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Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished' Son of the Heavenly Hundred hero Yurii Aksenyn (Photo: Kateryna Honcharova, RBC-Ukraine)

Ten years after the shootings of Maidan participants, only four people have been convicted for the murders, with two currently in custody. How the families of the deceased continue to seek justice and the fate of the family of the Heavenly Hundred Hero Vasyl Aksenyn is described in the material by RBС-Ukraine.

On February 18-20, 2014, some of the most tragic events in the history of modern Ukraine took place. Amid the Revolution of Dignity, the peaceful advance of activists towards the Verkhovna Rada on February 18 turned into mass clashes between the Maidan protesters and security forces. Many people were injured. The confrontation continued the next day.

On the morning of February 20, the security forces, who had previously stormed the Maidan, suddenly moved towards Institutska Street. Near the October Palace was a unit of special forces in black uniforms with yellow armbands. At 9:07, the first Maidan activists were killed, and later, the number of victims increased to dozens.

During those days, 73 peaceful protesters were killed in Maidan, who gave their lives for Ukraine. Nearly two dozen more people died in hospitals later from the injuries they sustained. Among them was 52-year-old Vasyl Aksenyn. The Heavenly Hundred – that's how 107 Euromaidan activists, killed from January 22 to February 20, 2014, came to be called.

RBC-Ukraine spoke with Vasyl Aksenyn's son, Yurii. He recalled what his father was like, how the investigation into the killings has progressed over ten years, and what his family is living through now.

The guilty of the crimes were supposed to investigate themselves

Yurii meets us near the former Institutskaya Street, now known as the Alley of the Heavenly Hundred. Ten years ago, it was the site of mass shootings of participants of the Revolution of Dignity. Along the road are portraits of all those who died in those days. Yurii's father's portrait is the first from the bottom.

Vasyl Aksenyn was from the village of Lytiachi in the Ternopil region. After finishing school, he moved to Chernivtsi. He worked as a radio installer and then as an engineer. Later, he opened his own business.

"My father took care of the family and made sure everything was good for us. He was involved in breeding decorative birds. I remember him as a good person, but very disciplined. He liked it when everyone kept their word. He had registered weapons, but he didn't like hunting. He always refused whenever his friends went hunting, saying it was 'not his thing,'" recalls Yurii.

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Photo: Yurii Aksenyn clears snow near his father's portrait on the Heavenly Hundred Heroes alley (Kateryna Honcharova, RBC-Ukraine)

The cross and the letter "A," which stands for the Aksenyn surname, are painted on the asphalt near the October Palace. This is the place where, on February 20, 2014, a bullet wounded Yurii's father.

"Soon after the shootings, the investigation was not conducted adequately. It only started with time. Partly because there was no one to conduct it: the power bloc fell apart, and the criminal authorities fled. And partly because, at that time, those who committed the crimes were in positions of power. Essentially, the guilty of the crimes were supposed to investigate themselves," says the man.

It's a struggle of generations. How Vasyl Aksenyn died

According to Yurii, his father used to be on the Maidan regularly as soon as people started to gather there. He had previously participated in the Revolution on Granite and the Orange Revolution. He kept his finger on the pulse, trying to stay informed about important events for the country.

"It's a struggle of generations," says Yurii. Even when he was little, he saw how his father was interested in the country's political life and international news.

Vasyl Aksenyn last went to the Maidan on February 18, when he learned about escalating confrontations. His son forbade him to go because of the danger that was growing at the time.

"The day before, on February 16, he was at his brother's birthday party. We talked, and I was offended by him because he didn't want to take me with him. He said that the events were a gap between their older generation because, for twenty years, people were passive, and the youth should not be responsible for it. But he added that there should be a representative of the Aksenyn family at the Maidan. He went alone," recalls Yurii, one of the last meetings with his father.

On February 19, a day before Vasyl's death, Yurii called his father again. He heard that he was breathing heavily: "I asked: "Father, what's wrong?" He replied: "Oh, I've been moving around here. The bulletproof vest is heavy. I need to sit and rest, and it'll be easier." We continued the conversation, and my father told me what was happening there. I reminded him again that I wanted to come."

