Kiev Maidan’s demand to know who killed ‘Heavenly Hundred’ falling on deaf ears
Forty days after 100 killed, protesters are asking if new regime is better than old one
Ukrainian school girls painting slogans for peace on Independence Square in Kiev earlier this week. A memorial ceremony for about 100 protesters who were killed in and around the square in the final days of president Viktor Yanukovich’s rule takes place on Sunday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA
For months now, an army surplus tent has been their home, and a split log the place they sit and smoke, as history unfolds in their backyard – Kiev’s Independence Square.
Tomorrow, Lyoha Kuznetsov and Sergei Matvechuk will join a memorial ceremony here for around 100 protesters who, in the final gruesome days of president Viktor Yanukovich’s rule, were shot dead in the streets surrounding the square that locals call Maidan.
The Maidan movement defeated Yanukovich, his corrupt cronies and Russia’s determination to keep him in power. But it paid a great price in blood, and, barely a month after their victory, many of its members are already asking whether Ukraine’s new leaders are any better than the old regime.
“The police were already shooting on the 18th [of February]. We had shields and sticks, but it was tough against real weapons,” said Kuznetsov (50) from Sumy in northeast Ukraine.
“One of the men from our ‘hundred’ was badly hurt on the 20th, that was the bloodiest day. A bullet smashed his hand to pieces,” added Matvechuk (44) who came from the eastern city of Donetsk in December.
The Maidan’s self-defence volunteers were grouped into “hundreds”, and the dead have become the “Heavenly Hundred”. Activists say at least 101 protesters and 17 members of the security services died during Ukraine’s uprising, the vast majority on February 20th, as snipers picked off people on Instytutska Street, which runs from Maidan to presidential and governmental headquarters. It leads uphill past the Ukraina hotel, which became a makeshift field hospital.
“The first sniper victims on February 20th were hit between 9am and 10am. The last was killed at about 4pm.This was an inhuman, genocidal situation,” said Olga Bogomolets, a doctor who helped run an emergency operating theatre in the hotel.
“We had eight surgical tables. Doctors were making incredible efforts to save lives, but most people died within a few minutes. They were hit in the heart, neck, brain and eyes. We had 12 dead bodies here,” she said this week in the bullet-marked Ukraina.
Bodies also lay on Maidan and in the grounds of the nearby St Michael’s Cathedral, as people desperately loaded the wounded and the dying into cars and sought medical help, amid warnings that police were waiting at major hospitals to arrest demonstrators.
The carnage appalled Ukrainians and the West, and drove protesters’ fury to new heights. When EU foreign ministers brokered a compromise deal between Yanukovich and opposition parties the next day, the Maidan rejected it and vowed to use force if necessary to oust the president. He fled that night and found refuge in Russia. Most of his clique, now fugitives, are thought to have done the same.
In a bugged phone conversation, Estonia’s foreign minister Urmas Paet informed EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that Dr Bogomolets had told him the “same snipers” killed protesters and police, and suggested “behind the snipers it was not Yanukovich, it was somebody from the new coalition.”