO zone on the side of Ukraine, were detained. (As Yanishevskyi said in his only interview from the detention centre, the ‘Berkut’ officers went to the front line on the orders of the then post-Maidan Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, who offered the former ‘Berkut’ officers to take part in combat operations and thus ‘atone’ for their actions, and in return, the ‘Berkut’ officers were promised non-prosecution for the Maidan — ed.). 

The court managed to establish that it was Yanishevskyi who was the man in camouflage among the men in black, who was firing bursts into the crowd and giving orders to others. The court also found out that a bullet from Abroskin’s assault rifle had stuck in the body of the wounded Maidan activist Sviatoslav Kolesnikov. 

We have come to the conclusion that Abroskin is among these fighters. We established that he was moving in this group of shooters, firing shots, as evidenced by the shell casings and bullets found at the scene, but not in the bodies of the victims. 

The prosecutor’s claim that the bullet of Berkut officer Zinchenko was in the body of Shymko (Hero of the Heavenly Hundred Maksym Shymko — ed.) was not confirmed, the bullet in his body cannot be identified. But the bullet found near Shymko’s body was fired from Zinchenko’s assault rifle. But since it was intact, and there were elements of the bullet in the body of the murdered activist, we cannot link them. But this gives us an understanding that the shooting was in the direction of the activists’ movement.


“We did not look for arguments for making this or that decision, we analysed the system,” Diachuk explains the jury’s decision. 

In the end, the court identified not only the 5 defendants in their case, but in fact the verdict has much more: it identified what, how and when (to the second) the other 16 ‘Berkut’ soldiers did. 

An episode that we investigated on a certain day turned out to be uninformative in order to even make sure that law enforcement officers were shooting. And when we came to the conclusion that it was necessary to present the chronology of people’s injuries, we formed groups of 8, 10, 12 people who were nearby at the same time and were injured from the same side at the same time, then the uninformative episodes were added to the system. This is how we identified the location of each soldier based on the evidence, which is what we wanted the prosecutor’s office to do in the investigative experiment: 16 assault rifles, who and where they were, where they were shooting from — this is already in the verdict.”

The court ruled in its verdict that a single unit acted in a coordinated manner, and “not a godfather, brother-in-law and brother gathered together”. However, the court rejected that this organised group of law enforcement officers, by shooting protesters, was committing a terrorist act to intimidate the Maidan.

It was the acquittal of all 5 defendants under this article that most outraged the prosecutors, who are now preparing to argue for terrorism in the actions of the ‘Berkut’ officers in the Court of Appeal, as well as another article under which Diachuk and the jury acquitted the defendants — obstruction of peaceful protests.

With a terrorist act, we think that this is a search for easy ways, if it is a terrorist group, it doesn’t matter whether you are an accountant or were sitting at the entrance, you don’t have to work hard to prove anything. 

We came to the conclusion that a special operation took place near the Zhovtnevyi Palace, as it is impossible to establish anything else. They (“special forces” — ed.) received an order and went to evacuate the area near the Zhovtnevyi Palace. They went out, reached the target, stopped and did not shoot for 4 minutes. If they had a motive – to drive behind the stage, to stop the Maidan – their positions were excellent: the police went to surround it from below, but the ‘Berkut’ officers kept retreating. If we accept the prosecutors’ claim that Yanishevskyi received an order to commit a terrorist act from his superiors on the phone, he did not carry it out. Since he stopped and did not fire for four minutes, did he get scared? The tragedy could have ended with 4 killed and 8 wounded, that’s all that happened in the first 12 minutes — that’s the cost of the operation near the Zhovtnevyi Palace. The goal was legitimate — to evacuate law enforcement officers from the Zhovtnevyi Palace. They had the right to use their weapons, but they used them dangerously close by. That is why we say that they exceeded their authority. The result was four dead. Apparently, Yanishevskyi had no experience.

After 12 minutes of shooting, during which ‘Berkut’ officers killed 4 activists and wounded 8, there was silence for 4 minutes, then someone from the protesters killed a ‘Berkut’ officer, Mykola Symysiuk.

We had a discussion. Indeed, there was a police officer killed, and this cannot be ignored. They have the right to defence. We came to the conclusion that no defence was necessary in this case. If they were responding to the source of the shots, if their actions were aimed at defending themselves, suppressing the fire, let’s say they were shooting from the third window, then we would respond there, so that they would keep their heads down while we were retreating, but otherwise, they were shooting both there and there – against the whole Maidan. Then Sadovnyk appeared, who was at a meeting at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and we do not know what instructions he received there. Together with Yanishevskyi, they made decisions and gave orders related to the shooting, which defies any explanation. 

After the murder of Mykola Symysiuk, the Berkut special forces under the command of Yanishevskyi and Sadovnyk shot 42 more people and wounded 72 more. 

Why did you have to kill so many people? Just for no reason. I don’t believe they didn’t know that other law enforcement officers were involved. ‘Omega’ (special forces — ed.) had already arrived, Sadovnyk was in touch with them, and ‘Omega’ had contact with the State Protection Department. There was no such thing as being left there alone, hugging, smoking, saying “no one will take us alive”, there was no such thing as that. And it was the law enforcement officers who did it. And if they at least had a weapon – but there is no explanation. It’s like the reaction of the police to terrorists, when they help with a stretcher… you see through your scope that the guy is being dragged, and you shoot in the stomach of the person who is dragging him… This bullet in the body was identified as belonging to a soldier who worked in cooperation with Marynchenko. That is why Marynchenko, despite the fact that there are no traces of shots, no evidence that his assault rifle was firing, also received a 5-year sentence. A bullet from his assault rifle was found, and Holodniuk (Volodymyr, the father of 17-year-old Ustym Holodniuk killed on Instytutska Street — ed.) brought it to the investigation at the end of 2016, but the court did not accept it.

Of course, I was impressed by the white helmet of Roman Huryk (one of the killed protesters on Instytutska Street, he was 19 years old at the time of the murder — ed), a guy like that, how much more could he have done.”


Why was Tamtura acquitted? Because the court found that he did not shoot and was in another place at the time. 

The human perception that everyone should be responsible – I understand that, but we cannot be guided by such motives. If everyone has been identified, and you were there, then you are all guilty. Still, we made sure that the European Union could not tell us that our process was politicised. The decision has been made and shows that it is fair and not biased. Someone cried, someone laughed, yes. Tamtura was happy, his wife hugged him and said that “I believed”. But we were not looking for justice for one side. We wanted the relatives of the victims to receive a fair decision, and in some places it turned out to be harsh, because something was not established, something was established on the contrary, something that the victims objected to, but we have no other data. The fairness of our court is that we did not seek applause and were not afraid of the word ‘shame’.


The court was passing judgement on the events of one day on one street — 20 February 2014 — but it also described the context of these events. The fact that the Maidan took place because the authorities refused to abandon the European integration course. And the conditions in which Yanukovych was getting closer to Russia. This is how Judge Diachuk explains this historical context: 

“We have established the historical events. We have established from Yanukovych’s testimony that he was under pressure. We also established that there was support for the forceful dispersal of people by special forces sent by (Russia — ed.). And all these events were used by the Russian Federation to implement its pre-existing plans to annex not only Crimea, but also certain territories, and it all ended with a full-scale invasion, so our story needs to be continued. 

And when people were walking down Instytutska Street, it was the first attempt to look behind the fence. And we immediately got a kick in the teeth and started losing territory. And now we don’t look beyond the fence, we know where our fence is — the 1991 borders.”