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Photo: On February 18-20, 73 Maidan participants died on the Maidan, dozens more later died of their injuries (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

Yurii shows a video where, on the morning of February 20, his father and a group of protesters climbed the hill near the October Palace. At that time, shootings began on Institutska Street, and Vasyl and a group of people started going up to push back the "black squad." In the video, you can see the security forces beginning to flee.

Before that, Vasyl put on a protective bulletproof vest and a metal helmet and covered his comrades with whom he was climbing up. Despite the bulletproof vest, around 9:16-9:17, he received a severe gunshot wound to the abdomen. The bullet damaged the pelvic bone. The wounded man was picked up and placed on a shield, taken out of the firing line. Vasyl was taken to the 18th Kyiv hospital. According to his son, his father was conscious at that time. Yurii was already on the Maidan that evening.

At the end of February, Vasyl Aksenyn was sent to a clinic in Poland for treatment. On March 12, 2014, he died due to cardiac arrest caused by the injury he received on the Maidan. He was 52 years old. The son says that the death certificate mentioned "thrombus." And it doesn't even indicate that the death occurred as a result of the injury.

In November 2014, the President of Ukraine posthumously awarded Vasyl the title of Hero of Ukraine with the Order of the Golden Star. Vasyl Aksenyn was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen of Chernivtsi. Also, in his hometown, a former street was named after him.

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Photo: Vasyl Aksenyn with his sons Yurii and Bohdan (from the archives)

The fate of the Hero's family

"The fate turned out poorly. Like probably in all cases," says Yurii.

Ten years have passed since his father's death, but even now, the whole family cannot recover from the tragedy. Vasyl's wife, Tetiana, often cries. She finds solace in volunteering: she helps the military as much as possible.

"She just insanely actively weaves nets, kikimoras. Puts all her strength into it, she's practically not at home," says Yurii. Like many other families of the Heavenly Hundred, Tetiana increasingly avoids official public events, meetings, and interviews.

"Especially in the first three to four years after the death of our father and other Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred, they called my mom to events at the city council. Once I leave my room and go down from the second floor (the family lives in a two-story private house - editor's note), I see mom crying again. I asked what happened. She says she doesn't want to attend the event because she feels she's betraying dad," recalls Yurii.

He admits he sometimes feels the same way: "When dad raised us, he set a high bar, and I still have to grow up to it."

It was difficult for all other family members after the loss of Vasyl Aksenyn. Some relatives did not survive the tragedy. Vasyl's mother, Yurii's grandmother, was admitted to the hospital on the day of the shootings on February 20, and a year after the death of her son, she passed away: her heart couldn't bear it.

Vasyl's second son, Bohdan, decided to become a doctor. When he was 17, as soon as he entered medical school, he became passionate about medicine. He chose the profession of a trauma surgeon to save people's lives after tragic incidents - similar to the injury that happened to their father. When Vasyl died, Bohdan was 16 years old. And he still cannot come to terms with the fact that his father could have been saved.

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Photo: Yurii Aksenyn headed the Family of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes NGO (

My brother is very proactive. Currently, he is working on a new prosthetic method using modern technologies. The idea is to embed the implant directly into the bone, allowing the amputee to feel what the hand touches. He plans to provide prosthetics for military personnel and civilians," Yurii talks about his brother's initiative.

Yurii Aksenyn heads the public organization "Family of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes." He works in the Municipal Guard under the KCSA (Kyiv City State Administration). During the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, he made several attempts to go to war. He says he was not considered, considering his family's Hero status. Also, he needed to take care of his health a bit.

"I joined a volunteer formation - at that time, the KCSA had formed a curfew company, and I was the company commander there. I stayed there until the occupiers retreated from Kyiv. Then, I gathered a group who still wanted to continue serving. But, besides everything, I had a problem with passing the medical examination. Now I cooperate with military units," says the Hero's son.

The situation with the Maidan investigation

According to the Prosecutor General's Office, in criminal proceedings related to the events of the Maidan, suspicions have been reported against 536 individuals. Two hundred ninety-two indictments have been sent to court concerning 453 individuals. Sixty people have been convicted.

