21 февраля 2015 10:52

Sombre Ukrainians mark anniversary of protest killings


 Thousands of Ukrainians gathered Friday for an emotional ceremony on Kiev's Independence Square to mark one year since scores of demonstrators were gunned down in the final act of a dramatic uprising

 Thousands of Ukrainians gathered Friday for an emotional ceremony on Kiev's Independence Square to mark one year since scores of demonstrators were gunned down in the final act of a dramatic uprising

The street where protesters were shot by security forces was bathed in red light and giant screens showed images of some of the estimated 100 people killed during the demonstrations that toppled Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

"They stood here shoulder to shoulder, people of different ethnicities and faiths," President Petro Poroshenko said from a stage in the square, known as Maidan.

"The revolution was a first, and most importantly, victorious battle in the war for our independence," he said, lashing out at Russia for sending "tanks and Grad rockets" to keep Ukraine in its orbit.

The deadly protests set off a tumultuous chain of events that saw Russia seize the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and a the launch of a pro-Moscow uprising in the industrial east that is raging on to this day.

Beams of light shone up into the dark sky as a minute of silence for the dead -- known as the "heavenly hundred" -- led into a rousing rendition of the national anthem.

Ukraine's national orchestra then played Mozart's Requiem from the stage as a picture of a Ukrainian flag fluttered on a vast digital screen behind.

Earlier in the day a steady stream of people had headed to the square to lay flowers and stand in silent contemplation before pictures of the dead.

"I came today because I was here when it all happened," small business owner Yaroslav Zelenko told AFP, his eyes filling with tears.

"I remember it all so vividly."

A year on, bullet holes still riddle a lamp-post close to where some protesters fell.

Like many of those present, Zelenko, 57, said the current politicians had not lived up to the hopes of the Maidan.

He expressed outrage that no officials have yet been convicted over the shooting of the demonstrators over the bloody days in February.

Only two low-ranking riot policemen are awaiting trial over the killings.

"A year has gone by and there is impunity. Nobody has been punished and evidence is disappearing and being destroyed," he said.

     'Aching for Ukraine' 

 Poroshenko, who came to power in May pledging to end the conflict in the east, met the families of those killed in Kiev to give them medals.

"My father's heart was aching for Ukraine, Ukraine was the most important thing to him," Volodymyr Bondarchuk of his father Sergiy.

"For us it is important that his sacrifice was not in vain and i think that it wasn't," he said at a press conference of relatives of the dead.

"His blood and the blood of the others gave us the possibility to change our country."

Viktoria Opanasyuk said her husband Valeriy -- a father-of-five -- had been willing to risk everything during the protests.

"My husband was not afraid. He went to Maidan to give a better future to our children," Opanasyuk said.

Some of those coming to the square for the anniversary said they were still trying to come to terms with what had happened.

"I still can't believe that all this happened-- it seems like a dream still," said librarian Valentina Polyeshuk, clutching a single yellow rose.

But while many thought the bloodshed on Maidan marked the end of Ukraine's worst crisis since independence in 1991, it only signalled the start of 12 months of tumult.

Russia annexed Crimea in March, and the following month pro-Moscow rebels took up arms in the east in a conflict that has now killed around 5,700 people and forced hundreds of thousands from their home.

"We didn't expect any of this -- for our brotherly nation Russia to turn on us," said Polyeshuk.

"Many of those who were on Maidan went straight to the front. And they are still dying there."

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