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Remembering Ukraine's ‘Heavenly Hundred’

Kiev, Ukraine. 20th February 2015 -- A Ukrainian carries a torn national flag at a mourning ceremony in memory of the heroes "Heavenly Hundred". February 20 during anti-government protests on Independence Square about 100 activists were killed. -- One year after over 100 people were killed at Independence Square aka Maidan Square in Kiev thousands of Ukrainians pay tribute to activists killed during anti-government protests in February 2014. Photo by Oleg Pereverzev, © Demotix 2015.

Kiev, Ukraine. 20th February 2015 — A Ukrainian carries a torn national flag at a mourning ceremony in memory of the heroes of “Heavenly Hundred”. February 20 during anti-government protests on Independence Square about 100 activists were killed. — One year after over 100 people were killed at Independence Square aka Maidan Square in Kiev thousands of Ukrainians pay tribute to activists killed during anti-government protests in February 2014. Photo by Oleg Pereverzev, © Demotix 2015.

Ukraine recently observed the first anniversary of the EuroMaidan revolution, commemorating the so-called “Heavenly Hundred” Heroes who died during the bloodiest days of the protests in February 2014. The Supreme Council of Ukraine proclaimed these men and women to be “victims” of police violence under the Yanukovych regime, awarding each of them the Hero of Ukraine title.   

The first deaths on Maidan Nezalezhnosti square during the protests occurred in late January 2014, when two activists were shot and killed during clashes with police. The body of a third protester, kidnapped a few days earlier, was later found on the outskirts of Kyiv. The deaths continued for another month, culminating on February 20, when snipers opened fire on protesters, killing over 40 people (photo, video, video).

These events caused widespread unrest throughout Ukraine and escalated the demonstrations, ultimately driving Viktor Yanukovych from the country. With the president escaped to Russia, Kyiv held an emergency reshuffling of the government, and later held early elections for the presidency and parliament.

The protesters killed during EuroMaidan have been honored as martyrs in what Ukrainians have dubbed the “Revolution of Dignity.” Between February 17 and 24, commemorative events have been held to honor the fallen:

Although a year has passed since the tragic events at Maidan Square, the memories are still fresh for many Ukrainians. Sevgil Musaieva-Borovyk, a Kyiv-based journalist from Crimea, described the difficulty of expressing such feelings of tragedy and loss:

Думала, моя лента в эти дни будет посвящена воспоминаниям 18-20 февраля. Они есть, но их очень мало. И я понимаю причину.
Я помню все в мельчайших подробностях, кроме второй половины 20 февраля – ее не помню совсем. (кажется, что сработала защитная реакция и мозг отказался воспринимать все происходящее).
Помню, но написать не могу. Год прошел. А болит до сих пор очень сильно.
Больно вспоминать.
В моей ленте мало букв о тех днях, но есть еще молчаливая боль. И я ее ощущаю.

[I] thought during these days my news feed would be filled with memories from February 18–20. There are some, but very few. And I understand the reason.

I remember everything to the tiniest detail, except the second half of February 20, which I do not recall at all. (This must have been some defense mechanism in my brain that prevented me from perceiving what was happening.)

I remember, but I cannot write [about it]. It's been a year. But it still hurts too much.

And it's too painful to remember.

In my news feed, there are not many [posts] dedicated to those days, but there is a lot of unexpressed pain. And I feel it.

Kiev, Ukraine. 20th February 2014 -- Medical teams try to recover the dead and injured while under fire. -- Pictures from the front lines in Kiev and around EuroMaidan. Ukrainians riot demanding the resignation of the President Victor Yanukovych. They wish for an end to the corruption for which he and his associates have been named. Photo by Misha Somerville,  © Demotix 2015.

Kiev, Ukraine. 20th February 2014 — Medical teams try to recover the dead and injured while under fire. — Pictures from the front lines in Kiev and around EuroMaidan. Ukrainians riot demanding the resignation of the President Victor Yanukovych. They wish for an end to the corruption for which he and his associates have been named. Photo by Misha Somerville, © Demotix 2015.

