There are still flowers and lit candles on Maidan, Instytutska, and Hrushevsky Streets. Ukraine has not experienced anything similar in terms of the number of victims and the way they were killed, shot by snipers, since the times of the World War II. As of March 18, 2014, the Heavenly Sotnia listed 108 persons. It includes those who died later from wounds. The Heavenly Sotnia includes an Armenian, Belarusians, Russians, and Georgians. Women and men. The youngest one was only 17, the oldest – 83. A lot of people received injuries and not only physical wounds, but psychological ones as well, when their friends were killed before their eyes. Years will pass, but psychologists say that terrible memories about these events will remain.
Two witnesses of those horrible events told The Day what they went through on February 20 and why they still are on Maidan instead of going home.
“THE FIRE WAS PRECISE. GUYS WENT DOWN LIKE FLIES”
Oleh Tomashchuk is 38. He came from Ternopil, where he quit his job in a construction company to be able to go to Maidan. He has an 11-year-old son. His wife is an entrepreneur and he was fed up with her constantly having to bribe officials. He came to rally for the new country for his family. He went home several times. He came to Maidan for the last time on the night of February 19. “We went by a bus. There were 35 of us. We knew the war had started, that it was not just on Hrushevsky Street,” the man says.
On the morning of February 20, Tomashchuk with five other men from Ternopil guarded the large flag near the monument to Kyiv founders on Maidan. At approximately 8:10 a.m., law enforcers started storming Maidan from the side of Instytutska Street. “There were about 30 of them. Obviously, they were soldiers of internal army, because they were wearing black uniforms. Our boys from the stele went towards them. There were almost half as many of them, so we rushed to help them. We gave them a good bashing, especially three of them. I took a helmet off one of them, because it was not fastened tight enough, and I froze immediately. There was a 19-year-old kid in front of me. The older among us had to protect the internal army troops, because young ones wanted to beat them. I fell on one to save him. Our guys took three or four wounded soldiers to Maidan as prisoners and for medics to give them first aid. We let the rest of the law enforcers go.”
The men drove the law-enforcement officers away to Hrushevsky Street and started constructing barricades of tires. They were brought from Maidan and Instytutska Street.
Tomashchuk went to get some jerry cans with gas to pour it on tires and set them on fire, and thus create a smoke screen. “We did not understand right away that we are being shot at. I was near a tree, and when I saw bullets flying, I dived under another tree like a fish. There were three guys nearby. The one that was on the left was shot in the head, the one on the right was shot in the chest, but he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and the bullet ricocheted off and entered the neck, there was a huge fountain of blood,” the man recollects. The third guy wanted to drag the killed away, and he was shot in the chest. Tomashchuk dragged him away, because the guy was still alive. A phone fell out of his pocket, and Tomashchuk took it to call relatives later. Other men helped Tomashchuk to get the guy out of there. Then all of them went down to Maidan, where they took shields.
“The shooting was precise. They shot from the blue building [near the National Bank – Ed.]. I heard the sound of bullets clanking. I wanted to check if they would keep on shooting and I stuck my helmet, an ordinary builder’s helmet, from behind the tree. It was immediately pierced with a bullet. When I already was moving around with a shield, it was pierced too. The bullet flew directly in front of my nose,” Tomashchuk talks calmly about those terrible moments. He says he tried not to think about those events during the first days after the “black Thursday.” Now he feels a bit better, to the extent that is possible in his situation.
“Guys fell down like flies, you could not poke your nose out, because there were shots fired every second. One guy was not far away from me, he was a tall one, I could hear he was from eastern Ukraine from the way he spoke. I told him, ‘Don’t come out,’ but he did, he was shot in the leg, started to crawl away, and he was carried away by medics.
The wounded and dead were dragged away on blankets first, stretchers appeared later. When medics carried the injured away, snipers started shooting from the hotel too.
“We found some ammunition, and were shooting with 16 caliber and 6-millimeter pellets,” reminisces Tomashchuk. He carried the wounded from Instytutska Street to Maidan a couple of times and sat down to catch his breath outside Hotel Ukraina. He took the phone that fell out of the wounded man’s pocket, saw a lot of missed calls from his wife, but he realized he could not tell her the truth. He called the man’s brother-in-law, said that his relative was heavily wounded. The brother-in-law, who was at Maidan as well, came to learn the details and said that Oleh (it was the name of the guy rescued by Tomashchuk) was taken to the hospital.
“I gave him the cell phone, I was in such a state that I did not understand anything myself. We did not even exchange numbers. I do not know whether Oleh is alive. And the guys that were shot down next to me were from Lviv oblast. I learned that later,” says Tomashchuk.
Two of his acquaintances were killed on February 20. Bulletproof vests were distributed on the next day. “Bulletproof vests are nothing against those bullets. They even pierced through trees. Metal shields were no good as protection either. We basically went to fight bare-handed,” says Tomashchuk.
Oleh says he survived thanks to God and Saint Nicholas (the man was born on December 19). And he also says he does not see the victory of Maidan and will stand there until those guilty of the deaths of all those people are punished.
“IT WAS A MIRACLE THAT I SURVIVED. I WAS SAVED BY DIVINE POWER”
Mykola Tokar, 25-year-old woodcutter from the village of Duliby, Lviv oblast, gives a very short assessment of the events of February 20: “It was a nightmare.” The man says the fights started near the bridge near Zhovtnevy Palace and continued all the way to subway exit on Instytutska Street.
“People were trapped above, and we were coming up from Zhovtnevy Palace to rescue them,” Tokar says. He was armed with a metal rod. A builder’s helmet and a wooden shield served as his protection. He received something like a bulletproof vest (a hand-made “hauberk”) on February 21 only. “I understood right away that we were being killed. You could see how the dead were carried from above. But we went there anyway, to cover those people with shields. The fire was very intense from the side opposite to Arkada Bank. We set tires on fire to save as many people as possible,” the man says.
Photo by Ivan LIUBYSH-KIRDEI
According to him, even medics, who rescued the wounded and carried away the dead, were shot at. “A lot of people died. There was a river of blood flowing from Arkada Bank to Hotel Ukraina. It was a miracle that I survived. I was saved by divine power,” Tokar says.
He did not see familiar faces among the killed, otherwise it would have been even more difficult. “But still, they were like brothers to me. And those who survived witnessed hell, but went there anyway, because nobody was afraid of anything,” the man says. The only thing he is and will be afraid of, to look the relatives of the killed in the eye if no changes happen in the country. That is why Tokar does not leave Maidan. He goes to the Verkhovna Rada along with the others, and each new visit there hurts him.
“There are party flags under the Verkhovna Rada, held by neat people in suits. These are the same as titushky. Our guys died under the Ukrainian flag, they were covered with it after they were killed by snipers’ bullets. On the night of February 19 we said our goodbyes near the stage under that flag, because we did not know if we would live to see the dawn,” Tokar says. “We have to stand for our dead and for those who survived, for everyone to know that apart from the deceased heroes, there are the survivers who give their lives not for parties, but for freedom,” he adds.
“I will not forget this until I die,” Tokar says. When asked whether he consults a psychologist, he says: “I do not need a psychologist. Send one to the Verkhovna Rada, not here.”
His mother is waiting for him at home. She was on her knees begging her son not to go to Maidan after the events on Hrushevsky Street. She even was taken to the hospital by an ambulance, because her blood pressure went up too high. The second time Tokar went to rally under the Verkhovna Rada on February 18, he said he found a job in Kyiv.
After Tokar was showed in a TV report along with other fighters, his family was astonished. Now they are happy he survived and are proud of his courage.