Ukraine protesters took over the presidential estate and offices Saturday after the Ukraine parliament voted to oust President Viktor Yunakovych — who after issuing a defiant statement saying he refused to step down and denouncing what he called a “coup” by “hooligans” and “bandits,” fled Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev.
At last report, just past 2 am Sunday U.S. Eastern Time — that’s 9 am local time in Kiev — where Yunakovych had actually gone remained a mystery.
The president’s disappearance came just hours after he issued a statement refusing to give in to the protesters and the vote of parliament to kick him out.
“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 on Ukraine television. “What we see today is a coup — I did everything to prevent the bloodshed. We adopted two amnesty laws. We did everything to stabilize the political situation.”
Between 70 and 100 people died in the Ukraine protests this week, many cut down by government snipers or attacked by roving death squads loyal to Yanukovych.
The protests calmed Friday after Yanukovych and leaders of the Ukraine opposition signed a deal that would have scaled back presidential powers and moved the 2015 elections up to December of this year. But that wasn’t good enough for the protesters and the Ukraine parliament, which wanted Yunakovych out right away and moved the elections up to May.
After the week’s carnage and three months of protests and violence in Kiev streets, the lawmakers decided that Yanukovych was “not capable of fulfilling his presidential duties.”
Also Saturday, the former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been imprisoned by Yunakovych, was freed from capivity. Despite being confined to a wheelchair and apparently in poor health after more than two years in prison on what was considered by her supporters as well as by Western leaders to be a trumped-up corruption charge, Tymoshenko took the stage in Independence Square where an estimated 50,000 protesters remained gathered.
Calling Yanukovych a “cancer” and a “dictator,” she praised the protesters for not backing down in the face of bloody government assaults.
“This is your victory, no politicians could do what you have done,” she told the crowd. “This country is now free, you have given this country its freedom. Our homeland will from today on be able to see the sun and sky as a dictatorship has ended.”
According to unconfirmed reports, Yanukovych attempted to board a plane to Russia. Whether he was able to flee the Ukraine or remains somewhere in the country is unknown.