The Russia-fueled war in eastern Ukraine, which started after the revolution in Kyiv, has also overwhelmed the country with death and destruction. Kyiv-based journalist Anastasiia Bereza revealed her despair about the continued bloodshed:

Ожидалось, что тягостными будут дни первой февральской годовщины.
Не мыслилось, что ужас новых событий почти полностью затмит их собой.

It was expected that the days of February's anniversary would be very difficult. [But] it was inconceivable that the horror of new events would almost completely overshadow them.

But some people, of course, did share memories from Maidan, writing stories about courage, love, and sacrifice. Among them was Facebook user Vasyl Arbuzov, originally from Donetsk, who posted the following description of the shootings:

запомнилось как двадцатого числа часов в 11 утра со сцены сухо объявили, что протестующим рекомендовано покинуть майдан, тк по площади работает снайпер. я точно не помню как именно это было сказано, но помню, что понадобилось несоклько секунд, чтоб понять смысл услышанного. после этой фразы на майдане стало еще тише. тишину нарушали только гулкие выстрелы, которые эхом доносились с институтской. люди перестали спешить, большинство людей остановились, некоторые стали оглядываться вокруг. стояла прекрасная погода. легкий мороз, но было безветренно и не холодно. небо было затянуто плотной пеленой. из-за нее свет распространялся равномерно, не отбрасывая теней. между нами и институтской, где в небо уходили герои, была дочерна выжженная после штурма земля. с земли поднимался пар. парило также сгоревшее здание профсоюзов. среди этих декораций стояли необычайно красивые люди. в рваной одежде, большинство в саже, кто-то в крови. после того как человек понимает значение фразы “по майдану работает снайпер”, ничего кроме любви к окружающим он уже испытывать не может. на майдане стояла семья, которая за свободу платила своими лучшими сыновьями. никто не хотел умирать, но никто не собирался уходить. так украинцы победили.

[I] remember how on [February] 20, [2014], at 11 a.m., in a matter-of-fact manner it was recommended from the stage that protesters should leave Maidan because a sniper was firing at the square. I do not recall exactly how it was said, but it took a few seconds for the words to sink in. After this phrase, the crowd became even quieter. The silence was broken only by the hollow sound of gunshots, echoing from Instytutska street. People stopped hurrying, most stood still, some started looking around. It was a beautiful day. There was a light freeze, but no wind or cold. The skies were covered with thick clouds.

Because of this, the light fell evenly on the square, and there hardly were any shadows. Between us and Instytutska, where heroes were leaving us for the heavens, laid a dark ground burnt after the latest attack. Steam was rising up from the ground. The burnt Trade Unions building was steaming, as well. In the middle of this scenery stood unbelievably beautiful people. Their clothes torn, most were smeared with soot, some with blood. After one understands the meaning of “a sniper is firing at the square,” he or she can feel nothing but love for the people around. A family stood on Maidan, which was paying for freedom with the lives of its best sons. No one wanted to die. But no one was leaving either. That is how Ukrainians won.

Kyiv, Ukraine. 20th February 2015 -- All around Maidan square are memorial spots, where people put the victims' pictures and come to meditate. -- Today in Kyiv, a ceremony was held on Maidan square to pay tribute to the victims of last year event. President Petro Poroshenko gave a speech and opera music was played. A photo by Camille Gazeau, © Demotix 2015.

Kyiv, Ukraine. 20th February 2015 — All around Maidan square are memorial spots, where people put the victims’ pictures and come to meditate. — Today in Kyiv, a ceremony was held on Maidan square to pay tribute to the victims of last year event. President Petro Poroshenko gave a speech and opera music was played. A photo by Camille Gazeau, © Demotix 2015.

Because of the events that followed the protests, many Ukrainians, including several government officials, now believe the crackdown on Maidan was at least partially orchestrated by the Kremlin and that protesters’ victory provoked the occupation of Crimea and the ensuing armed conflict in the Donbas.

