Kiev's Independence Square during Euromaidan. Photo by Konstantin Chernichkin
Around 90 people were killed by sniper fire during the Euromaidan protests. A government inquiry in February found that Ukraine's Berkut special police were behind the killings of protesters, and 12 officers were arrested at the beginning of April, the first step toward closure for those who knew the victims.
I spoke to three Ukrainians who'd lost family members to snipers during the protests, and asked them to recount their last memories of their loved ones.
Anatoliy Zhalovaga,a 33-year-old phys-ed teacher and builder from the city of Lviv, was killed by a sniper shot to the head on February 20, within 24 hours of arriving at the protests in Kiev. His cousin,** Eduard Zhalovaga, 33, has worked in the UK since 2009 as a project manager for a pharmaceutical company.**
There were a group of people who were going, and at first he didn’t take his passport with him and he had to return. He came back, and he left again with some other men who were also traveling to Kiev to protest. His brother called him that day at around 11AM, and he just answered the phone very briefly and said the army and police were using water cannons. Then he put down the phone. The family didn’t hear from him after that.
The next morning they heard that he was one of the protesters who had been killed. They couldn’t believe it, because he was just there 24 hours before that.
My father called me, because I live here in England, and he informed me of Anatoliy's death. It was very tragic. One of the hardest things was that he was the same age as I was; he was maybe six months older than I am. It was hard news to hear—something that made me realize that you should value people and the time you spend with them.
He was shot in the head, a sniper shot to his head. They couldn't have his face exposed at the funeral because it was too distressing for the parents.
He was a very positive person; he smiled a lot. He was patriotic, and he couldn’t stay at home and do nothing when Euromaidan started happening. He'd also taken part in the Orange Revolution for a couple of weeks.
We don’t know whether he was killed with illegal bullets, but we do know that the army wasn't involved, only the riot police. It was special forces, and they were working with the internal military. But the people actually doing the shooting were part of the riot police or the special forces.
Alexandra Tochyn with her father, Roman
Alexandra Tochyn, 20, describes the death of her father, Roman Tochyn, 43, who lived in Khodoriv in the Lviv region. Roman went to join the protests in Kiev on December 1. He died on December 20.
My father was angry, as a lot of students and young people were suffering at the hands of the Berkut [special police force]. He didn't like dishonest people, and our government was dishonest. People in our country don't feel safe; a lot of them go abroad to earn a living, but my father wanted his children to study, work, and live with their parents in their native country.
I was in shock and couldn’t believe it when I heard that my father had been killed. He was the dearest person in my life, and I loved him. He was an example for me to follow. I remember going to Maidan to support my father. His smile and voice still run through my head; He was very glad to see me, was thankful for my support. The last thing I said to him was "Father, I believe in you and an independent Ukraine. I pray for this every day. United, we are strong!"
On December 20 at about 8 AM, my mother spoke to him on the phone. He told her everything was OK, but that he didn’t have much time to talk. I called him myself at around 10 AM, but he didn’t pick up.
I later found out that he had been shot dead by a sniper on Instytutska Street. He'd been protecting a barricade there, but on that day he and his friends went to the front, and he and a few others were killed. He was taken to the hospital, but there was nothing they could do.
My father shed blood for his native land and for its independence. He was standing up for our freedom. He was risking his life, and he wasn't afraid of death. My father is a hero.
Tetyana Bondarchuk and her husband, Serhiy
Tetyana Bondarchuk, 53, a teacher from Starokostiantyniv in West Ukraine, lost her husband, Serhiy Bondarchuk, to sniper fire on February 20 this year.
It was my husband’s personal commitment to go to Kiev, no matter what happened. He felt that he couldn’t be indifferent and that it was his duty to represent the protest, because he was part of the local party, Svboda. He was supporting the protest against the criminal government of Yanukovych and felt that he should be there. I understood and fully supported him. The last time I saw him was when he left for the Maidan on February 19.
I wanted to go as well, but he couldn’t take me with him. He called the local MP the morning he left and asked whether I could travel with him, but the MP said, "No way—only men should go." I wish I could have gone with him. His group was stopped several times on the way to Kiev, and police were trying to get them to go back, but they still managed to get to Kiev.
When he reached Kiev he called and said, “I’m very safe, don’t worry."
At 7 AM on February 20, I got another phone call in which he said that he was all right. He said that he was being careful and that the other guys were still sleeping, but that he was awake. February 20 was announced as the day of peace between the protesters and the government. He said that everything would be fine.
I was teaching at the school that day, and I didn’t notice that my phone was vibrating through all the lessons; I’d missed many calls from my son. I called him back, and he said he couldn’t reach his father, but that a strange person was picking up his phone and that he didn’t trust him. He thought that maybe the phone had been stolen.
Then the director of my school also called my husband’s phone. A policeman picked up and said that he could speak only to Serhiy's wife. When I spoke to the policeman, he said that my husband had died and that his body had been delivered to the police checkpoint.
I later heard that, while he was still alive, those at the Maidan first-aid tent had tried to save his life. The bullets that were recovered from his body had the number 762 on them, which meant they were military bullets, which the police aren't allowed to use. All his internal organs were heavily injured, so he had no chance of surviving.
I still can't believe that he's not alive and that he'll never be back. He was a very good husband, and we were a happy family. He was wounded with these illegal military bullets when he was taking the injured away from the Maidan battlefield, so he died helping others and rescuing others. He didn’t have any weapons, a helmet, or a bulletproof vest. He was completely unarmed.
On April 13, I went to Kiev, to the place where he was shot. When I was standing there, a man asked me if I was his wife, before telling me that my husband had saved his life and that he was very grateful. He hadn't been able to move his legs, and my husband rescued him and took him away from the danger. Then he came back to help others, and that was when he was shot.
We'd been together since university. He was a successful person and managed to get perfect results in everything he did. In 2013, he won the local contest for Teacher of the Year in physics. He was also a member of the local town council and on the town's education board.
I don’t want anyone to ever experience the horror that I experienced, and I don’t want anyone to ever suffer like I am now. I want Ukraine to become independent, free and democratic, and be happy and democratic. I want a European future for all Ukrainians.