Police Break Silence After Video Shows Far-Right Attack On Kyiv Roma

KYIV -- When a Romany camp in the Ukrainian capital was attacked and burned by far-right nationalists, the police downplayed it, saying the men had merely set alight their "rubbish" and had no reason to investigate.

Then a video showing masked attackers throwing rocks and spraying gas as they chased terrified Romany men, women, and children from their makeshift settlement went viral.

Now, after public outcry, Kyiv police say they have launched an investigation into a possible infringement of those families' human rights and hooliganism -- a catch-all term that has been used by the authorities to describe crimes ranging from baring one's buttocks in public to firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a business center.

"Attacking women and children, threatening them, gassing them with tear gas, spoiling their property, and generally treating them like animals due to ethnicity is medieval savagery," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a rare example of public condemnation of a radical nationalist group's activities.

Under Avakov, the Interior Ministry has appointed members of nationalist groups with far-right views to senior positions and ignored instances when those groups have used violence.

The Romany camp at Kyiv's Lysa Hora nature reserve was attacked overnight on April 20-21 by more than a dozen members of the far-right nationalist group C14. The group takes its name from a 14-word phrase used by white supremacists and it has openly offered to work as thugs in exchange for cash.

Serhiy Mazur, a prominent C14 member, boasted of the attack the same day in a widely shared Facebook post that included a photograph of a man dressed in a C14 jacket standing beside a burning tent.

In its own Facebook post, Amnesty International Ukraine said that was "proof" that the group knows it enjoys "full impunity." It demanded an official reaction from Ukrainian authorities and "an urgent and effective investigation of the attack."

Yet despite the photographic evidence from C14 itself, the head of the Kyiv police, Andriy Kryshchenko, insisted in an interview with the 112 TV channel that only trash at the camp had been burned. He said his office had not received statements from the Romany group about an attack and, accordingly, could not comment further on the incident or open a probe.

His comments stood in contrast to the video published by the Leviy Bereg news site on April 25 that would soon go viral. At the time of publication, it had been viewed more than 161,000 times.

In the 41-second video, Romany men and women are seen fleeing, some of them with children in tow, and shouting for help while being pursued by apparent C14 members who hurl stones and spray them with a substance Avakov said later was tear gas. One man waves a tree branch in an attempt to keep the masked attackers back. Someone shouts that the police have been called.

The Kyiv police acknowledged in a statement that the viral video provided the basis for opening an investigation.