Berkut (special police force)

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Squad of Militsiya of Special Assignment "Berkut"
Cпеціальний підрозділ міліції громадської безпеки «Беркут».png
Emblem of the Berkut (1992–2014)
Active 1992–2014 (Ukraine)
2014–present (Russia)
Country  Ukraine (originally)
 Russia (Crimea)[1][2]A
Type Gendarmerie
Role Tactical Law Enforcement
Riot Control
Domestic counter-terrorism
Size 400 (Russia)[3]
Part of Геральдичний знак - емблема МВС України.svg Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs (1992–2014)
Flag of MVD of Russia.png Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (2014–present)A
Engagements 2014 Ukrainian revolution
2014 Crimean crisis

The "Berkut" (Ukrainian: Бе́ркут), eagle in English, specifically the Golden eagle, was the system of special police of the Ukrainian militsiya within the Ministry of Internal Affairs.[4][5] Since late March 2014 its Crimean unit in the self-proclaimed Republic of occupied Crimea defected to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs preserving its old name.[1][2][3][6] Following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, when Berkut was held responsible by the new government for most of the Heavenly Hundred civilian deaths,[7] acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signed a decree that dissolved the agency.[8][9] As a result of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine (2014–present) and internationally criticized referendum in Crimea the Russian Federation occupied Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol and claimed them as federal subjects of Russia on 21 March 2014.[10]A Three days later Russia announced that the Crimean Berkut unit would preserve its name as part of its defection from the Ukrainian authority to the Russian Interior Ministry.[3]

Berkut was Ukraine's successor to the Soviet OMON. It operated semi-autonomously and was governed at the local or regional level (oblast, raion, city). Initially used to fight organized crime, it became used as the Police (Militsiya) for Public Security. Its full name was "Berkut" Separate Special Assignment Unit(s) of Militsiya. There was a "Berkut" unit in every region (oblast) and every big city of the country. Among the several special police units in Ukraine, "Berkut" became a catchall name for all the others.

The main stated purpose (in Ukraine) of the national special force was crowd control; however, the Berkut have also been accused of taking part in racketeering, and of terrorizing, attacking, and torturing Ukrainian citizens,[11] including in recent years voters who would elect non-Yanukovych candidates to local governments.[12] and had a well-documented history of kidnapping, attack, and torture of protesters including during Euromaidan and to a lesser extent the Orange Revolution.


Berkut means golden eagle or Aquila chrysaetos in the Ukrainian language, referring to a raptor historically associated with falconry on larger mammals, particularly foxes. It is probably a Turkic borrowing, compare Chagatai (börküt), Kazakh бүркіт (bürkit), Tatar бөркет (bөrket), Bashkir бөркөт (börköt), Kyrgyz бүркүт (bürküt), Uzbek burgut.[citation needed]



The Berkut was the Ukrainian successor of the Soviet OMON (Special Purpose Police Unit), responsible for high-risk police operations including hostage crises and riots. Berkut teams participated in many actions of Leonid Kuchma's regime against the opposition (see Orange Revolution). In 2013 and 2014 they had been breaking up crowds during the 2013 Ukraine pro-European Union protests that came to be known as Euromaidan.

Origin and growth[edit]

Berkut officers in 2007

The order to organize the OMON in the Ukrainian SSR was issued on 28 December 1988, over a year after the establishment of the Soviet OMON back in 1987 and almost three months later after the issue of official order on October 3, 1988.[13] The first units were formed in Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk, Odessa, Lviv and Donetsk and were based on selected units of Soviet Internal Troops of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. After the fall of the Soviet Union it was decided to organize such units in every oblast (province) center as part of the Ministry of Interior of Ukraine. On January 16, 1992 the order was issued to create quick reaction force (QRF) units "Berkut", which was fully implemented by the start of 1993.

