Kiev mourns troops killed on plane

Mourners gather in Maidan Square, Kiev, to pay their respects. Picture: Getty
Mourners gather in Maidan Square, Kiev, to pay their respects. Picture: Getty
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CHURCH BELLS rang out over Kiev’s Maidan Square as hundreds of mourners bowed their heads in silence on a national day of mourning yesterday to honour 49 Ukrainian servicemen killed by pro-Russian ­separatists.

Some 375 miles away to the east in the city of Donetsk, the heart of an armed insurgency against central rule by Kiev, there were few signs of mourning as people went for a stroll, sipped coffee in cafes and watched their children play.

Few events illustrate more clearly the bitter chasm that has opened up between east Ukraine and the rest of the country of 45 million. Heroes to some, the 49 killed when a missile hit their plane on Saturday were enemies to others.

“I feel desperate, like it’s a betrayal. I don’t know what I can do to help,” Volodymyr Radchenko, an engineer in his fifties, said in Maidan Square, cradle of an uprising which ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-backed president in February.

Nearby, an Orthodox priest led prayers on a stage flanked by men in black masks and camouflage fatigues.

Mr Radchenko’s depressed mood and sense of helplessness are shared by many in Kiev, whose euphoria over former president Viktor Yanukovich’s overthrow as president has given way to dismay as Russia annexed Crimea in March and separatists rose up in the east in April.

“I’m very worried,” said choreographer Iryna Zhadan, starting to weep. “I cry and pray a lot for the dead soldiers.”

More than 100 protesters were killed in clashes in and around the square before Mr Yanukovich fell.

Makeshift shrines have been erected and some protesters are still camping on its edges, worried about the fragile peace and the direction the country is ­taking.

Ukraine now has a pro-European leadership and a new president, Petro Poroshenko, who has intensified a military campaign in the east since being elected on 25 May.

He has also launched tentative peace talks with a Russian envoy.

He has promised a tough response to the shooting down of the plane which some say is needed to crush the separatists but others fear could lead to all-out war with rebels armed with tanks, which Kiev and Washington say come from Russia.

Moscow denies backing the rebels. Facing the possibility of further Western sanctions, it disavows any plan for a military invasion to absorb mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

But some Ukrainians still fear Russia and the West could fight a proxy war in Ukraine and would rather let the rebellious regions of Donetsk and Luhansk go than face the prospect of such a conflict.

“It’s awful. I just don’t understand why we need Donetsk and Luhansk,” said Lyudmila Shevchenko, a 60-year-old Kiev resident.

“If they like it without us, let them live on their own and we won’t send our children to their deaths.”

The shooting down of the military plane as it came in to land at the airport outside Luhansk killed more government servicemen than any other incident since the conflict began.