Specifically for murders, four individuals have been convicted, as reported by the department. At the end of 2019, three were exchanged for individuals held by the so-called DPR and LPR. The fourth was sentenced to pre-trial detention, which he has already served. Currently, two individuals are in custody, pre-trial investigations are ongoing, and their cases have not yet been transferred to court.

According to Yurii Aksenyn, after establishing the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) in 2017, there were concerns among the public and the families of the Heavenly Hundred about the fate of the Maidan cases. The SBI began investigating criminal proceedings involving judges, law enforcement officers, and top officials.

"At that time, people didn't know what kind of structure it would be and what to expect. The Prosecutor General's Office retained only supervisory functions, and we were worried that unacceptable people would head the SBI. But fortunately, both the Prosecutor General's Office and the SBI show good results. There are no questions about the people working there," he notes.

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Photo: Four people have been convicted directly for the murders of Maidan participants, according to the Prosecutor General's Office (Vitalii Nosach, RBC-Ukraine)

However, several key figures in the criminal cases managed to evade punishment. In particular, the former commander of the Berkut special unit, Dmytro Sadovnyk, was released from custody by Judge Svitlana Volkova of the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv, after which Sadovnyk fled Ukraine. Volkova was relieved of her duties by the Verkhovna Rada in 2016, but three years later, she was reinstated. In 2020, her actions were justified by the Shevchenkivskyi District Court in Kyiv.

Some other Berkut members of the so-called "black unit" fled to the Russian Federation - they were specifically accused of shooting the participants of the Maidan.

Overall, there have been significant changes in the investigations over these years, but the main thing is missing - holding all the guilty parties accountable, says Yurii.

"If we talk about the details, there is progress in the cases. Yanishevsky, who led the "black unit," received a life sentence (Oleh Yanishevsky, former deputy commander of the Kyiv Berkut - ed.). On February 16, another appeal was heard, as one of the Berkut members was acquitted. And he even has to sue the state for compensation," he adds.

However, the families of the Heavenly Hundred have not appealed and do not intend to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Yurii explains this: according to the procedure in this court, the state is found guilty, whereas specific individuals should be held accountable.

"The guilty parties are not the state but specific individuals. There has already been a precedent where they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, and our state was fined 50,000 euros. This is definitely not suitable because specific respondents should bear responsibility," he says.

Son of Heavenly Hundred Hero: 'After 10 years, almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished'

Photo: "Nowadays, the Maidan affairs and the war are parts of one common process" - Yurii Aksenyn (

In 2019, when Yurii was elected as the head of the organization, there was a desire to do something to ensure that justice finally prevailed.

"We all participated in various actions, held portraits of the deceased, and gave many interviews. And as a result, Dmytro Sadovnyk escaped and was acquitted. And others fled. The further we went, the more disappointed the families of the deceased became. They saw that raising awareness of the problem practically did not help. People closed in on themselves and no longer wanted publicity. Because they saw that there was still no result," the interlocutor notes.

In January 2023, a court allowed the in-absentia arrest of the fugitive president Yanukovych for the shooting of participants of the Revolution of Dignity. He had previously been in absentia arrested in Ukraine in other cases.

In October 2023, on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Maidan shootings, the State Bureau of Investigations completed the investigation into the shooting of the Heavenly Hundred in February 2014. Former fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych and the entire former power block of Ukraine are to appear before the court: from the former Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko and former Minister of Defense Pavlo Lebedev to the head of the Main Directorate - the former commander of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Stanislav Shuliak. All of them fled to Russia, which later launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine and is at war with us.

When justice will prevail

None of the Heavenly Hundred Hero Vasyl Aksenyn's family members believe that justice has been achieved, even if only a few people were punished.

"After ten years, we have a situation where almost none of those guilty of the shootings have been punished. Justice has not yet been achieved. The Maidan cases and the war are parts of the same common process. All our relatives died for the rule of law. It is unfortunate that we are only on the way to achieving this rule of law. We want the president and government officials to understand that it is very important to achieve this," says Yurii.

Justice will only prevail when all the guilty are punished, Yurii Aksenyn says.

"The fight is not over; this is just the beginning," he is convinced.