Today, on February 20, Ukraine celebrates the Memorial Day of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes that number 106 people. "Paying a tribute to courage, moral strength, and firmness of citizens who gave their lives in the name of the Revolution of Dignity, protecting the ideals of democracy, and defending human rights and freedoms, and the European future of Ukraine," reads Petro Poroshenko’s decree.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko awards a Golden Star of the Hero of Ukraine to the father of Sergey Nigoyan, the first Maidan activist who was killed. Photo: Press Service of the President of Ukraine
It was on February 20, that most of Maidan activists – 87 – died from sniper shots in the centre of Kiev. The heroes’ relatives came to the capital to take part in the mourning events and receive high governmental awards, the "gold stars". A gold star of the Hero of Ukraine will from now on lie in the home of every person who did not return from the Maidan, next to a portrait with a black ribbon: in Lvov and in Lubar, in Kiev, Kremenchug and Kramatorsk, in Ivano-Frankovsk and Chrnovtsy, in Rovno, in Shepetovka and other towns… People from all over Ukraine came to protect the Maidan.
"Hello, son," Sergey Kemsky’s mother will say as usual, looking into his room. She will smile sadly, "You are a hero now." It still seems to her that the son just left for a while or went to Kiev on business, that he is will soon come, sit at the laptop and start clicking the buttons.
She is recollecting the whole day of February 20 today. Every hour and every minute. She felt disturbed at night. She called Sergey at 5 a.m. for the first time. Then she came to her senses: it was too early. She hung up. She called the second time at 8 a.m. He answered, out of breath, "Everything’s fine, Mom". She heard voices and claps around. It was later that she realized that these were shots… She said, "Take care, son," and bid goodbye quickly – she did not want to distract him.
She found out about Sergey’s death only in the evening. Though it happened soon after their morning conversation – he was running to a barricade in Instituskaya Street where one could hide from sniper shots.
Sergey Kemsky. Hero of Ukraine. Born on November 15, 1981 in Kerch. Later, he moved to Korosten in Zhitomir region with his family. He graduated from Lvov National University majoring in Political Science. He worked at the Institute of Political and Economic Risks and Prospects. He wrote articles for Ukrainskaya Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), Den (Day) and other newspapers. He was an active participant of the Maidan from its first days. He died on February 20, 2014 from a sniper shot.
Sergey said in the evening before going to the Maidan, "Mom, everything is just starting"
– Tamara Gavrilovna, did you know from the first day that Sergey was on the Maidan?
– Yes, of course. He had worked at home for a long time, he occasionally went to Kiev on business. On November 21, we were watching TV with my husband and found out that Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. I came into Sergey’s room and said, "Sergey, can you imagine, Yanukovych has not signed. It is all over now". And he turned to me and said, "Mom, everything is just starting now". These words of his were engraved in my memory. The next morning, he went to the Maidan.
– Sorry, did not you see Sergey since then?
– He came home several times. He spent two days at home last time, February 15 and 16. Walking past his room, I looked inside: he was sitting and clicking on the keyboard. I came up and stood near him… Once he asked, "Mom, do you want anything? I am busy". I found out later that he was writing his verse "Hey! Maidan…".
– Judging by the date, he uploaded it on his Facebook page that very day. It was composed to Mayakovski’s motives who Sergey seemed to appreciate… Did not you try to persuade the son not to return to the Maidan?
– He was 32 years old, he was an independent person and a graduate of the philosophical faculty, political science was his profession. I remember now that I did not worry much from the first days that Sergey spent on the Maidan. Even when the most terrible things started happening, on February 18, I did not feel worried about Sergey. Though I realized that it was a revolution, and there would be victims.
– How did you learn that Sergey was killed?
– I called him early in the morning on February 20, but he did not answer. I saw the time and realized that it was very early, so I hung up. We got in touch at 8 a.m. I heard that he was out of breath and running somewhere. There were voices and strange noise there. It was later that I realized that these were shots. I said to him, "Son, I hear that you are busy. Take care. I will call you back later". I did not want to distract him and broke off quickly. He did not even answer me.
I think that he was dead at around 9 a.m. In the videos from the Maidan that I watched later, I saw Sergey going in the first rows, covering himself with a shield. And just several seconds later, he is dragged by his legs. It happened near the October Palace. Guys, covering themselves with shields, were making their way to a barricade in Institutskaya Street where they could hide. One can see in the video that they were shot by snipers one by one like in a shooting gallery.
