Hundreds of people gathered in central Kyiv on February 20 to commemorate the third anniversary of the bloodiest day of protests that led to the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The commemorations honored protesters, known as the Heavenly Hundred, who were killed in clashes with security forces in Kyiv following months of protests triggered by Yanukovych’s decision to spurn closer ties with the European Union.
The protests ended with Yanukovych fleeing Kyiv on February 21, 2014. The former president, who took refuge in Russia, denies ordering police to fire on protesters and claims the violence was a “planned operation” to overthrow his government.
Ukrainian prosecutors say 104 people were killed and 2,500 injured in the protests.
Russia proceeded to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula following a covert military operation there, and back armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting has killed more than 9,750 people since it erupted in April 2014.
Russia's moves triggered outrage from Western governments, which responded with several waves of sanctions targeting Moscow.
Some of those who paid tribute ot the fallen protesters in Kyiv on February 20 criticized President Petro Poroshenko’s government, drawing accusations from other demonstrators that they were “provocateurs.”
Earlier in the day, Poroshenko met with relatives of those who died in what are known as the Euromaidan protests and attended a prayer service alongside his wife and other Ukrainian officials at Kyiv’s St. Michael's Cathedral.
A day earlier, nationalists and other protesters clashed with police in Kyiv as demonstrators rallied in support of a blockade on coal-producing regions controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The United States, which has backed Poroshenko’s government in its standoff with Russia, said on February 20 that Ukraine has “made remarkable progress” since the protests but that “much work remains to be done to fulfill the promise of the Maidan.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement that Ukraine’s leaders must “strengthen efforts to fight corruption and continue the political and economic reforms that will honor those who gave their lives to secure a better, more democratic future for Ukraine.”