Ukrainians pay tribute to fallen 'heroes'

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Maidan, the scene of violent protests where 82 people lost their lives in a week, became on Sunday (February 23) a place for prayers and reflection as Ukrainians paid tribute to the protesters who died for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich.

Thousands of Ukrainians streamed into Kiev’s Independence Square, carrying flowers and candles in a spontaneous pilgrimage.

Marshalled through barricades by helmeted members of a self-styled ‘self-defence’ force, families poured down Institutska Street, the scene last week of the worst violence in Ukraine’s 22 years of independence.

They transformed the street, where dozens of people were picked off by police sniper rifles and Kalashnikovs, into an improvised shrine, lighting candles and laying flowers against the cobblestones and bricks that protesters had stockpiled as weapons against the police.

Grief replaced anger and where smoke once billowed from barricades, red and white carnations lay in memory for the dead.

Women, men and children paid their respect to the dead who had stood their ground in Independence Square for almost three months until they achieved their goal – the removal of Viktor Yanukovich.

“We buried him yesterday. He was here from the early days of the fighting. He was not afraid. He was a father of two. He was standing here, right here, with his friends. Four days before his death we came here and here right here I met him. Those boys were fighting for us, for every single one of us, for every single one of us they were fighting,” Elena said.

Yanukovich was ousted on Saturday, abandoning his Kiev office and country residence to flee for his native eastern Ukraine, stripped of his powers by a parliament packed with defectors from his Party of Regions.

It marked the climax of three months of protests on Independence Square, known as Maidan, over the president’s sudden U-turn away from closer ties with Europe in favour of the former Soviet master, Moscow.
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