Violence and intimidation[edit]

Former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych has been accused, including by Amnesty International,[citation needed] of using the Berkut to threaten, attack, and torture Ukrainian protesters. Upon coming to power Yanukovych had reversed oversight measures established during the Yushchenko administration to curb Berkut abuse of citizens whereupon the special force "upped its brutality."[11]


On 30 November 2013, Berkut units in Kiev violently dispersed protesters during the Euromaidan protest movement, and have since been involved in many other instances of brutality in suppressing the movement. On 27 January 2014, the Ministry of Defense announced sharp pay raises for military personnel,[14] and the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a secret resolution to increase the size of the Berkut force sixfold to 30,000; they would also be given more power and a reserve fund would be set aside for additional ammunition.[15] Former head of Security for the Ukrainian president, General Viktor Ivanovich Palivoda, stated in early February 2014 that those officers standing in the front lines of riot control received pay bonuses, and that they received bonuses for capturing protesters, included added years of service.[16]

Specific incidents[edit]
Euromaidan poster explaining difference between Berkut special police and conscripted Internal Troops

Writing in Business Insider in February 2014, Harrison Jacobs noted: "The Berkut ... has had a long history of brutality, abuse, torture, and other measures in service of whatever political regime is in control of Ukraine."[11] According to Ukraine political expert Taras Kuzio in November 2013, in recent years the force had been increasingly used to intimidate anti-government demonstrators and to influence the electoral process.[12]

  • 23–25 June 1995 — Assaulted Crimean Tatars near Sudak (Crimea) and helped criminals to escape angry crowd[17]
  • 18 July 1995, "Black Tuesday" — Prevented burial of Patriarch Volodymyr (Kiev)[18][19]
  • 24 August 1998 (Independence Day) — Violently dispersed peaceful protest of coal miners (for not having been paid for two and a half years) in Luhansk[20] (governor of Luhansk Oblast - Oleksandr Yefremov)
  • November 2000 — March 2001, Ukraine without Kuchma — Protected government from angry crowd
  • 19 August 2013 — Attacked Parliamentarians during the 2013 Kiev political protests near city hall
  • Beginning on November 22, 2013, attacked protesters of the Euromaidan
  • 23 January 2014 — Kidnapped Alexandra Haylak, a 22-year-old volunteer of the Euromaidan medical service, stripped her of all identification, and left her in the woods near Vyshhorod.[21]
  • 23 January 2014 — Opposition member of Ukraine's parliament Andriy Parubiy reported that the Berkut was altering standard -issue stun grenades, making them killing devices by wrapping them with nails and other shrapnel and using them against Euromaidan protesters. Parubiy showed reporters samples of the altered weapons.[22]
  • On 23 January 2014, Berkut officers arrested protester and Zaporozhian Cossack Mykhailo Gavrylyuk.[23] In temperatures approaching -15 °C, Berkut officers beat Gavrylyuk with blows to his head and torso, then stripped him naked and forced him to the ground.[23][24] Whilst he was on the ground, Berkut officers put their feet on his head, as association football players would place their feet on a ball, and photographed themselves.[24] A video was later uploaded to YouTube showed, in scenes reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal Berkut officers posing for photographs with the naked Gavrylyuk.[25][26] In a further attempt to humiliate him, Berkut offices forced Gavrylyuk to hold an ice-axe and attempted to make him proclaim, "I love Berkut".[27] The video went viral and, apart from making Gavrylyuk a symbol of Euromaidan, drew an apology from Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko.[24][27] Gavrylyuk revealed at a press conference after the incident that the Berkut officers also cut a couple of strands of the traditional Cossack forelocks (oseledets) from his head.[27]
Defeating citizens' franchise in parliamentary elections[edit]

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirmed witness accounts of voters being blocked from access to polls and being attacked along with local election officials who tried to frustrate the Berkut's practice of falsifying voters' ballots in favor of Yanukovych's Party of Regions candidates. Individual cases have been reported of citizens grouping together and fighting back against the Berkut in order to preserve election integrity and results.[12]


Bernard-Henri Levy noted that in its last days before the end of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Berkut's disbandment, on its website the group accused Euromaidan leaders of being Jewish; one accused was Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Berkut had posted a picture with a superimposed Star of David and Swastika in order to depict an alliance of Nazis and Jews against pro-Russians in Eastern Ukraine.[28]


Defensive line of "Berkut" unitmen in riot gear by the building of the Cabinet of Ministers during 2013 Euromaidan protests.

