Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko listens to her
daughter Yevgenia as she stands on a stage before
addressing anti-government protesters. REUTERS/Yannis
Ukraine's parliament voted today to remove President
Viktor Yanukovich, who abandoned his Kiev office to protesters
and denounced what he described as a coup after a week of
fighting in the streets of the capital.
Parliament also freed his arch-nemesis, former prime minister
Yulia Tymoshenko, who walked free from the hospital where she
had been jailed, completing a radical transformation in the
former Soviet republic of 46 million people.
The apparent toppling of the pro-Russian leader, after
bloodshed in Kiev that saw 82 people killed and the centre of
the capital transformed into an 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.
Members of the Ukrainian parliament, which abandoned
Yanukovich after this week's bloodshed, stood, applauded and
sang the national anthem after it declared the president
constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an
early election for May 25.
"This is a political knockout," opposition leader and retired
world boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko told reporters.
Moments later, opposition leader Tymoshenko waved to
supporters from a car as she was driven out of the hospital
in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, where she has been
treated for a bad back while serving a seven-year sentence
In a television interview which the station said was also
conducted in Kharkiv, Yanukovich said he would not resign or
leave the country, and called decisions by parliament
"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are
an example of a coup d'etat," he said, comparing it to the
rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s. He said
he had also come under fire. "My car was shot at. I am not
afraid. I feel sorrow for my country," he told UBR
Interfax news agency said Yanukovich was refused exit from
the country by border guards when he tried to fly out from
the city of Donetsk.
At Yanukovich's abandoned secret estate near Kiev, people
flocked to take photographs of his private zoo with ostriches
and deer, replica ancient Greek ruins, and lavish waterways
Despite Yanukovich's defiance, the dismantling of his
authority seemed all but complete, with his cabinet promising
a transition to a new government, the police declaring
themselves behind the protesters and his arch-rival
Tymoshenko going free.
Setting herself immediately on a collision course with
Moscow, Tymoshenko said she was sure her country would join
the European Union in the near future. Her release was
welcomed by Washington.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said "illegal
extremist groups are refusing to disarm and in fact are
taking Kiev under their control with the connivance of
As night fell, 30,000 opposition supporters on Kiev's
Independence Square, scene of nearly three months of
protests, were in buoyant mood. "People can taste freedom and
take off their flak jackets," said Vasily, 40, a builder.
There was sadness too as coffins were displayed in front of
the crowd and priests said prayers. People crossed themselves
in front of makeshift shrines with candles and pictures of
the dead. Two captured water cannon trucks were parked in the
square like trophies of war.
In an emotional speech after she was carried on to a stage in
a wheelchair, Tymoshenko told the protesters on the square,
known as the Maidan: "You have no right to leave the Maidan
... Don't stop yet."
The Ukrainian cabinet said it was committed to a responsible
transfer of power.
Ukrainian military and police leaders said they would not get
involved in any internal conflict. The interior ministry
responsible for the police said it served "exclusively the
Ukrainian people and fully shares their strong desire for
Yanukovich, who enraged much of the population by turning
away from the European Union to cultivate closer relations
with Russia three months ago, made sweeping concessions in a
deal brokered by European diplomats on Friday after days of
street battles that saw police snipers gun down protesters.
But the deal, which called for early elections by the end of
the year, was not enough to satisfy pro-Europe demonstrators
on Independence Square, who wanted Yanukovich out immediately
in the wake of the bloodletting.
On Saturday, the speaker of parliament, a Yanukovich
loyalist, resigned and parliament elected Oleksander
Turchynov, a close ally of Tymoshenko, as his replacement.
"Today he left the capital," Klitschko said of Yanukovich at
an emergency session of parliament. "Millions of Ukrainians
see only one choice - early presidential and parliamentary
The release of Tymoshenko transforms Ukraine by giving the
opposition a single leader and potential future president,
although Klitschko and others also have claims.
The 53-year-old, known for her distinctive blonde braid, was
jailed by a court under Yanukovich over a natural gas deal
with Russia she arranged while serving as premier before he
took office. The EU had long considered her a political
prisoner, and her freedom was one of the main demands it had
for closer ties with Ukraine during years of negotiations
that ended when Yanukovich abruptly turned towards Moscow in
She had served as a leader of the "Orange Revolution" of mass
demonstrations which overturned a fraudulent election victory
for Yanukovich in 2004, but after a divisive term as prime
minister she lost to him in an election in 2010.
Underscoring Ukraine's regional divisions, leaders of
Russian-speaking eastern provinces loyal to Yanukovich voted
to challenge anti-Yanukovich steps by the central parliament.
Eastern regional bosses meeting in Kharkiv - the city where
Yanukovich had apparently sought refuge - adopted a
resolution saying parliament's moves "in such circumstances
cause doubts about their ... legitimacy and legality.
"Until the constitutional order and lawfulness are restored
... we have decided to take responsibility for safeguarding
the constitutional order, legality, citizens' rights and
their security on our territories."
Kharkiv Governor Mikhaylo Dobkin told the meeting: "We're not
preparing to break up the country. We want to preserve it."
In Russia, Mikhail Margelov, head of the foreign policy
committee of the upper house of parliament, said the Kharkiv
meeting proved "that the Maidan and the opposition, let alone
the militants, are not the majority of the Ukrainian people".
But the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's
lower house, Alexei Pushkov, seemed to acknowledge that
Yanukovich's rule was finished. "He fled. Security fled.
Staff fled," Pushkov said. "A sad end to the