My colleagues at work asked me, "Where is your Sergey? Why do not you take him home? People are killed there!" How could I explain that it was his decision? I called him later, but the phone would not answer. Suddenly, it was busy at 11 o’clock. I was so happy! And it was a doctor calling some of Sergey’s friends whose number he found in the contacts for them to come for identification…
I did not know anything about Sergey until evening. Until my husband with my sister came to my work. I understood everything immediately, without any words. I did not have hysterics. I was as if petrified. We bought everything necessary for the funeral in the morning and went to Kiev. There was a very long procedure in the morgue. Relatives were claiming so many victims there!
We buried Sergey in the village of Velikiy Yablonets, where all our ancestors are buried.
– If he were alive, do you think that he would be fighting in the ATO today?
– I have no doubt about it. You know, even in my terrible grief, I am glad that I could bury him, sit near his coffin and stroke him. So many mothers cannot find their children who died at war, they cannot put them together part by part…
Sergey never expected meanness, tricks, or treachery from anyone because he never acted like that
– Do you feel Sergey nearby?
– I will look into his room, see an empty table and chair and catch myself thinking that he just went to Kiev on business or simply left somewhere and will return soon. I burst out crying, then I look at his photographs and calm down soon. I say, "Sergey, I will not do it any more." I always greet him, "Good morning, son," and bid him good night. You may not believe, but there is always a clap in reply – as if Sergey lets me know that he is near.
Some two months after his death, my husband brought a kitten. He heard it crying under the rain. I did not want it. And the husband insisted in the kitten’s living with us. It grew into a nice five-coloured spotted cat. It saves my husband and me. She does everything with her left paw. And Segrey was a left-hander… She loves chicken and chocolate, like him. So I think, can the son’s soul return to me in this little cat?
– After Sergey’s death, your nephew Alexander Melnichenko said about one of his articles written in December, 2013 and published in Ukrainskaya Pravda: "Can you hear, Maidan" describing what exactly Sergey defended among other activists. He had a keen feeling of justice, didn’t he?
– It is from his father. My husband was very principled from his young age. He had to join the party to go on prestigious business trips, but he refused categorically. He saw the bribes and lies there, he saw that people did not stop at anything.
Sergey was like this, too. He wanted to achieve everything by himself, he never gave any bribes to anyone. He never expected meanness, tricks, or treachery from anyone because he never acted like that. He was not interested in any material things. I would tell him, "Son, go buy something new. Do not you want to go around in new clothes?" He would answer, "Mom, what for? I’ve got everything." I do not know how many such people like him are born in a thousand…
– He wrote on his Facebook page on January 26, "So, "Donetsk" of Zhitomir region, the town of Korosten, rose, too. There was a demonstration with hundreds of people, a procession in busy places (markets, railway stations). They organized a self-defence unit and local Automaidan". Did he try to raise people against the government in his town, too?
– Yes, his friends and him wanted to wake up our sleepy Korosten. It is only 150 km from Kiev, and people are indifferent to everything. A journalist asked him what was going on in front of the camera when there appeared posters "Korosten, rise up!" Sergey replied, "We want our local authorities to hear people. And to avoid bloodshed." Please, note that it was in January, a month before the deaths on the Maidan, and he realized already that blood might be shed. Maybe, he as a political scientist saw everything deeper.
– Did the government meet its obligations towards you?
– It was told at Sergey’s funeral that a street would be named after him. But nobody even called us until there was information about Poroshenko’s decree on awarding Sergey with the title of a Hero of Ukraine. A man from the region came recently, he asked how things were going. I told him, "Do not expect that I will sit broken-hearted. I will continue my son’s work. I think that a monument to those who died for independent Ukraine should be erected instead of the toppled Lenin monument. We will add names in the course of history."
I do not understand people who urge people to gather for the third Maidan. The country is at war, it is wounded and destroyed. These are simply provocations. And it will take long to struggle for the ideas of the Maidan. It is not over yet. Everyone must do what they can.
The GORDON journalist also talked to the father of the 19-year-old Ustim Golodnyuk from the town of Zbarazh from Ternopil region, who died as Sergey Kemsky on February 20, 2014. Vladimir Golodnyuk, a resigned militia major, also was on the Maidan and took part in the fights on that day. He learnt about the son’s death from his acquaintances by the phone – they saw a news ticker on TV. Ustim defended the Maidan in a blue peace-keeping helmet, which, in his father’s opinion, had been his amulet for a long time. But the sniper’s bullet aimed at Ustim’s head went right through the helmet.
