Pavel Kazarin: Berkut on Maidan

“At first they even have forbidden us to take the shields. Do you understand? The shields? We brought them afterwards without advertising.”

Not young and thickset officer of Berkut speaks with desperate malice. Their company was relocated to Kiev ten days ago and during the first week they lived in the buses having dry rations. Three days ago they were accommodated in one of the boarding houses near Kiev. There are only three showers for the whole unit.

Every day they stand in the cordoning of the governmental block. For the second week they feel only two emotional waves from the citizens: fear and dislike. Berkut are thick-skinned, they are not the prim young ladies and will not cry. But even the best trained people have emotions.

Meanwhile, in their native region the government decided to arrange the attraction of the show-off care: they took the families of the unit to the central administrative board, in order to publicly report about the way the police officials take care of their husbands. They did not provide the transportation, but sent the summons, which stated that they need to arrive to a definite place at a certain time. And nobody cared that the children had to be taken to the kindergartens and schools and that the families had to travel long distance in frosty weather. The common everyday stories of the people never troubled the military men of high ranks.

“And will you join the protesters?”

The officer looks at me ironically. He even does not answer and only inhales deeply. The cigarette manages to practically smolder till the end during this puff. The answer is not needed.

We are talking near one of the governmental buildings in the center of Kiev. Recently in the neighboring street the radically set guys tried to break through to the Administration of the President. They had a bulldozer, chains and sticks. The conscripts of the internal troops stood in front of them. Everyone saw how that incident ended.

“And why were the conscripts put in the cordoning wearing only the helmets and without shields?”

“Don’t ask me… I will tell you more. When the clashes start, the higher-ups are not in the air. The command for the responsive actions and the cleanup of Bankova Street was given by one of the officers of the lower rank.”

The officer, who I am talking to, is looking around with malice and tiredness. His unit is deployed in the south-east of the country and speaks Russian, and in the general atmosphere of rumors it generates the fables about the mythical Russian sting riot squad, which was relocated to Kiev and dressed up into the uniform of the Ukrainian special service unit.

They are at the dead end. On one hand, they have to wait for the provocations of those aggressive guys, for whom the events in Kiev are the chance check them for firmness, every day. And on the other hand, they cannot rely on their commanders, who will easily surrender the soldiers in order to save themselves. Or will simply not give the order in the moment when this order is vital. No one waits for them in Kiev, but they cannot go home until the compromise is found.

Maidan of 2013 differs from the one 0f 2004 because this is the first time during the last 9 years when the police had to apply real force in the capital of the country. In the meanwhile, the order to attack the barricades may be given at any moment as Yanukovych could decide to solve the issue with the protesters by applying force. And Berkut will fulfill the task. Yes, the tear gas is useless in sub-zero temperature as in such temperatures it subsides to the ground. Water-cannons are also a bad idea in the frost, fraught with consequences. But Berkut will attack anyway and will even fulfill the task. But Maidan will not finish after that, which was confirmed by the events of November 30.

“And do you know that on December 11 during the second assault of the square we had no order to pull down the stage? We reached the stage in 15 minutes. Two other squadrons stuck on the way, but we were there. But there was no order. We would dismantle the stage very fast. But we were ordered to only free the traffic and the pedestrian areas. And finally we were ordered to retreat”.

I am listening to the seasoned officer and I have nothing to say to him. He does not have a slightest chance to doubt anything. The protesters and they live in quite different worlds. The former will not respect themselves if they do not come out and defend themselves. The latter will not respect themselves if they violate the order.

184,000 people serve in the Ukrainian army, 60,000 of whom the Minister of Defense was going to dismiss recently. But today the army remains aside from the processes which are going on in Kiev, because their interference contradicts to the Constitution. But there are 35,000 of internal troops and 350,000 police officers. And potentially approximately one company of Berkut from every region of the country (the half of the personnel remains in the region in order not to denude the home front).

Any confrontation gives the easiness of simple separation into good and bad. It is very easy to call the people in the helmets and flak jackets the dogs of the regime, the bloody oprichniks and to put a transparency over the barricades with the inscription "Welcome to Hell". It is easy as well to hope that the officers will not fulfill the oath and that they will take the side of Maidan and put down the shields. And it is much more difficult to realize that people may decide to go to the end just because they are bound by the oath and by their own code of honor.

Very often one can hear on Maidan the idea that people came to the rally not to support the leaders of the opposition, but to defend themselves, in order not to blush while looking into the mirror and to have the courage to look at their friends’ faces.

In this sense Berkut is similar to them.

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