On 25 February 2014 acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signed a decree on the dissolution of the Berkut.[29] By then the force had become synonymous with police brutality for many Euromaidan protesters.[30] The force was dissolved four days after the opposition forces that had supported Euromaidan (they included Avakov) had taken control of the Ukrainian government.[10] In response to the disbanding, Russia started to issue former members of the Berkut Russian passports in the Crimean capital Simferopol.[31] On 21 March 2014 in Crimea, Berkut was still active.[32]

One of the armed separatist groups in Donetsk and Lugansk in June 2014 claimed to be composed of "more than 1000" former Berkut officers and other former servicemen and police officers.[33]

However, there are many ex-Berkut servicemen under the command of the Interior Ministry. They are fighting alongside the regular army and the re-established National Guard of Ukraine, which is partly composed of former Euromaidan activists, in the War in Donbass.[34]


Berkut officers stand guard during a football match

The Berkut was a reserve unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVS) and subordinates to the regional (oblast) departments of the MVS. Until 1997 it was under the direct supervision of HUBOZ (Chief Directorate in Fight of Organized Crime). Due to formation of another quick reaction force unit Sokil (Falcon) under HUBOZ, Berkut was later reassigned under the supervision of the Directorate of Public Security of the MVS. The main duty of the unit was the security of the general public and enforcement of civil order, especially during mass public events (demonstrations, parades, sport or concert events, etc.), or in places of increased criminal activity as part of the fight against organized crime. The Berkut have also been assigned to provide protective custody of certain individuals, such as witnesses in criminal trials.

Berkut members were paid 1.5-2 times more than the average Ukrainian police officer.[30] Depending on the region, the Berkut's units ranged in manpower from 50 to 600. Also depending on its dislocation, the unit could have been commissioned as a company or regiment. As of January 2008, the force consisted of two regiments, six separate battalions, and 19 companies totaling 3,250 members.[35] One of the regiments is located in Kiev, while another one is stationed in Crimea. During the Euromaidan protest movement Berkut members from more the pro-Euromaidan Western Ukraine complained to the media that they were "mistrusted" by top commanders.[30]

The Berkut militia were distinguished by their maroon berets (also known as "krapovy beret"), an honorary headgear. Standard Berkut equipment includes AKM assault rifles, PK machine guns, Dragunov SVD sniper rifles, UAZ-469 jeeps and the BTR-70 armoured personnel carriers.[30] Some units are issued with the SPG-9 recoilless rifle and RPG-7 on a need basis.



On 25 February 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signed a decree that dissolved the agency.[8][36] The Crimean Berkut unit took part in maintaining public order during the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and Euromaidan.[3] Media and Euromaidan demonstrators had accused Berkut of being excessively violent during these events.[37][38][39] The following day, the newly appointed Russian de facto mayor of Sevastopol, Alexei Chaly, announced the formation of a new Berkut special police force "in order to maintain public order in Sevastopol, to prevent unlawful acts of provocation, riots and looting."[40] Chaly then offered asylum to former Berkut troops, saying "These people adequately fulfilled their duty to the country, have shown themselves to be real men, and are now abandoned to the mercy of this rabid pack of Nazis. For faithful service, today criminal cases are brought against them. At this difficult time our city needs decent men who could form the basis of self-defense groups, and in the future the municipal police. We are ready to provide for them if they join us in our struggle, and to offer safety to their families.”[41] In response to the disbanding, Russia started to issue former members of the Berkut Russian passports in the Crimean capital Simferopol.[31] On 21 March 2014 in Crimea, Berkut was still active.[32] As a result of the 2014 Crimean crisis and the referendum in Crimea the Russian Federation granted accession to the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol as federal subjects of Russia on 21 March 2014.[10]A Three days later Russia announced that the Crimean Berkut unit would preserve its name as it incorporates into Russian Interior Ministry.[3] and, following the establishment of the Federal National Guard Service, into the National Guard of Russia.


The Crimean Berkut unit has 400 members with subunits in Kerch and Yalta.[3]


A.^ The status of Crimea and Sevastopol is currently under dispute by Ukraine and Russia; Ukraine and the majority of the world consider Crimea an autonomous republic of Ukraine and Sevastopol one of Ukraine's cities with special status, while Russia, on the other hand, considers Crimea a federal subjects of Russia and Sevastopol one of its federal cities.[42] Both are completely under Russian control.[10]


