Daily Telegraph of London on February 20, 2014, reported on government killing of protesters in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv. For a moment, the report said, the white blanket serving as a shroud fell back, revealing the dead man’s frozen face and a crimson bullet wound on the left side of his head. Excerpts below:
A single round penetrating above the ear had killed this Ukrainian protester, who looked to be in his 20s. His corpse lay beside those of six of his comrades under the awning of a café in the heart of Kiev on February 20:
“It was a sniper,” said Dr Vasyl Lukach as he stood beside the bodies, placed carefully in two rows. “They all have one or two bullets each in the head or in the neck. It was a professional.” Like many other medical personnel, Dr Lukach has volunteered to care for the protesters massed in Independence Square. As he spoke, an eighth corpse arrived on a green stretcher, followed closely by a ninth.
Both were shrouded in blankets, but as the last body was laid down, the cover slipped to reveal another pale face with mouth agape — and the matted blood of a telltale head wound.
The huddle of doctors and protesters at this makeshift morgue on the pavement of a European capital needed no further proof. “Sniper” was the word they whispered. As if to emphasise their point, a volley of shots rang across Independence Square. Minutes later, a 10th body arrived to the echo of sporadic gunfire. This time, the dead man was fully shrouded and his face invisible, but the white cloth over his head was bloodstained.
A handful of shots, fired with precision, had ended these young lives. As for when the men died, Dr Lukach said that all had been killed within the previous two hours. No smell of decomposition rose from the corpses and their limbs flopped and rolled without any sign of rigor mortis.
The bodies were all brought from Institutska Street, leading off the eastern end of Independence Square, which all Ukrainians know as the Maidan.
For a few hours, this narrow artery was the front line of the struggle between the protesters and the security forces of President Viktor Yanukovych.
On the morning of February 20, the demonstrators took advantage of a police withdrawal to surge forward and recapture all the ground they had lost during the bloody assault on Wednesday. As the security forces retreated before this determined counter-attack, the evidence suggests that snipers positioned in the buildings overlooking Institutska Street began to pick off their enemies.
All of the dead men were young, fit and dressed in the black jackets or camouflage fatigues typically worn by those protesters who place themselves in the thick of battle.
Some of the victims were taken to the nearby Hotel Ukraine, the lobby of which has become a morgue and dressing station.
Hotel Ukraine has acquired a red cross above its entrance and a sign in the window displaying 11 names “of those who are no longer with us”.
All day, the people of the Maidan learnt about those who had suffered death or critical injury. Ihor Kostenko, a 22-year old student from the western city of Lviv, was among those shot dead. So was Oleksandr Shcherbatuk, a member of the opposition party loyal to Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister.
On the western edge of the Maidan, a volunteer nurse wearing a cape with a large red cross was shot in the neck. Olesya Zhukovska, 21, had spent several months treating wounded protesters.
A few days ago, she yielded to the worries of her mother and returned to her home town of Kremenets, 150 miles west of Kiev, but could not bear to stay away for long. She returned to help the injured earlier this week, only to be grievously hurt herself. On Thursday night she was believed to be in a critical condition in hospital.
The protesters did their utmost to lend dignity to their dead. No corpses were left uncovered and every effort was made to identify the casualties. The body of Andreiy Sayenko was brought to the makeshift morgue beside the café in a shroud made from sleeping bags. Someone had carefully written Sayenko’s name and year of birth, 1962, in green felt tip on the left leg of his corpse. After a few moments on the pavement, his body was placed in the back of a station-wagon and driven to a morgue, with an escort of two protesters.
As for the final death toll, I counted 12 corpses. Another Telegraph reporter saw a further six. The 11 dead in Hotel Ukraine bring the total confirmed by this newspaper to 29. Just that number makes Thursday the bloodiest day of political violence in the history of Ukraine as an independent state. The real toll was almost certainly higher.
Yet, after the security forces had gone to such lengths to terrorise and break their enemies, the end result was that the protesters were still the masters of the Maidan.
As each nightfall sets another record for bloodshed, in the Maidan they are preparing for the worst. The entrance to Khreshchatyc underground station has become a Molotov cocktail factory where young women in high heels pour petrol into old wine bottles. Nearby, a row of cafés has undergone a grim conversion. Each one is now a first aid station.