One year later, however, the Revolution of Dignity is far from over, as Kyiv's fragile new government confronts Russian aggression, Russia-backed separatists, and the loss of Crimea, not to mention struggles at home to implement badly needed domestic reforms. Andriy Parubiy, a politician and a former head of a powerful EuroMaidan sub-movement “Maidan Self-Defense,” shared his view of events on Facebook:

Майдан продовжується. 21 листопада ми виходили на Майдан, щоб відстояти українську незалежність, виходили проти Путіна, бо Янукович був лише маріонеткою в його руках. Характерно, що 20 лютого, коли українці вели боротьбу на Майдані, Путін уже фактично розпочав пряму військову агресію проти України. Медалі за захоплення Криму, які Путін видав окупаційно-російським військам датовані 20-м лютого, – це і є фактична дата початку прямої військової агресії Кремля проти України. У мене немає сумнівів, якби нам тоді не вдалося вигнати Януковича з країни, він закликав би російські війська в Україну не з Ростова-на-Дону, а з Києва. І на Майдан були би кинуті російські танки.
(…)
Майдан триває. Нам необхідно подолати і внутрішнього ворога – корупцію. Таку ж народну війну, яку ми ведемо проти Путіна, ми повинні вести проти зла, яке руйнує державу зсередини – корупції.
(…)

Maidan continues. On November 21, we came to Maidan to defend Ukraine's independence, we came out against Putin, because Yanukovych was a puppet in his hands. It's illustrative that on February 20, when Ukrainians fought on Maidan, Putin basically launched his aggression against Ukraine. The medals awarded for seizing Crimea to Russian occupation forces are dated February 20, which is the true date of the Kremlin's direct military aggression against Ukraine. I have no doubts that Yanukovych would have sought Russian military aid from his palace outside Kyiv, instead of his home in exile in Rostov, if we'd not forced him from the country. And then Maidan would have had to face Russian tanks.

[…]

[But] Maidan continues. We must defend ourselves against an internal enemy: corruption. The national war we wage against Putin must also be fought against the evil that destroys our country from within: corruption.

Yaryna Yasynevych, who advocates reforms to the Ukrainian government, posted a rather disillusioning assessment of the current situation:

Щоб змінити систему, треба створити систему.
Хаотичні рухи організації не заважають. Повинна бути організована атака. А коли система впаде, її має замінити інша — базована на нових принципах, цінностях, але теж система.
ЄвроМайдану вистачило для того, щоб налякати капітанів і зробити пробоїну, але корабель продовжує свій рух. Громадяни, які і на Майдані не зважали на вказівки політиків і вибороли перемогу ціною неймовірних зусиль та навіть життів, зараз не меншою ціною виборють перемогу у війні. Фронт зміни системи у середині практично пустий: наразі ми перемагаємо на рівні декларації нових принипців (дякуючи парламентарям за нові закони), але система стоїть і натомість їй не твориться альтернатива, здатна зруйнувати і замінити. Українська бюрократія досі нагадуює фіру із ядерною боєголовкою, а не tesla
Дорогі політики, не думайте про вибори, лайки і репости, не думайте про черговий ефір – думайте про майбутнє. Творіть структури, набирайте людей, формуйте команди і втілюйте плани. І тоді вас запам'ятають надовго.
Нє, я не песиміст. Просто коли виграємо війну, думаю, всім би хотілося мати також і змінену систему всередині

In order to change the system, we have to create one. Chaotic movements are not an impediment to organizing. There must be an organized attack. And once the system falls, a new one must replace it, based on new principles and values—but it still has to be a system.

EuroMaidan was only enough to frighten the captains and make a hole in the ship's bottom, but the ship remains afloat. The citizens on Maidan who didn't listen to the politicians’ orders and achieved victory with enormous efforts, sometimes even at the cost of their own lives, are now winning the war [in the east] with sacrifices that are no less dramatic. But the internal front in the fight to change the system is practically abandoned. As of now, we're only winning when it comes to declaring new principles (which is what the new parliament has focused on), but the old system remains intact and there's no serious alternative in the works. Ukrainian bureaucracy is still more like a horse cart with a nuclear warhead than a Tesla.

Dear politicians, do not think about elections, “likes,” or shares [on Facebook], or about some upcoming TV broadcast. Think about the future. Build structures, find people, create teams and realize your plans. And then you will be remembered.

No, I am not a pessimist. But when we win the war [against Russia and the separatists], I think everyone would also like to have a system that has been changed from within.

