Saturday has been a fast-moving day in Ukraine’s ongoing crisis as residents awoke to rumors that President Viktor Yanukovych had fled and protesters took control of Kiev. Later in the day, parliament took a decisive step by ousting the president, saying Yanukovych had effectively removed himself from power by failing to fulfill his duties. Earlier, lawmakers had arranged for the release of Yanukovych’s archrival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Through his spokeswoman, Yanukovych said he did not accept the parliament’s decision and insisted he was the victim of a coup. His protests don’t seem to matter much, though. The BBC’s Ukraine analyst says the vote was passed by what is known as a constitutional majority and goes into effect immediately. The parliament set May 25 as the date to elect his successor.
Reuters with the takeaway:
The apparent toppling of the pro-Russian leader after bloodshed in Kiev that saw 77 people killed and the center of the capital transformed into a blazing inferno, looks likely to pull Ukraine away from Moscow’s orbit and closer to Europe.
It is also a stark reversal for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of recreating as much as possible of the Soviet Union in a new Eurasian Union, in which Moscow had counted on Yanukovich to deliver Ukraine as a central member.
The BBC reports that Tymoshenko is heading to Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the anti-government protests. When she was asked what she planned to do, Tymoshenko was clear: “I will run for president.” Tymoshenko also added that she will “make it so that no drop of blood that was spilled will be forgotten,” reports the Associated Press.
Still, Yanukovych hardly seems ready to simply bow out of the spotlight. He is now in the Russian-speaking east, where his base of support lies, vehemently denying reports that he fled the country. “They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I’m the legitimately elected president,” Yanukovych said. “Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat.”
After Yanukovych left Kiev, thousands of people made their way to the presidential palace outside Kiev and “strolled through the grounds during the day, gazing in wonder at the mansions, zoo, golf course, enclosure for rare pheasants and other luxuries, set in a birch forest on a bluff soaring above the Dnepr River,” notes the New York Times. The pictures of unabashed luxury that have emerged from the presidential grounds provide a stark reminder that while the Ukrainian crisis is rooted in complicated geopolitical causes, many regular citizens are mostly angry at how Yanukovych has managed to enrich himself and his inner circle while in power, notes the Washington Post. The Post has put together a series of tweets showing the luxury inside the presidential residence, including one of Yanukovych’s alleged car collection: