The month of February, for Ukrainians worldwide, is a time of remembrance and mourning, as well as steadfastness and resolve.
On February 20, we remember Ukraine’s modern-day heroes of the Euro-Maidan – the Revolution of Dignity – who were killed in 2014 as they defended their country’s European choice and democratic values. That date is now annually observed as the Day of the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. As President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted in his address on the occasion, the day is “a tribute to self-sacrifice, heroism, courage and patriotism,” “a symbol of unbrokenness and a source of inspiration for the Ukrainian warriors who are now defending Ukraine.”
In Kyiv, many came to pay their respects at memorials to the Heavenly Hundred. Throughout our diaspora community, many events were organized to remember the sixth anniversary of the bloody killings on the Euro-Maidan and to pay homage to the undaunted “Nebesna Sotnia.” The Ukrainian World Congress noted: “The tragic events that unfolded on Independence Square six years ago on February 18-20 launched a new era in the modern history of independent Ukraine which was, once again, forced to defend its sovereignty, democracy and territorial integrity from a foreign aggressor. Unsuccessful in its attempt to subdue the Ukrainian people, the Russian Federation illegally occupied the Crimean peninsula and the city of Sevastopol, and invaded the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of eastern Ukraine.”
On February 26, Ukrainians recall Russia’s moves to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula – an annexation that is not recognized by the international community. This year, President Zelenskyy issued a decree designating February 26 as the Day of Resistance to the Occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol, because it was on that day in 2014 that the largest protest against Russia’s intervention was held in Symferopol, capital of Crimea. As explained by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on February 26, 2014, Russia had hoped to achieve a coup by having the Crimean Parliament vote on a change to the peninsula’s status. The plan was foiled by a huge demonstration led by the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. Moscow deployed its troops the very next day, resulting in an occupation that continues to this day.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who on July 25, 2018, issued the historic Crimea Declaration which stated equivocally that “the United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law,” this year issued another unambiguous statement that reaffirmed the U.S. position. The U.S., he said on February 26, “does not and will not ever recognize Russia’s claims of sovereignty over the peninsula. We call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.” He also underscored: “Six years on, Russia continues to rely on lies and disinformation in its failed attempt to legitimize the illegitimate. Its efforts are doomed to failure. The world will never forget Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” A day earlier, it must be noted, President Donald Trump signed an executive order extending for another year, the sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.
Six years after the fateful events of 2014, the people of Ukraine continue to demand justice for the Heavenly Hundred, whose sacrifices will always be remembered, even as Ukraine continues to seek the fulfillment of the ideals of the Revolution of Dignity. As well, the people of Ukraine remain committed to restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty over all its lands.
As for us, we remember and we reiterate: Heroes never die. Crimea is Ukraine.