After a week of mystery as to his whereabouts, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych surfaced on Friday, February 28 — in Russia. At a press conference in the city of Rostov-on-Don, in southwestern Russia, Yanukovych was defiant and still vainly hoping to be restored to power. The Russian state-run “news” agency, RT (Russia Today) provided an account of his media appearance, which included these excerpts:
Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich pledges to fight for Ukraine. He addressed a press conference in southern Russia, appearing in public for the first time since he fled Kiev amid bloody riots.
“No one has ousted me,” Yanukovich told reporters. “I had to leave Ukraine because of a direct threat to my life and the lives of my family.”
According to Yanukovich, “nationalist fascist-like fellows representing the absolute minority of Ukrainians” took over power in Ukraine.
He described the situation in Ukraine as “complete lawlessness,” “terror” and "chaos", saying that the politicians, including MPs [Members of Parliament], have been threatened and are working under threats.... The current Ukrainian parliament is “not legitimate,” and the people in power are spreading the propaganda of violence, Yanukovich asserted.
RT’s Irina Galushko, who was covering the story, tweeted:
#Yanukovich?: I'm an acting president; I haven't resigned, I haven't been impeached, and I'm still alive (3ways a pres could be ousted - IG)
Yanukovych vanished from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Sunday, February 23, as the protests, riots, and violence that had been building since November, along with mass defections by his former political allies, made it clear that his regime was no longer viable. According to various reports, the 63-year-old Yanukovych left Kiev in a limousine convoy with a handful of bodyguards and his 39-year-old girlfriend Lyubov Polezhay, leaving his wife behind.
The party fled by ground and then by helicopter, with speculation that it was headed either to Ukraine’s southern Crimea region (the Black Sea ports of Sevastopol or Balaklava being most mentioned as destinations) or eastward to the Donetsk region, where Yanukovych was born. Both of these areas have large Russian populations and provided much of his political base. His first language is Russian, and his lack of proficiency in the Ukrainian language did not help to endear him to the Ukrainian people, who have suffered under Russian and Soviet dominance for many generations.
Yanukovych, who was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and most of the political blocs that supported Yanukovych are composed of “former” communists who simply changed their labels and adopted Ukrainian nationalist rhetoric. Yanukovych got his big break into politics in 2002 when President Leonid Kuchma, a former member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, appointed him prime minister.
But now Yanukovych is on the run, a hunted man. On Monday, February 24, the new interim government of Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for him and other former top officials, charging them with “mass killing of civilians.” Reportedly, at least 82 people, mostly demonstrators, were killed in clashes during the demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan Square.
In scenes reminiscent of the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, many of the news stories out of Ukraine have focused on Yanukovych’s luxurious residence, known as the “bling palace,” and his extensive automobile collection. As in Putin’s Russia, the Ukraine under Yanukovych (as well as under his predecessors Kuchma and Kravchuk) has been rife with corruption and crony “capitalism,” with former communist officials transformed into billionaire oligarchs who have “privatized” former state resources and enjoy special privileges and government contracts.
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Photo of Russian and Ukrainian flags flying next to statue of Lenin in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine: AP Images