Once upon a time was BERKUT

Author: Eric Sof

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Berkut was a system of special units of the Ukrainian police within the Ministry of Internal Affairs and they were successors of the Ukrainian Soviet special forces commonly known as OMON.

They were considered to be directly assigned to the Ministry of Public Security. Berkut was an acronym for “Separate unit for special tasks militia” translated from Ukrainian. It was disbanded after Maidan demonstrations when the Berkut members were suspected of using illegal force against their citizens. Before that, the Berkut had one unit in every major city or region in the country. In addition to several other special police units, Berkut of Ukraine became the name for all of the special units of Ukrainian police. Also, Berkut’s meaning in translation can be interpreted as the golden eagle.

Ukrainian BERKUT on Maidan, Kiev
The BERKUT unit on Maidan square (Photo: Ukraine Press)

History of the Berkut

The orders for the organization of OMON police units for special purposes in Soviet Ukraine were issued on 28 December 1988. The first units were formed in the cities of Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, Lviv, and Donetsk. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was decided to keep OMON units in every major area. That happened on 16th January 1992. The orders were to form a new rapid reaction unit named Berkut. It was fully implemented in early 1993.

Responsibility of the Berkut

The main responsibilities of the Berkut unit were the security of public order or the maintenance of civil order during mass public activities such as demonstrations, parades, sporting events, concerts and more. Also in places where there is a greater criminal activity, Berkut enters the scene. Later Berkut got several new responsibilities such as protection of VIP (very important person) and witness protection for persons who are involved in testimonies in important and dangerous cases.

Disbanded special police unit from Ukraine - BERKUT
The BERKUT unit (Photo: Ukraine Press)


Berkut was a reserve unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and they were divided into regional bases within regional ministries. From 1997, they were at direct supervision of GUBOZ (Chief Directorate for Combating Organized Crime). With the formation of other units for rapid response called Sokol (Eagle) under the directive of GUBOZ, Berkut was transferred by a directive of the Directorate of Public Security to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.

Depending on the region, Berkut battalions were numbered between 50 to 600 members. It also depends on the dislocation unit where it can be in the form of the regiment. Since January 2008, the unit was consists of two regiments, six battalions, and 19 separate lines. They had approximately 3250 members. One regiment was in the Kiev while the other was located in Crimea. The main recognition sign for members of the Berkut was red beret as part of their ceremonial uniforms.

Logo of disbandoned Ukrainian special forces unit BERKUT
The BERKUT insignia (Photo: Ukraine Police)

Berkut was the successor of the Soviet Ukrainian OMON, and for a long time, they were responsible for high-risk police operations involving Hostages crisis and arrests, among the above-mentioned duties. They have been disbanded from the form they existed after Maidan events. The new government held Berkut responsible for most of the Heavenly Hundred civilian deaths, and acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signed a decree that dissolved the agency, which was replaced with the National Guard of Ukraine.

In March 2014, Berkut units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol defected to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs during the annexation of Crimea by Russia, after the territories were approved as federal subjects.

Berkut effectively became an agency of Russia when units were allowed to preserve their old name, and now serve within the National Guard of Russia as the gendarmerie for Crimea.

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