Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Jim Heintz And Angela Charlton
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko addresses the crowd in central Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday. Hours after being released from prison, former Ukrainian prime minister and opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko praised the demonstrators killed in violence this week as heroes.
The Associated Press
The conviction of Tymoshenko was one of the underlying issues driving the protests.
After the 2004 Orange Revolution helped bring Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency, Tymoshenko became prime minister. But when Yanukovych won the 2010 election, Tymoshenko was arrested and put on trial for abuse of office, an action widely seen as political revenge.
On Saturday, before Tymoshenko’s arrival, other opposition figures hailed Yanukovych’s deteriorating hold on the country.
“The people have won, because we fought for our future,” said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko to a euphoric crowd of thousands on Independence Square. Beneath a cold, heavy rain, protesters who have stood for weeks and months to pressure the president to leave congratulated each other and shouted “Glory to Ukraine!”
“It is only the beginning of the battle,” Klitschko said, urging calm and telling protesters not to take justice into their own hands.
The president’s support base crumbled further as a leading governor and a mayor from the eastern city of Kharkiv fled to Russia.
Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the border guard service, told The Associated Press that the Kharkiv regional governor and mayor left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border. Another service spokesman, Serhiy Astakhov, said the former prosecutor-general and former taxation minister were prevented from leaving on the order of unspecified law-enforcement agencies.
Russia came out Saturday firmly against the peace deal, saying the opposition isn’t holding up its end of the agreement, which calls for protesters to surrender arms and abandon their tent camps. Tymoshenko’s entreaty is likely to make the latter condition slow to be fulfilled.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday called his German, French and Polish counterparts and urged them to use their influence with the Ukrainian opposition to stop what he described as rampages by its supporters. European officials urged calm.
Ukraine’s defense and military officials also called for Ukrainians to stay peaceful. In statements Saturday, both the Defense Ministry and the chief of the armed forces said they will not be drawn into any conflict and will side with the people. But they did not specify whether they still support the president or are with the opposition.
In Kharkiv, governors, provincial officials and legislators gathered alongside top Russian lawmakers and issued a statement saying that the events in Kiev have led to the “paralysis of the central government and destabilization of the situation in the country.”
Some called for the formation of volunteer militias to defend against protesters from western regions, even as they urged army units to maintain neutrality and protect ammunition depots.
Anti-government protesters around the country took out their anger on statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, using ropes and crowbars to knock them off pedestals in several cities and towns. Statues of Lenin still stand across the former U.S.S.R., and they are seen as a symbol of Moscow’s rule.
The past week has seen the worst violence in Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. At Independence Square Saturday, protesters heaped flowers on the coffins of the dead.
“These are heroes of Ukraine who gave their lives so that we could live in a different country without Yanukovych,” said protester Viktor Fedoruk, 32. “Their names will be written in golden letters in the history of Ukraine.”
Maria Danilova and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.