Apart from reforms, many activists have renewed calls for the prosecution of those responsible for killing and persecuting EuroMaidan protesters, a process that has stalled under the post-Maidan government and disappointed many. 

Vitaliy Umanets, a member of the AutoMaidan movement (an motorist subgroup within the EuroMaidan movement), posted an angry reminder to the prosecutors and judges he still holds responsible for condoning and enabling police brutality against EuroMaidan protesters.

Переглянувши знову відео розстрілу наших хлопців на тодішній Інститутській, я вчергове нагадав собі, чому я, і АвтоМайдан – AutoMaidan загалом, не маємо права зупинятися у покаранні тих прокурорів і суддів, які продовжують бути гвинтиками вже “нової” системи, які в день, коли розстрілювали Небесну Сотню, продовжували ухвалювати свої незаконні рішення проти активістів, висувати обвинувачення побитим, скаліченим беркутнею людям, ті, хто мав захищати нас від бєспрєдєлу, а насправді творили його.
Судді і прокурори. Готуйтеся, для вас все лише починається. Ми їдемо по ваші гнилі, продажні душі!

After watching the video of the shooting of our guys on what was then Instutytska [street], I am again reminded why neither I nor AutoMaidan can cease until the prosecutors and judges are punished. Those prosecutors and judges that continue being the screws in the “new” system, those who on the day when the Heavenly Hundred were shot kept passing unlawful decisions against activists, making up charges against people beaten and crippled by the [riot police] Berkut troops—those who were supposed to defend us against lawlessness, but instead practiced it themselves. Judges and prosecutors. Be prepared, because for you this is only the beginning. We are still coming for your rotten and corrupt souls!

Yet, as on many other days, the military conflict with Russia-backed militants in the eastern region of the country continued to draw most of the public's attention and involve many activists that were present at Maidan a year ago. Yuri Kasyanov, a popular blogger who today helps fundraise for the Ukrainian army, has become a prominent chronicler of the war. He writes:

Сегодня пишут про Майдан. А со стороны Луганского в Артемовске видны вечером вспышки, рвущие ночное небо. Обстреливают наши позиции. Канонада отчетливо слышна. Людям страшно. В городе пусто. Магазины вечером закрыты. Некоторые закрыты надолго, и забиты витрины фанерными листами. В городском троллейбусе половина пассажиров – солдаты. Встретить самоходную гаубицу или танк здесь проще, чем популярные на востоке “Жигули” пятой модели. Артемовск сегодня – фронтовой город.
Мы возвращаемся в город поздно вечером. В Светлодарске шел бой; в Луганском – стрельба. На дороге работают вражеские диверсионно-разведывательные группы. Дорожное полотно изношено до предела. Здесь даже днем не видно ни черта из-за густой пыли, поднимаемой впереди идущим танком. Ночью не видно не зги. Пересекая поле перед военным лагерем, едем с потушенными фарами в кромешной темноте. Работает вражеский беспилотник с ночной оптикой; отчетливо слышен в небе стрекот мотора.
Опасно, страшно, и нужно сегодня быть здесь, как год назад в Киеве. Майдан переехал. Теперь он на передовой.

Today, [people] write about Maidan. But from the side of Luganskoe in Artemovsk [in eastern Ukraine], one can see explosions lighting up the evening sky. Our positions are under fire. One can clearly hear the booming [of artillery fire]. People are scared. The city is deserted. The shops are closed in the evening. Some have been closed for a while, with windows boarded up. Half of the passengers on public transit are soldiers. It's easier to encounter a tank or a self-propelled howitzer than a [locally popular Russian-made car] Zhyguli. Artemovsk today is a town on the frontline.

We return to it late in the evening. There's been fighting in Svetlogorsk and shooting in Luganskoe. The enemy's sabotage-reconnaissance groups are working along the road. The highway is completely covered with artillery craters. Even during a day, you have zero visibility because of the dust raised by the tank ahead of you. At night, you can't see anything, either. When crossing the field in front of a military camp, we drive quietly with our lights turned off, in a complete darkness. An enemy's night vision drone is flying above us; we hear the chirr of its motor from the sky.

It's dangerous, it is frightening, and today one must be here, like one had to be in Kyiv a year ago. Maidan has moved. It is now at the frontline.

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