Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych stands in the Presidential Palace on February 21, 2014, in Kiev, Ukraine
Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko announced a bid for the presidency after her release from prison and Viktor Yanukovych was stopped from fleeing the country following the nation’s bloodiest week since World War II.
Yanukovych has so far escaped detention after being removed from the presidency in a vote by lawmakers yesterday. After a day in which protesters took control of central Kiev and flooded into Yanukovych’s luxury estate, ex-Premier Tymoshenko, who led the overturning of a 2004 Yanukovych election victory in the Orange Revolution, gave a late-evening address in Kiev.
“Today a dictatorship fell,” Tymoshenko told tens of thousands of supporters on Kiev’s Independence Square, the scene of the worst fighting last week. “A new epoch has started -- an epoch of free people, of a free European Ukraine.”
With Yanukovych denouncing events from eastern Ukraine as a “coup d’etat,” opposition parties must quickly establish a new government and begin to shore up an economy in need of outside financial aid. Facing public anger in Kiev and western Ukraine at Yanukovych’s decision last year to pull out of a trade deal with the European Union, they may encounter political wrangling as Tymoshenko’s return complicates plans to share power.
The dispute between Yanukovych and his detractors polarized sentiment in the Black Sea country of 45 million largely between its western regions bordering ex-communist EU states Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania and those in the south and east that are home to more Russian speakers and ethnic Russians.
Ukraine, a key east-west energy route between Russia and theEurope, spiraled into crisis in November when protesters took to the streets to oppose Yanukovych’s rejection of a deal to deepen ties with the EU. Violence crested last week when at least 82 protesters and police died in fighting before the peace deal and the leader’s flight from Kiev.
With protesters guarding key buildings in the center of Kiev, parliament voted 328-0 to remove Yanukovych from power yesterday and was due to discuss a new cabinet today. They installed a new interior minister, who’s responsible for security forces, and passed measures to bring to justice those behind the violence.
Border officials stopped Yanukovych’s plane from leaving the country in the eastern Donetsk region yesterday, Oleh Slobodyan, the head of the media department of Ukraine’s border service, said by phone today. Yanukovych has not made another attempt to cross the border, Slobodyan said. Former Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko was caught at the same airport, Interfax reported yesterday, citing a customs official.
In Kiev’s northern outskirts, thousands of Ukrainians converged on Yanukovych’s residence. Hundreds of cars thronged the entrance, while people rode bikes and carried children around the compound. Previously closed to visitors, it boasted a man-made lake as large as several football fields with a life-sized galleon and a zoo with deer, ostriches, peacocks and other animals. Next to a towering mansion, a garage housed antique cars, motorcycles and at least seven limousines, according to images on website Censor.net.
Newly freed Ukrainian ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko delivers a speech at Kiev's Independance Square on February 22, 2014.
Activists prevented people from entering the mansion. They recovered reams of documents that had been thrown into the pond and dried them in a building full of boats and a miniature hovercraft, according to images shown on Hromadske TV. The opening of the sprawling estate dominated news broadcasts in Ukraine, where the average nominal wage was 3,619 hryvnia ($404) a month, according to December data from the Kiev-based Statistics Office.
“We are obliged to bring Yanukovych back” to the capital, Tymoshenko said in her speech from a wheelchair on Independence Square. Having traveled from a hospital where she was receiving long-term treatment for a hernia in her back, she urged protesters to stay in the square, also the center of the Orange Revolution.
In central Kiev, hundreds of people marched in processions bearing the coffins of activists killed in clashes since Feb. 18, shouting ‘Glory! Glory! Glory!’’ Marchers wept as the coffins were put in trucks to be taken for burial. Priests chanted prayers from the stage at the protesters’ tent encampment that has been the epicenter of the crisis.
“This man died for you,” Vitaly Kulakovsky, a 43-year-old supply manager said to his son, sobbing openly in front of a coffin yesterday. “It could have been me. Remember, he died for us, for our lives to be different.”
Nearby, thousands of protesters continued to reinforce barricades and direct downtown traffic in the absence of police. Many families posed for pictures around barriers, burnt-out vehicles and a make-shift catapult that protesters designated as a future museum piece. Some shops reopened after being closed during the violence.
The peace agreement, signed on Feb. 21 after all-night talks in Kiev with European Union foreign ministers, envisioned a national unity government within 10 days. Lawmakers approved a return to the 2004 constitution, curbing presidential powers.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who helped negotiate the deal agreement signed by Yanukovych and the opposition, said there was “no coup in Kiev,” and that parliament is acting legally. Yanukovych said in a statement published on his presidential website that he wouldn’t resign and deemed all of the new acts illegal.
The U.S. White House urged “the prompt formation of a broad, technocratic government of national unity” in Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his “gravest concern.” He said the opposition “was following the lead of ‘‘armed extremists and thugs whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order in Ukraine,’’ Lavrov said, according to a statement.
Russia has halted a $15 billion bailout for its neighbor because of the unrest. Talks on resumed financing may continue only after a new government is formed, RIA Novosti reported today, citing Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov in Sydney.
Standard & Poor’s warned Feb. 21 that Ukraine risks default without ‘‘significantly favorable changes’’ in its political crisis and cut its credit rating to CCC, eight levels below investment grade.
The staff of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said it was ‘‘on the side of the Ukrainian nation,’’ according to a website statement. The military and the Defense Ministry said they would ‘‘remain faithful to the people.’’
The International Monetary Fund said it’s ready to help Ukraine ‘‘not only from a humanitarian point of view but also from an economic point of view,’’ IMF Managing Director Christine Lagardetold reporters in Sydney following a meeting of Group-of-20 finance ministers and central bank governors.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said the U.S. was prepared to help Ukraine return to a path of democracy, stability and growth. U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in an interview that nations should be ‘‘there with a checkbook’’ once a ‘‘legitimate political authority’’ was in place.
‘‘We cannot stay deaf and blind to this collapse that is happening in Ukraine,’’ French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told reporters in Sydney.