Accessibility links

Ukraine Uprising Victims Still Await Justice

  • Daniel Schearf

Roman Guryk, 19, was a bit of a rebel but he cared deeply about his two younger sisters, his friends and a European future for Ukraine.

A year ago, he gathered with thousands of other anti-government protesters near the Hotel Ukraine in central Kyiv. When they came under fire, Roman helped evacuate the wounded, his father, Igor, said recently as he walked in front of the same hotel.

“The second time he came up, there was a group of people, eight or 10, and he came with them, last in line. And they were holding on there,” Igor said, pointing to where the protesters were standing. “And you could see on the video there were barricades over there. And from there they were shooting at this side.”

A video taken at the time shows Roman trying to help more demonstrators. Then it shows him falling after being shot once in the head, a victim of mysterious snipers who added to a death toll of over 100 during clashes with riot police.

No one held accountable

This week, Ukraine marks the first anniversary of the Euromaidan revolution, named for Kyiv's Maidan Square, where protests against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych began in November 2013. The unrest sent Yanukovych fleeing to Russia, but despite a change in government, no one has been held accountable for the deaths. The families of the victims are skeptical they will ever see justice.

Roman's mother, Iryna, is among them. She wept at a memorial for those who died in the protests.

“Judging from events going on right now, what’s going on in the courts and in the investigation itself, I have a feeling they want to drag it out," she said. "Because after a year, all of those guilty are, at the very least, not in Ukraine. All the evidence is gone. There’s not much left.”

Ukraine's new prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, has promised to find and punish the perpetrators.

“I’m sure, and I said it in the parliament, that this will happen for certain," Shokin said. "All that are guilty will be held responsible. This is without doubt.”

The violence last February ended months of mostly peaceful protest against the Moscow-leaning government, which quickly crumbled after the president fled to Russia.

The Kremlin used the chaos to justify its annexation of Crimea and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting with Ukrainian forces has killed thousands. In Moscow, the protesters were portrayed as armed ultra-rightists who attacked government security forces who were trying to keep peace.

Igor Chernetsky was shot in the leg last year while leading what he called a protester security squad. He admitted that his team was armed with hunting weapons but claimed they used them only in self-defense, and that the government forces attacked first, intent on crushing the protests.

“It was not about European integration, it was the annihilation of Ukrainian people, as simple as that," he said. "When people are being annihilated, when you are being annihilated, you don’t pay attention to anything else, you just fight. And this is happening up until now and, yes, it will continue.”

Government outgunned by separatists

Now, a year after the Maidan protests, Ukraine's government finds itself outgunned by the rebels in the east, where a tenuous cease-fire went into effect Sunday. The government accuses Russia of arming and supplying the rebels, which Moscow denies.

A humanitarian crisis is growing in some rebel-held areas, where Kyiv has cut off services such as power and social welfare payments. Many Ukrainians are frustrated with President Petro Poroshenko’s handling of the crisis and the country’s crippled economy.

Chernetsky helps gather donations for the Ukrainian forces who are fighting the rebels. He said that when he gets off his crutches, he will join them on the front line.

Some Ukrainians like Chernetsky worry that with life in Kyiv largely back to normal, the fighting in the east has become routine and too easily forgotten.

But for those affected by the violence, the memory of those killed is not easily forgotten.

WATCH: The Path of Blood: Remembering Ukraine's Maidan Massacre

XS
SM
MD
LG