On November 27, the Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik News published an interview with Italian journalist Gian Micalessin, who said he had conducted exclusive interviews with three alleged Georgian “mercenaries” who claimed responsibility for shooting protesters in Kyiv during the 2014 Maidan protests. Micalessin’s version of events contradicts the widely accepted narrative which places the blame for the shooting on then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s security services -- in particular, the special tactical unit known as Berkut. Micalessin’s report, called The Hidden Truth About Ukraine, aired on Italy’s Canale 5 earlier in November.
Both the interview with Sputnik News and the video report are riddled with errors.
“The journalist (Micalessin) was able to secure exclusive testimony from three Georgian ex-mercenaries, including Koba Nergadze, Kvarateskelia Zalogi, and Alexander Revazishvilli,” the Sputnik News story reads. “The three men revealed ties to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Georgian security services. Specifically, they explained that they were recruited in late 2013 by Saakashvili military adviser Mamuka Mamulashvili, given false passports and cash and sent off to strife-ridden Kiev.”
Among other flaws, the video report shows identification cards to verify that the mercenaries worked for Georgian security services. However, the Russian news site The Insider noticed that the English-language text on their identification documents contains serious grammatical and spelling errors. Most notably, the title at the top of the card says “Security Service of Defend,” and the word “certificate” is incorrectly spelled “certifikate.”
Additionally, BBC Monitoring reported Revasishvili pointed in the film to a picture on a smartphone screen. “That’s me,” he said, but the BBC established the story and photo were published years later, in December 2016.
Despite the claim they were hired by Mamuka Mamulashvili, founder of the Ukrainian army volunteer unit known as the Georgian Legion, he arrived in Ukraine in April 2014, two months after the shootings of February 18-20. One of the two Georgians claims to have been trained by an American citizen, Brian Boyenger, formerly a U.S. Army sniper. While Boyenger did train Ukrainian military personnel and later served with the Georgian Legion in the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region, he arrived in Ukraine in 2015.
Another claim debunked by The Insider is that Mamulashvili was ordered by ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to go to Ukraine and start a “revolution.” In fact, Saakashvili’s term as president ended on November 17, 2013, three days before the protests in Ukraine began. Euromaidan started as a small action consisting mainly of students, and did not grow into a major anti-Yanukovych movement until after November 30, 2013, when riot police brutally beat the young demonstrators, provoking larger protests. The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found more than two-thirds of the protesters who came to Maidan in December 2013 did so because of the police brutality of November 30.
In his interview with Sputnik News, Micalessin claimed to have confirmed the three men’s stories.
“We talked for a long time," he told Sputnik News." I wanted to make sure that they were really there. I did very long interviews with each of them and compared them, and it all came together. In another Eastern European country I met with the third man, Alexander [Revazishvilli]; his story matched up with the others.”
But it is already clear that, contrary to Micalessin’s claim, the Georgians’ story doesn’t match up. They claim to have received orders from a president with no power at the time, before the mass protests that led to Yanukovich’s departure in February 2014. They claim to have been working under the command of a man who was not in Ukraine at the time and to have been trained by a man who wouldn’t arrive there for two more years.
In the Sputnik News article, an embedded tweet by “Ian56” claims the snipers “were under the control” of a Ukrainian politician. The profile photo, however, appears to be that of a male model named David Gandy. Gandy also has his own Instagram account. Unlike the Twitter user “Ian56,” Gandy does not seem to take much of an interest in Ukraine.
The tweet claims that the men in the photo are the snipers who were responsible for killing protesters. However, the photo is from a Russian media story that was debunked by Ukrainian journalists of StopFake.org in May 2014. The photo was taken in March 2014, about a month after the shooting.
While Russian sources show random masked men coming out of a hotel (without properly identifying the location) and claim they are the snipers responsible for the massacre, there is actual video footage of police and Berkut personnel firing Kalashnikov rifles and various sniper rifles during the time of the massacre.
In the video, the location can be positively identified as near the corner of Bankova and Institutska streets, known to be under control of the authorities at the time. More importantly, this location provides a clear line of sight to the area in which the protesters were shot.
In another video taken from the protesters’ perspective around the same time, it is clear the people in the video are taking fire from a location ahead of their position, up the street on Institutska.
The embedded tweet from “Ian56” is not the only already-debunked claim in the piece. Another is cited by Micalessin himself, when the interview continues after the tweet.
“Doubts about who did the shooting emerged the day after [the shooting], when even the head of the Estonian Foreign Ministry, who supported Ukraine's opposition, said that he had serious doubts about the story,” Micalessin said. “Later, a Ukrainian doctor said that people from both sides [i.e., police and protesters] were killed by the same weapons. The Estonian minister presented his doubts to [EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton] via a telephone call. So this was something that's been discussed a lot.”
In fact, this claim about Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet was debunked in March 2014. Paet himself refuted the claim that he suggested the protesters had been killed by members of the opposition movement as opposed to the authorities.
“I call upon journalists to be careful with this recording, I only spoke about the versions of stories about what happened in Ukraine,” Paet told journalists at a press briefing held on March 5, 2014. “I did not give an evaluation. I just expressed concern that if these rumors begin to live their own lives, it can do harm to the situation in Ukraine.”
Four years after the events which led to the deaths of dozens of protesters in Kyiv, little progress has been made in prosecuting those responsible, following allegations by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) that Russia granted asylum to key suspects in the case. KHPG also alleges Ukrainian government and police officials blocked prosecution of key Maidan shooting suspects.