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Unrest, Shortages Mark Anniversary of Ukraine Protests

  • Zlatica Hoke

Ukrainians are marking the first anniversary of Kyiv protests that led to the ouster of a pro-Russian president and subsequent fighting in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east. After more than 5,600 deaths and much destruction, the country continues to suffer from a political and economic crisis, and the number of displaced Ukrainians that depend on humanitarian aid is on the rise.

A hundred protesters were killed in Kyiv's Maidan square in February of last year. Those close to the so-called "heavenly hundred" are learning to live without them.

"I remember everything, his every gesture, every step, smile, every phrase. It is difficult, but life goes on. We have children, we need to live, we need to fight,” said Natalya Boykiv, widow of Volodymyr Boykiv.

Ihor Kulchytsky survived last year's crackdown on protesters, but his father Volodymyr, a general in the Ukrainian army, was killed several months later when pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine downed his helicopter.

"God gave him the death of a warrior. It means that had to happen. What is important is that this should not be for nothing," said Kulchytsky.

Despite last week's truce, rebels continued to fight for control of key territory in eastern Ukraine. Civilians in those areas report living in fear, hunger and cold.

Russia's annexation of Crimea and fighting in the rest of eastern Ukraine have prompted more than a million people to leave their homes. The United Nations' food agency announced Thursday it is boosting its aid for Ukraine.

"We are scaling up our operations in Ukraine to reach probably about 190,000 people in the coming weeks because the needs are growing as people are still having to flee their homes and they are living in very difficult places, in shelters, with other families. Our colleagues recently have been to see people who are living in a railway station in a sleeping wagon," said a World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman.

The WFP said food prices in the region have risen dramatically - up to 30 percent for milk and bread and 70-to-80 percent for meat and cheese. Some people have depended on food vouchers for months.

"Can it be, that a country that was as rich as ours was before, cannot feed itself, and is dependent on others for help?" asked Irena, a Kramatorsk resident.

The WFP hands out food vouchers in relatively stable areas where food can be purchased. In areas closer to the frontline it provides traditional food rations.

"Its a drop in the ocean. The needs are great. Right now we are propositioning food hoping that the ceasefire will hold and we are able to push food to over 60,000 people near the front lines," said a different WFP spokeswoman.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for international peacekeepers to enforce the shaky ceasefire.

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