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'Heavenly Hundred' Remembered on Anniversary of Ukraine's Deadly Euromaidan Protests

Relatives are angry over the perceived inaction and lassitude of protest leaders and politicians, and the lack of justice for victims gunned down in the demonstrations.

by Liz Fields
Nov 21 2014, 6:55pm

Photo by Sergei Chuzavkov/AP

On the first anniversary of the beginning of the Euromaidan demonstrations that ultimately transformed Ukraine's political landscape, relatives remembered the protesters who died during them — known as the "heavenly hundred" — while contemplating the future of their country, which still hangs in the balance.

The protests began on November 21, 2013 as a series of pro-European rallies in Kiev's Independence Square, also called the Maidan. The massive outpouring of discontent eventually forced Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych from office the following February, and inspired a reactive separatist campaign in the country's east that has fractured the country and killed thousands.

"Maybe Ukraine will have a brighter future, but we won't," Harik Nihoyan, whose son Serhiy was the first to be killed in the demonstrations, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "We lost him, full stop."

Serhiy died on January 22 after being struck by multiple bullets in the chest, head, and neck as Berkut riot police stormed the Maidan protest camp, where the 21-year-old had been performing odd jobs, including providing security, for roughly a month.

Ukraine is now preparing Euromaidan protesters for a massive invasion. Read more here.

Harik Nihoyan is among the family members of the 110 activists who died as violence at the Euromaidan protests broke out early this year. The relatives were rankled by the subsequent inaction and perceived lassitude of protest leaders and politicians, many of whom supported or led the demonstrators in calling for the ousting of Yanukovich.

Their anger doubled after revelations in October that there were severe flaws in the government's prosecution case against three riot police suspects arrested for the deaths of at least 39 unarmed civilians on February 20 at the climax of the protests, according to a Reuters report.

Probes into the massacres have been repeatedly thwarted by missing evidence, destroyed documents, and the disappearance of a key suspect — a decorated commander. Under the circumstances, justice for the victims remains a distant possibility.

At a ceremony to pay tribute to Maidan victims on Friday, relatives shouted at Ukraine's current President Petro Poroshenko, crying "Where are their killers?" and "Down with Poroshenko!"

Ukraine: Defending the Homeland. Watch the VICE News documentary here.

The country's new leaders seem bent on European integration and maintaining a united Ukraine. Yet despite a tenuous ceasefire signed by Kiev, Moscow, and the eastern separatists on September 5, there is no hint of an abatement of the conflict that has violently divided the Russian-speaking east from the rest of the country.

The UN reported Tuesday that at least 4,317 people have died since violence broke out in the rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, with at least 957 killed after the two-month long truce took hold. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced by the conflict.

Eastern Ukraine plunges ahead with controversial vote to elect separatist leaders. Read more here.

Animosity between the West and Russia over the situation in the east continues to worsen. Ukraine's government and European leaders have accused Russia of stoking separatist sentiment among rebels seeking to break away from Ukraine and form an independent state by supplying arms and sending its troops across the border to assist the uprising.

While Moscow has vehemently denied these claims, the West is backing its own interests against Russian territorial ambitions. On Thursday Reuters reported that US aims to increase non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, which will include providing Humvee vehicles and counter-mortar radars.

While Russia and the West trade barbs over contested territory in the east, where separatists held their own rebel leadership elections earlier this month, those who participated, or left behind relatives in the deadly aftermath of the protests a year ago, expressed mixed sentiments on Ukraine's prospects moving forward.

"I believe my father didn't die in vain, he wanted a better future for Ukraine," Ulyana Verbytska, whose father was tortured and killed for his participation in Euromaidan in January, told Radio Free Europe. "Of course the current situation in our country is difficult. But we must remember those who gave their lives for it and for our future, and do everything we can to ensure their sacrifice wasn't for nothing."

Russian Roulette. Watch all of the VICE News dispatches here.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields