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A shootout in the Ukrainian town of Mukachevo (Mukacheve) in the Zarkarpatia (Zakarpatts’ka or Transcarpathian) Region was over a turf dispute between gangs involved in contraband, Ukrainska Pravda reported, citing a statement from the regional prosecutor’s office. Two gangs were attempting to divvy up the market in contraband cigarettes when a heavy gunfight broke out, wounding ultimately killing 3 and wounding 14.
The Zakarpatia Region prosecutor’s office issued a statement (translation by The Interpreter):
“On July 11 in Mukachevo at about 14:00, 20 armed persons in camouflage with the labels “Right Sector” and similar stickers on their automobiles came to an appointment with local residents in a cafe for the purpose of divvying up spheres of influence. A
conflict broke out and the armed men began shooting from firearms at the above-mentioned establishment.
According to preliminary information 6 policemen and 3 civilians
suffered gunshot wounds of various degrees of severity. Five of the
armed men with the ‘Right Sector’ labels also suffered injuries.”
Police arrived and blocked the exit to the cafe, and the armed men then opened deadly fire on the law-enforcers with an RPG-7 grenade-launcher, Kalashnikov machine guns, DShK [large caliber stationary] guns, mortar launchers and other firearms.
Two Mukachevo police cars as well as civilian automobiles were destroyed.
The gunmen then fled to a dacha community near Mukachevo and barricaded themselves in the woods. As of 18:00, they had refused to put down their arms and continued to threaten armed resistance.
Police, prosecutors and security officers have formed an investigative group under the charges “terrorism” and “creation of a criminal group” and law-enforcers are attempting to disarm the fugitives.
Mustafa Nayem, a former journalist and member of parliament from the Petro Petroshenko Bloc and a member of the board of the Interior Ministry (police) issued a report on his Facebook page, based on accounts he gathered from local residents, the police and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) (translated by The Interpreter):
“At first, representatives from Right Sector and [parliamentarian] Mikhail Lano had a ‘showdown’ scheduled at the Dragon restaurant in Mukachevo on Lermontova St. Then the meeting was moved to the Antares athletic center nearby. Both of these
establishments are controlled by Mikhail Lano.
Representatives of the Right Sector arrived in four jeeps, there were a total of 21 men. They went up to the gates, and asked the guard to summon Mikhail Lano. After some scuffling, they shot the guard in the head. He is now in a coma in an intensive
At about 13:20, a report came into police on duty on the 102 [emergency] line that people in camouflage had blocked Lermontova St. Vitaly Shimaqnyak, chief of police came to the scene. After some negotiations, the gunman gave him an ultimatum to give up his weapon. When the police chief refused, gunfire broke out — the Right Sector representatives shot in the air, and set off a smoke bomb. The jeeps then rammed a police UAZ and a chase ensued.
At the Mukachevo-Kolchino intersection, they drove out on to the Kiev-Chop highway. The highway was then blocked near a gas station by three Emergency Ministry vehicles. A Kalashnikov machine gun was found in the first jeep in the Right Sector convoy.
Shots were fired from an RPG and a Mukh as well. Three police cars were destroyed and the Right Sector jeep convoy then broke away to the Krasnaya Gora district, at the entrance to Mukachevo from the Kiev-Chop highway.
Two Right Sector representatives were killed in the gunfire, four police officers were wounded, three of them lightly and one severely (his heel is torn). At this time it is known that among the Right Sector representatives there are fighters from the Sogechko Battalion which has regularly taken part in battles on the eastern front. Negotiations are still under way about surrender.”
Anton Gerashchenko, another member of parliament and advisor to the Interior Ministry said in a Facebook post that 3 persons were killed in the gunfight, 112.ua reported. Gerashenko characterized Lano as “having the sad experience of the 1990s behind him.” He said 3 assailants were killed, 3 police were wounded and 4 civilians were wounded.
In a subsequent post, Nayyem explained more about cigarette smuggling in Ukraine.
“On contraband in the Zakarpatia Region. The chief illegal export product is cigarettes. The cheapest are hauled to Germany and Italy. The profit is tremendous. For example, a truckload of cigarettes from Ukraine to Italy can bring in 470,000 euros. That’s in profit, that is, after subtracting out bribes at all the customs. About 3-5 trucks a week go through the ‘green corridor’ to the EU].”
According to local residents, all sides in the current conflict are involved in cigarette smuggling. Some are involved in the organization of the smuggling, others collect protection money, and still others provide the roof [protection]. The reason for the gunfight was a banal reluctance of one of the sides to pay the protection money.
At any rate, this does not justify the use by Right Sector of large-caliber weapons in civilian territory. Everything must be investigated. Obviously it would be correct to ask Mikhail Lano, Viktor Baloga, the local customs chief and the SBU about this.
Dmitry Yarosh and his subordinates had better describe in detail who exactly they “fought with against contraband,” who specifically and through which border crossings the freight was hauled. Otherwise it means that they knew, but were silent; they fought, but made a deal; and when they failed to make a deal, they decided to shoot. By all formal signs this is complicity in a crime.”
His last comment appears to be a reference to the fact that often in these situations gangs claim they are fighting crime as vigilantes, not taking part in it themselves.
We are still waiting to confirm the final toll of dead and wounded in this gunfight as there are conflicting reports.
It is worth noting that in giving these accounts, Gerashchenko did not describe the gunmen as from Right Sector; Nayyem called them “representatives of the Right Sector” and the police said they “had the labels of Right Sector.” This is a reference to the fact that sometimes gang members use the Right Sector insignia without necessarily being members of Right Sector.
Dmitro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, hasn’t commented on their affiliation. In a brief statement on his Facebook, he said:
“Held some meetings with voters in the district. Obtained information about the tragic events in Zakarpatia. On my way to Kiev. Now, the most important is to stabilize the situation and not allow any further bloodshed. For that it is necessary to immediately detain the gangsters and those police officials who gave the order to open fire…”
LifeNews, a pro-Kremlin TV station close to Russian law-enforcement and intelligence, said that Ukrainian police had begun evacuating civilians from the area where the gunmen were barricaded. It said the Right Sector shooters would only surrender if they were personally asked to do so by Dmitro Yarosh.
Judging from a video that has now been uploaded to Youtube by News Front showing dashcam footage of the start of the gunfight, the police may have been forced to fire on fugitives who ran a roadblock, knowing they had already shot a guard in the head and injured police and civilians.
It appears from the dialogue in this video uploaded today that a civilian driver with two passengers who had already heard the news about the shootout at the athletic center were driving along the highway, then happened on the jeeps as the machine gun fire broke out. They realized that law-enforcers had already put up a roadblock and were stopping the gunmen, heard machine gunfire by a gas station and then backed away from the situation quickly. The driver then makes a phone call to tell someone else about the gunmen.
Another video uploaded today and labeled “Mukachevo – They’re Shooting” in which machine-gun fire can be heard has the same church as visible in the photographs posted by Nayyem, where a destroyed sign for a store can be seen as well as a road sign for Kiev and Lvov:
Another video labeled “Shootout in Mukachevo and uploaded by Aleksandr Bretsko appears to be either from someone hiding in the woods very close to the gunfire, or even from one of the gun men himself although it could not be verified.
Bretsko, a video blogger who has a link to a site “Made in Italy” on his profile on YouTube, also uploaded a video of the roadblock and another video with a fireman putting out a car on fire by the Kiev-Lvov roadsign.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick