Europe

Ukraine crisis: Moscow rally against 'coup' one year on

  • 21 February 2015
  • From the section Europe
Media captionFootage shows hundreds of people marching in Moscow, with banners bearing the slogan We Won't Forget!, referring to Ukraine's uprising

A rally has taken place in Moscow to condemn the "coup" in neighbouring Ukraine, a year after the downfall of its pro-Russian president.

Russian state media heavily promoted the rally and march with the slogan "We won't forget! We won't forgive!".

Ukraine's protests ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

Speaking on Russian TV, the ex-leader condemned "lawlessness" in Ukraine, saying the situation there had caused him "very many sleepless nights".

Since Mr Yanukovych's departure, Russia has annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and is accused of backing rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Media captionThe BBC's Paul Adams reports from inside Debaltseve, a town in "total shock"

A ceasefire plan agreed this month in Minsk has appeared close to collapse since taking effect just over a week ago.

The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the rebels in eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation. Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are "volunteers".

Nearly 5,700 people have died since the fighting erupted last April and some 1.5 million people have fled their homes, according to the UN.

In developments on Saturday:

  • The rebels announced a prisoner exchange to take place in the Luhansk region under which between 35 and 39 Ukrainian soldiers would be handed over in exchange for 37 people held by the Ukrainian government
  • An adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Poroshenko, Yuri Biriukov, reported on his Facebook page (in Russian) that the Ukrainian death toll in the battle for Debaltseve was possibly 179 with 81 missing - a much higher figure than previously announced
  • Shelling could be heard in the city of Donetsk, the rebels' main stronghold.

'Anti-Maidan'

Groups of demonstrators gathered in central Moscow on Saturday under patriotic Russian banners.

Police estimated that about 35,000 people in total took part.

The Moscow event was styled as an "anti-Maidan" march - a reference to Ukraine's pro-EU protests that started on Kiev's central Independence Square, widely known as the Maidan.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford, at the scene, says the event was highly organised, with flags and banners distributed and buses laid on from some provinces.

The marchers included Cossacks in full uniform and young women in anoraks emblazoned with pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, she says.

Among those at the rally was Ukrainian rebel politician Oleg Tsarev, who marched alongside the leader of Russia's Night Wolves motorcycle club, Alexander "The Surgeon" Zaldostanov, a prominent Russian nationalist.

One group of marchers in military fatigues could be seen with a placard which read "Maidan is an illness - we're going to cure it!" Another placard read "Maidan benefits the enemies of Russia!"

Our correspondent says many people at the march blame America and Europe for engineering regime change in Ukraine.

They fear Moscow is the next target, and said they were marching to show they will not allow that.

Image caption Ukrainian rebel politician Oleg Tsarev (right) marched alongside Night Wolves motorcycle club leader Alexander Zaldostanov in Moscow
Image caption About 10,000 people were originally expected to attend the rally
Image caption Marchers converged on Red Square

The anti-Yanukovych revolt was triggered by a sudden U-turn that ditched a wide-ranging pact with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Since Mr Yanukovych fled Kiev, the new authorities in Ukraine have issued an arrest warrant for him over the "mass murder of peaceful citizens".

President Poroshenko accused Russia on Friday of direct involvement in the sniper fire that killed dozens of protesters in Kiev on 18-20 February last year.

Media captionWhat happened in the Maidan?

Speaking at a commemorative gathering in Kiev, he said Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov had organised "groups of foreign snipers". The Russian foreign ministry hit back at the claim, calling it "nonsense".

Mr Poroshenko was speaking just two days after his army retreated from Debaltseve, now in rebel hands.

The rebels took the strategic transport hub in spite of the ceasefire signed on 12 February, arguing the truce did not apply to the flash-point town.