Vladimir Golodnyuk head the national resistance staff in Zbarazh today, he forms humanitarian aid for the ATO fighters. He also gathers information that will help to find people guilty of the death of his son and other Maidan activists. As a former officer, he is ready to carry out his own investigation. However, in his opinion, the law enforcement system protects criminal colleagues.
"It is important for me to know who gave an order, and not who pulled the trigger," he says.
Ustim Golodnyuk. Hero of Ukraine. Born on August 12, 1994 in Zbarazh, Ternopil region. Graduated from Lvov State Lyceum with Intensive Military and Physical Training named after Heroes of Kruty. He studied at Berezhany Agrotechnical Institute. He had been defending the Maidan since November 2013. He got injured in the back of the head and got 12 sutures on the night when Berkut officers were beating students. As soon as the wounds healed, he returned to the Maidan.
"The sky is falling!" – the soldier of Maidan Self-Defence Sotnia 38 Ustim Golodnyuk made up this password as a warning signal – in order not to scare those who were near. On February 20, 2014 when he was helping to take the wounded from Maidan, he died of a head shot from a sniper rifle.
His last post in his Facebook, "Slaves are not allowed to the paradise," was made several days before his death. Having learnt that Ustim had passed away, the Euromaidan activist Lida Pankiv replied, "People like you, Ustim, are invited there, Heroes are needed everywhere… Hopefully, we will meet one day! Hold the heaven for us, boy! RIP».
I tried to make him change his mind saying, "If you die, nobody will continue the generation of patriots. Sofa fighters will continue their generation, and ours will stop." But I lacked arguments
– Vladimir, did you easily let your son to the Maidan?
– He did not ask for a permission. I found out that he was there a week later when he did not come home for the weekend. I called him and asked, "Son, are you on the Maidan?" That is how I found out.
– What was his mother’s reaction?
– Ustim is my son from my first marriage. His mother was on the earnings then, so she did not know, either.
– Did you keep in touch with him every day after that?
– Yes, of course. But he was not very talkative, he did not tell me much. I only asked him, "Are you fine? What do you need?" But, as the whole country, I was stuck to the TV screen, so I knew what was happening on the Maidan. Besides, I visited him in Kiev several times.
– Did he tell you that he got injured when Berkut was beating students, or did not he want to worry you?
– I saw the video on the news. He was on the screen with a bandaged head.
– Did you manage to talk him into returning home then?
– Guys were hiding in the in Mikhailovsky Cathedral. I asked friends to find and send him home. They saw to it that he bought a ticket, but Ustim stayed home for only three days and went to the Maidan again then. He was a maximalist. I tried to make him change his mind saying, " If you die, nobody will continue the generation of patriots. Sofa fighters will continue their generation, and ours will stop." Probably, I just lacked arguments. I could not tie him to the house. He was a maximalist.
– Has the state done everything for the Heavenly Hundred Heroes’ families? Did it take care of everyone?
– The state is not able to do the main thing – to return our children. We have achieved that they are declared Heroes of Ukraine. Now we are trying to have the perpetrators’ names announced.
– Can you follow the investigation?
– Yes, I do follow it. I even conducted my own investigation. Most of the witnesses and materials collected in this case have been found by me and my friends. The investigation must have announced the perpetrators after a year. But the internal affairs agencies and the prosecutor’s office have not replaced the staff yet. It turns out that those who are to some degree involved in the murders on the Maidan cannot investigate cases against themselves.
– Do you keep in touch with Ustim’s friends from the Maidan?
– Yes, but almost all of them are fighting in the east of Ukraine now.
They defended their country on Maidan – not for money or by order, but true to their conscience
– Do you think that the Maidan, that claimed so many lives and is still claiming them now since the war in Donbass is its continuation, was not in vain?
– Certainly, the changes in Ukraine are not as we want them to be. But the Ukrainians started thinking differently – it is already very important. And the textbooks must tell the truth to keep the memory about the Heavenly Hundred Heroes. They defended their country on Maidan – not for money or by order, but true to their conscience.
P.S. In "Snipers’ Case: Shooting in Institutskaya Street" VKontakte group, participants of the event share details about the tragic day of February 20. The Maidan activist Olena Stadnik also wrote her memories about Ustim Golodnyuk.