Several members of an elite Ukrainian riot police unit have been detained on suspicion of shooting participants in anti-government protests during clashes in February that left more than 100 people dead, authorities say.
Acting Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitsky said on Thursday those detained included the head of a specialised company, which he called the “Black unit”, which operated within the Berkut riot police. The unit had allegedly handed out weapons for use against demonstrators.
“The police officers of this company were trained for special operations including the killing of people. They were overseen by the presidential administration,” Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Makhnitsky as saying.
More than 100 people were killed, mostly by police snipers, on the streets of Kiev in the run-up to the ouster of Viktor Yanukovich on February 2. The Berkut force has largely been considered responsible.
In late February, the Interior Ministry disbanded the Berkut, whose name means “Golden Eagle” and signifies a predator capable of swooping quickly onto its prey.
Reuters news agency was reporting that 12 members of the disbanded Berkut unit had been detained for “mass murder on Institutska Street”.
Institutska Street, which leads off from Kiev’s Independence Square or “Maidan”, experienced the worst violence in Ukraine’s 22 years of independence and has since been informally renamed as the Avenue of Heaven’s Hundred, a reference to those killed.
Members of the Berkut police, former paratroopers and marines intended to fight organised crime in the country, kneeled in front of a crowd in Lyiv on February 24 apologising for their use of force during the anti-government protests.
However, the identity of the snipers has been disputed.
Al Jazeera’s Kim Vinnell, reporting from Kiev, said officials in Moscow believed far-right ultra-nationalists – rather than government forces – were responsible for carrying out the attacks on protesters, with the end goal of ousting President Yanukovich.
A government report is to be released later on Thursday on the events on February 18 and 20.