The SBU's white mini-van and how it triggered last night's clash

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Nov. 26, 2013, 4:03 p.m. | Ukraine — by Mariia Shamota

Activists said they seized a government van suspected of eavesdropping on their conversations, prompting the clash at a Nov. 25 rally on European Square.

The Security Service of Ukraine, the nation’s intelligence agency, has its white mini-van back, courtesy of the Berkut anti-riot police officers.

Demonstrators seized the van during a protest rally on the evening of Nov. 25, suspecting that it contained sophisticated equipment for eavesdropping on telephone conversations of protest leaders.

The taking of the van prompted clashes last night between police and protesters. After a 30-minute standoff, punctuated by fighting, the demonstrators recovered evidence from the van and the police reclaimed it.

Opposition lawmaker Mykola Kniazhytsky posted a picture of a passport, car tag numbers and what he said were technical listening devises found in the van on his Facebook page. Opposition leaders promised to analyze the recordings and release their findings.

Equipment believed to be listening devices found in the white mini-van that SBU officers were using while parked near European Square.

That left officials trying to explain what the van was doing at the protest site.

Kyiv’s Interior Ministry said they received an emergency call alleging that the van of the SBU, as the intelligence agency is known, was mined with an explosive device. It would be ironic, since the SBU said the van’s purpose at the rally was to check for bombs. However, in a separate statement, the SBU on Nov. 26 said their officers were using equipment inside the van to check for radio channels that could be used to set off a bomb in the crowd. They also said that five agents were working inside.

License plates that protesters say they found inside a van used by SBU officers that was parked near European Square.

But the protesters, including several members of parliament, believe SBU officers were using the van as a staging point for eavesdropping on telephone calls of protest leaders at the scene.

According to eyewitnesses, protesters overtook the van, prompting hundreds of riot police to descend on the scene, triggering the violent clashes. An SBU officer in the van eventually escaped with police help, while the leaders of the demonstration took to the stage in triumph after police backed off about 9 p.m.

Police say they have a recording of the emergency phone call but wouldn’t share it or say what time the call was placed and whether the caller was male or female.

The SBU, however, does not take kindly to its van being taken. The state intelligence agency asked the General Prosecutor’s Office to open a criminal investigation and to punish the perpetrators. The opposition countered by accusing authorities of illegal eavesdropping.

Mariia Shamota can be reached at

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