Sombre Ukrainians mark anniversary of protest killings

20th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

A stream of sombre Ukrainians on Friday laid flowers at memorials on Kiev's Independence Square where one year ago scores of demonstrators were gunned down in the final act of a dramatic uprising.

Some wept and others crossed themselves in silence in front of the pictures of some 100 protesters who died during the months of protests that eventually toppled Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Catholic priests chanted a liturgy for the dead on the main square, or Maidan, while a crowd of about 100 people sung patriotic songs around a monument to the dead -- known as the "heavenly hundred".

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

"I remember it all so vividly."

A year on, the signs of the moment when security forces opened fire on the demonstrators are still clear to see.

Bullet holes riddle a lamp-post close to where some protesters fell.

Echoing the views of many, Zelenko, 57, expressed outrage that no officials have yet been convicted over the shooting of the protesters 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.

Speaking at a press conference, the families of some of those killed during the protests focused on the memories of their loved ones.

"My father's heart was aching for Ukraine, Ukraine was the most important thing to him," said 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. 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," Oponyasyuk said.

- Silence and requiem -

Official ceremonies are due later Friday with President Petro Poroshenko, who took office in May last year, to address a rally on Independence Square.

Church bells will ring out, there will be a minute of silence and then Ukraine's national orchestra will play Mozart's Requiem.

Ahead of the official events, however, people made their own personal pilgrimages to the scene of last year's tragedy.

"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 tumult, it only signalled the start of 12 months that have seen Russia annex Crimea and a brutal war break out with pro-Moscow rebels in the east.

"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."

© 2015 AFP

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