KYIV - Ukrainian leaders paid their respects Friday to protesters killed during the revolution that began one year ago in the capital, Kyiv.
To mark the one year anniversary of the “Euro-Maidan” uprising that led to the ouster of Russia-backed former president Viktor Yanukovych — and, subsequently, Russia's Crimea annexation followed by the rebel uprising — President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk laid candles at a memorial to those who died in the campaign.
Relatives of the 100 or so deceased, known as the “Heavenly Hundred,” shouted “shame” and demanded they be recognized as national heroes.
Poroshenko apologized, urged unity, and said he would sign an order within hours declaring them heroes.
"When you give your life for your country you are a hero, and if you are wounded you have to receive the status of combatant," said President Petro Poroshenko, who then asked the crowd if they agreed.
"Yes!" they shouted back.
The protests erupted when former President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. Peaceful demonstrations against the move were met with force.
Many of those killed during clashes with riot police were shot by snipers, but nobody has been held accountable for the deaths.
Tamara Kemska's son Sergei was one of those killed near the square.
"If they did not hear the president’s words today, anything could happen," said Kemska. "People could go on Maidan again, because they did not get justice."
Yanukovych fled to Russia and the Kremlin reacted to the pro-Western government that succeeded him by annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Moscow-supported rebels seized government offices in Ukraine's Russia-leaning east, sparking ongoing military clashes.
Hundreds of thousands have since fled shelling and gunfire that has left 4,300 people dead. Western nations hit Russia with sanctions for sending weapons and soldiers to fight with the rebels, a charge the Kremlin has always denied.
Kyiv mayor and boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said those responsible for the deaths around the Maidan are hiding in Moscow.
"We have been fighting and will keep fighting for a modern, independent, European and democratic Ukraine," said Klitschko.
The crisis has hit Ukraine's struggling economy and raised enormous hopes for reforming politics and eliminating corruption.
A mustachioed Cossack protester named Ivan, dressed in a traditional wool cape and hat, says the sacrifice was worth it.
"Any revolution brings devastation afterwards. It is understandable, if you look at world history, but they also have results," he said. "If not for this revolution of dignity, they would not have such solidarity among the Ukrainian people."
Ukraine's parliament, the most pro-European in its history, is set to hold its first session later this month.