By Pedro Marin, New Cold War.org, October 24, 2015
The following article was originally published by Revista Opera (Brazil) on October 10, 2015. Translation to English by New Cold War.org.
An historical video that was broadcast in Brazil some decades ago warned, “Lies can be told even when speaking truths.” Netflix’s new documentary film ‘Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom’ is a exquisite example. By ignoring fundamental details of Ukraine’s history and of the composition of the 2013-early 2014 political movement in Ukraine called ‘Maidan’ (or ‘Euromaidan’), the documentary’s half-truths pave the way to disconcerting lies. Here are some of those:
The Ukrainian people
Right at the documentary’s beginning, it is stated that “while the people of Ukraine were looking to the West, the leader [President Yanukovych] was looking to the East.”
The statement, at first innocent, ignores Ukraine’s history and the characteristics of its people. Ukraine is the result of a complex ethnic formation, stemming from numerous conflicts between nations and ethnic groups that have ruled or resided on the territory since the fifth century. Not coincidentally, the word Ukraine actually means ‘borderland’. It has always been a conflictual territory. Such a formation would obviously end up with divided historical interpretations and political scenarios.
According to data from a 2012 USAID survey, 37% of Ukrainians were in favor of the country adopting closer ties with Russia while 27% thought it would be better to draw closer to the European Union. Twenty six per cent said it was important to maintain economic relations with both. In other words: the “Ukrainian people” have very different thoughts about the EU.
Geographic variations are highlighted by the survey. In Kyiv, where the largest Maidan protests were later held, 51% were in favor of closer association with Europe. That rises to 57% for the entire west of Ukraine. In contrast, 71% of people in Crimea favored better relations with Russia while 53% of those in eastern Ukraine had the same view. In the center of the country, 37% chose better relations with Russia and 23% chose the EU.
The view of Euromaidan as a “non-partisan” movement with broad opposition to the political class is also widely propagated by the Netflix documentary. The documentary has many scenes of flags of the extreme-right Svoboda Party and Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists flying prominently over the Maidan protests and showing the hatred of Maidan protesters against ex-UDAR party member and present Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko. He is a figure in the ‘Petro Poroshenko Bloc’ electoral machine. In the May 2014 election issuing from the Maidan protests, Klitschko was elected mayor of Kyiv with 57% of the vote. No other candidate reached nine per cent. The non partisan claims of Maidan cannot be taken seriously.
At a certain moment during Euromaidan, some leaders of the protest decided it was a good idea to head to the presidential palace in Kyiv. Their path was blocked by Berkut special police. Right-wing militants linked to Svoboda and the Social National Assembly clashed with the police. In Netflix’s documentary, this clash is portrayed as the work of “provocateurs” paid by the government to incite the Berkut police into repressive acts.
In an article published in Foreign Policy (in which, by the way, sharp critiques are levelled against Russian President Vladimir Putin), it is stated that Ukraine is home to Svoboda, arguably Europe’s most influential far-right movement today. Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok is on record complaining that his country is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia,” while his deputy party leader has derided the Ukrainian-born film star Mila Kunis as a “dirty Jewess”.
So we have a portrayal in the film of neo-Nazi militants fighting against a “Muscovite –Jewish mafia” and its government and who are victims of paid provocateurs of the mafia-government’s police. This turns reality on its head.
In fact, right-wing extremists had a active role during Euromaidan, both inside the movement’s defense units and during the occupations of buildings. The infamous Azov Battalion went from Maidan Square to fighting the rebel uprising in the east of the country, under contract of Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior Affairs. Several members of the inglorious battalion who participated in the fight to seize the international airport at Donetsk, including the notorious Belarussian neo-Nazi Serhiy Korotkykh, would later be honored by President Poroshenko.
Probably one of the most problematic points in the documentary is the absolutely biased and irresponsible narrative concerning the events from February 18 to 20, 2014. On those dates, at least 90 people – including 20 Berkut police officers – were shot dead by snipers. It’s still nuclear what happened during those days or who is to blame, but more and more video and other revelations show it to have been a provocation staged by the Europmaidan extremists.
According to an article from the BBC published in February of this year, a Maidan protester identified as ‘Sergei’ said he shot at Berkut officers during the demonstrations from the top of a building in central Kyiv. Ottawa researcher Ivan Katchanovski has used the available, extensive amateur video of events those days to show that the deadly sniper fire came from buildings controlled by the Maidan protesters, and he is one of the rare commentators to be closely following the government “investigation” of events which he says is delayed and deeply flawed.
During a phone call after a visit to Kyiv on February 25, 2014, Estonian Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Paet told the EU’s Catherine Ashton, “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers was not Yanukovych but somebody from the new coalition.” Ashton replied, “I think we do want to investigate. I mean, I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh.”
According to Paet, the bullets that hit protesters and Berkut troops were similar, and the new government had no interest in a investigation. Yet, in Netflix’s documentary, government troops are pointed to as responsible for the mass killings.
In the 98-minute documentary, only one minute was devoted to examining what has happened to Ukraine since Yanukovych’s fall from power. The repressive measures against communists, persecutions of journalists and the death toll in the country’s east from Kyiv’s civil war are all simply ignored.
Concerning Crimea, we are simply told it was “annexed” by Russia. Maybe it would be relevant for the film to explain that Crimea was transferred to the jurisdiction of Soviet Ukraine in 1954 during the USSR government of Nikita Krushchev. Russian is still the language of the majority in the region, with app. 50% of Crimean people being ethnic Russian. In March 2014, a reported 96% of residents of Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. That preference has been confirmed by several polls since then.
Pedro Marin is the editor of the online journal Revista Opera, published in Brazil. In January and February of this year, a correspondent for the journal travelled to eastern Ukraine to report for the journal.
 From the Facebook page of Ivan Katchanovski on October 23, 2015:
New Maidan massacre trial revelations that, again, have not been reported.
Replication by other scholars is the best way to check findings of existing studies. This specifically concerns the Maidan massacre and its analysis in my paper, which contains links to publicly available data that make such replication easy to do. But there is still no other scholarly study of this crucial case of mass killing. However, the ongoing Maidan massacre trial continues to corroborate findings of my study that the Maidan protesters were killed from the Maidan-controlled locations.
During her testimony in the last trial sessions on October 8 and October 9, sister of Parashchuk stated under oath that her brother was shot dead in the back of his head from the Hotel Ukraina (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUqHEVRcnMo 1h57m). She made this conclusion based on the forensic medical report and the moment of his killing in a video shown in court (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7TZMjrkAB4). The defense lawyer revealed during the trial that even an on-site experiment by the government investigation concluded that Huryk could have been killed from both the Berkut positions and from the Maidan-controlled positions, specifically from the Hotel Ukraina (58m).
The trial showed that the prosecution did not establish the exact time and place of killings of Bondarchuk and Vaida. But disclosures during the trial of forensic medical reports findings about directions and locations of their wounds and their positions at the time of their killings in the video indicated that Bondarchuk and Vaida were killed from the Hotel Ukraina, respectively by a 6-7mm bullet and by pellets (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDViXaeicRQ (1h47m, 5h38m).
The prosecution charged the two Berkut policemen with killings these four protesters from an open Berkut barricade. No eyewitnesses of killings of these protesters were mentioned during the trial sessions. The trial on these dates examined testimonies by the relatives of these four victims and the same videos that I used in my study. But a defence lawyer also revealed during the trial that there is a non-published video which shows protesters in a massacre area shouting about gunshots from the Hotel Ukraina (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUqHEVRcnMo1h37m).
These trial revelations again have not been reported by the mainstream Western and Ukrainian media.