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Ukrainians Disagree Over Sniper Inquiry


Now before it lost a chunk of territory to Russia, Ukraine was already convulsed with protests. Many people were killed as President Viktor Yanukovich was driven from office. So now Ukrainians face the classic question of a divided and wounded nation. It's how much they really want to know about the past. At one point, snipers shot at protesters. Ukrainian investigators have blamed those shootings on President Yanukovich and on Russia. Some Ukrainians want to hear that, and some don't.

NPR's Emily Harris has spoken with one of each kind. Both were in Israel receiving medical treatment for gunshot wounds.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: One evening in February, Vova Betiuk heard that government forces were planning to clear protestors from Kiev's Independence Square. The 17-year-old texted his friends, left his dorm room, and ignored his older brother's pleas to stay away from the action.

VOVA BETIUK: (Through Translator) How could I not go, if they said they would attack? Everybody had to rise up, we had to defend ourselves.

HARRIS: When he got there - chaos. He remembers police vehicles ramming barricades, others using water trucks against protestors. He and companions threw Molotov cocktails back. Then he went to find a friend who had disappeared.

BETIUK: (Through Translator) I moved a few yards and felt punch in my chest. I was wearing a kind of padded coat and I didn't realize, at first, I'd been shot. One bullet hit me in the chest, another went under my arm. It was hard to breathe. I fell down and two men helped me to a first aid station.

HARRIS: February 20th, was the most deadly day of the protests. Snipers shot from high buildings, killing scores of people. Yuri Belokoz is the chief medical officer for a city police unit.

YURI BELOKOZ: (Through Translator) My team was overloaded. They were dealing with serious injuries and massive blood loss. A kind of panic started, because our police officers had no guns, and one reason for so many casualties on our side was that they were easy targets.

HARRIS: Mid-morning, Belokoz, like Betiuk, took a bullet through his chest. Ukrainian donors brought these two men and eight others to Israel for specialized treatment. In a hospital near Tel Aviv two weeks ago, Belokoz lifted his shirt to show one small cut where the bullet went in on his right side, and another where it went out on his left. He had no idea who shot him, but believed the bullet came from the protestors' side.

BELOKOZ: (Through Translator) I guess that we didn't shoot each other - I mean the police. Who shot and from exactly where? That could only be known with an investigation.

HARRIS: The government's initial findings, revealed yesterday, named some specific places snipers stood to shoot. Ukraine's prosecutor general said 12 members of an elite police squad have been detained in connection with the shootings. Betiuk, the 17-year-old protester shot in the chest, has just one question he really wants answered.

BETIUK: (Through Translator) Not who shot, but who ordered the shootings.

HARRIS: Ukrainian investigators say former president Viktor Yanukovich did, with planning help from Russia's internal security. Belokoz, the police medic, says he doesn't want details.

BELOKOZ: (Through Translator) For me it is not important. A bit higher, a bit lower, a bit to the side - and we would be buried, remembered by family and a handful of friends. We should forget what happened yesterday and start from the very beginning. Forget grievances, start from scratch and build a new Ukraine.

HARRIS: It won't be easy. Political opponents of the interim Ukrainian government, including the Kremlin, are already raising questions about the investigators' findings so far.

Emily Harris, NPR News.


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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.