  1. ^ a b [1], Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (24 march 2014)
  2. ^ a b "сохранит свое название в составе органов МВД РФ". amicru. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Russian interior bodies created in Crimea and Sevastopol, ITAR-TASS (25 March 2014)
  4. ^ Berkut arrived to defend Yanukovych's Mezhihirya from journalists. ictv. June 6, 2013
  5. ^ Beaten up by Berkut neighbor of Yanukovych was recognized guilty and fined. 24tv. January 18, 2014
  6. ^ Crimean Berkut police to preserve name as it incorporates into Russian Interior Ministry, ITAR-TASS (24 March 2014)
  7. ^ Ukraine's new rulers disband riot police, Reuters (Feb 26, 2014)
  8. ^ a b Head of Ukrainian Interior Ministry signs order to dissolve "Berkut" , Voice of Russia (25 February 2014)
  9. ^ Аваков распустил "Беркут" : Новости УНИАН 26.02.2014 | 01:10
  10. ^ a b c d Ukraine: Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov named interim president, BBC News (23 February 2014)
    Ukraine protests timeline, BBC News (23 February 2014)
  11. ^ a b c Harrison Jacobs (27 January 2014). "Why Ukraine's Berkut Special Police Force Is So Scary". Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Berkut Riot Police Used to Falsify Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections, The Jamestown Foundation (14 November 2012)
  13. ^ "MVD website, history 1986 - 1993". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Twitter / OS1954: Defence ministry announces 5:29 AM - 27 Jan 2014 from Westminster, London
  15. ^ "EuroMaidan rallies in Ukraine (Jan. 26-27 live updates)". Kyiv Post. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Ukrainian top general: There is proof of russian intervention in Ukraine |
  17. ^ Spark that almost burned down Crimea. Mirror Weekly. June 30, 1995
  18. ^ Burial of Patriarch Volodymyr on YouTube 08.01.2013
  19. ^ Patriarch Volodymyr was buried near wall of St Sophia.
  20. ^ A coal miner burned himself in protest against people's being beaten. vse.rv. December 14, 2013
  21. ^ Berkut took and left a girl in woods Archived 2014-02-02 at the Wayback Machine.. tvi. 23 January 2014 (in Ukrainian)
  22. ^ Парубий сообщил об использовании "Беркутом" самодельных боевых гранат (in Russian). Zerkalo nedeli. 23 January 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  23. ^ a b Ouimet, Michèle (25 February 2014). "Le courage d'un homme". La Presse. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c "Ukraine unrest: Kiev protests continue despite concessions from president Viktor Yanukovych". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 25 January 2014. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  25. ^ "Ukraine protester vows to fight on after police humiliation". Global Post. Agence France-Presse. 25 January 2014. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  26. ^ Ahad, Fari (23 January 2014). "berkut, polonenuy". 
  27. ^ a b c Kozlowska, Hanna (27 January 2014). "‘Cossack’ at the Heart of Kiev Protests Refuses to Give In". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  28. ^ Levy, Bernard-Henri (26 February 2014). "Ukraine’s Revolutionaries Are Not Fascists". Daily Beast. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  29. ^ Head of Ukrainian Interior Ministry signs order to dissolve "Berkut", Voice of Russia (25 February 2014)
  30. ^ a b c d Ukraine's Berkut police: What makes them special?, BBC News (25 February 2014)
  31. ^ a b "Russia starts giving out passports to Ukraine’s ex-Berkut officers pelted with ‘threats’". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  32. ^ a b
  33. ^ Walker, Shaun; Luhn, Alec (18 June 2014). "Ukraine separatists vow to fight on as president unveils ceasefire plan". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  34. ^ "Berkut and Ukrainian soldiers fight pro-Russians near Slovyansk". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  35. ^ (in Ukrainian) МВС України ДЗГ МВС України 16.01.2008
  36. ^ Аваков распустил "Беркут" : Новости УНИАН 26.02.2014 | 01:10
  37. ^ "Ukraine Leader Faces New Pressure to End Unrest". New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  38. ^ Russia flexes military muscle as tensions rise in Ukraine's Crimea region, CNN (February 27, 2014)
  39. ^ Berkut: Ukraine's protest-suppression unit, Deutsche Welle (10.12.2013 )
  40. ^ "В Севастополе создают муниципальное подразделение милиции "Беркут" : Новости УНИАН". Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  41. ^ "Gunmen’s seizure of parliament building stokes tensions in Ukraine’s Crimea". Washington Post. February 26, 2014. 
  42. ^ Gutterman, Steve. "Putin signs Crimea treaty, will not seize other Ukraine regions". Retrieved 2014-03-26. 

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